Some thoughts on the wanton blaze of democracy we all experienced last night, in no particular order.
I was thrilled to see so many of my friends exhorting each other to go vote, one way or the other, this year. Nothing infuriates me more than people saying “oh my vote doesn’t matter” or being “too lazy” to vote — or worse, too lazy to get informed. I will never be upset by a “go vote” tweet or Facebook status, and I will always — always — be disgusted by a flippant remark about voter fraud (e.g. “Hey Obama voters, special polls open Wednesday lulz,” an almost verbatim quotation). Let me say this simply:
Your vote is the only thing that matters.
I can break my reasoning here into two major points. The first, if you’ll excuse a Kantian detour to the metaphysical, is that not voting violates the categorical imperative (thank you, Hart High School AP European History, for teaching me what the hell that is — but more on that later). That is to say, you should generally act in a way that you expect all others to act — or act in such a way that if everyone else in society acted like you, society would still manage to lumber onward. Hence, you vote because if no one votes we have anarchy. Or worse.
But I understand — truly — the argument against this, especially if you don’t happen to be one of the lucky voters in Ohio. It’s hard to see the direct impact of your solitary vote when elections are decided by the millions or, worse, by five hundred thirty-eight members of an abstruse abstraction of republicanism. And not everyone chants the cants of Kant. Which brings me to my second, and arguably more salient, point: voting is unquestionably an inalienable right, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a privilege.
So, to my (admittedly few) friends who refuse to vote or say their votes don’t matter, I ask you to look at your own history. Because at some point in your lineage, I can almost guarantee you a relative risked or faced or suffered death for the chance to choose his leaders. America is many things, but chief among them all it is the sum of people who fled oppression and autocracy, who fought for representation, who felt so deeply for the cause of liberty as to uproot and travel to its personified shores. To not vote is to willfully ignore that history — your history. Your vote matters because you, unlike the vast majority or human beings since the dawn of society, are free, and furthermore free to affirm that freedom.
And if your excuse for this — your excuse for not exercising the founding principle of the country you call home, something people throughout history and around the globe have yearned for — if your excuse is laziness or ignorance, well, a) stop trying to avoid tough and intellectually stimulating choices, and b) let me introduce to you this magical thing called the internet in which the entirety of human knowledge is contained within a few short taps of your fingertips.
I’m willing to admit the United States’ representative democracy may not be a perfect system. It may be weighed down by gridlock and bureaucracy, saddled by gerrymandering and vote-mongering, constrained by past and party. But I don’t think there has ever been anything truly like it in history — and that is why I vote: to be part of this grand human experiment. I believe in the power of democracy, so did everyone who came to this country, and so does everyone who still longingly looks to the Statue of Liberty. So yes, I will continue to tell people to vote. I will continue to believe that expressing your opinion is the most sacred duty of a citizen. I will continue to encourage everyone to be a part of something larger than themselves.
TL;DR: go vote.
Four cheers for Washington, Maryland, Maine, and Minnesota. More cheers for Wisconsin and Tammy Baldwin.
After looking dangerously close to failing, Proposition 30 in California rallied to be approved late last night, ensuring that California public schools do not suffer $6 billion in budget cuts. Incredibly, California voted to raise its own taxes to do this.
I am impressed with the civic-mindedness of my fellow citizens.
My reasoning for voting for Prop 30 goes something like this: I have two degrees and five years of school from one of the best private universities in the world. Those years were the best time of my life, and I have no illusions about the amount I learned or grew. But the best teachers I ever had were in public school. I found my passions in public school. I grappled with things that challenged my worldview for the first time in public school. I learned to be a citizen in public school. I learned how to learn — and never stop learning — in public school.*
I do not know how to fix the economy this month, or in six months, or in four years. But I do know — indisputably — how to fix the economy for the next generation: invest in the education of our nation’s youth. Good public schools are the best first step.
Barack Obama is not my perfect president. His foreign policy can be too hawkish. He’s too ready to use not-quite-surgical drone strikes. He’s way too into the fallacy of clean coal. He’s too divisive, yet too unwilling to confront a recalcitrant Congress. He has a tendency towards beautiful rhetoric, which I applaud, but which gives him a sometimes not entirely undeserved reputation as a sayer, not a doer.
None of these failings, mind you, made me even hesitate when I cast my ballot.
For the first four years of his presidency, Obama has continually championed underdogs: the unacknowledged, the uninsured, the unemployed (cf. Lilly Ledbetter, Obamacare, and the auto bailout, as just one example of each). These were huge accomplishments — big-f’ing-deals, to quote the vice president. I’m proud to say I voted for the man responsible for them. If the next four years are more of the same, as Mitt Romney claimed they would be, sign me up.
My view of this — and, take note, this is coming from a dyed-in-the-wool, bleeding-heart, tax-and-spend, idiom-laden liberal — is that the country needs to stick to its founding principles: that self-government is dedicated to safeguarding life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This means physical protection from mortal threats, both external and (to a lesser degree) seditious, but also protection from more internal threats — economic downturn, recidivism, inequality. Protection of life, liberty, and happiness means investing in and improving the infrastructure that enables the quality of life that exists in America, from the physical — highways, electrical grid, energy network, phone and internet — to the immaterial but equally important social infrastructures of safety nets, health insurance, education, immigration processes, acceptance.
By this metric, I think Obama had a very successful first term. He strengthened the social safety net, moved closer towards universal health insurance, made education more affordable, started a long journey towards immigration reform, spurred investment in cleantech and renewables, openly acknowledged that marriage should be between two people — any two people — who love each other, and did so all while winding down two wars and, in one fairly noticeable case, meting out some serious justice. If these sound hackneyed at this point, I apologize. The Republican party tried to use most of them against him — universal healthcare will bankrupt us! crack down on illegal immigrants! don’t provide timelines for troop withdrawals! don’t waste money on the US auto industry! Solyndra! Fisker! the gays! — so they became campaign soundbytes. I’m just hoping they’re now campaign promises, because each and every one moves the country in the direction that leads to a cleaner, happier, healthier world.
That direction, as the Obama campaign team nailed, is forward.
So here’s to improvement, here’s to country, here’s to participation, equality, education, patriotism. I hope this election signifies an American return to progressivism — and if the centrist, pragmatic, reasonable, often progressive Governor of Massachusetts version of Mitt Romney decides to come back around, I welcome it.
But in any case: I’m proud of you, America.
Democracy is one hell of a drug, and I may lay off it for a few months. If only I remembered what I did before I spent all my time reading Nate Silver’s blog…
* And, full disclosure, a public school salary paid for my private school. Thanks, Dad.