It's an interesting time, right before a national election. You've got party stalwarts stumping for their candidates, impossible-to-believe undecideds coyly holding out as if torn between two lovers, third-party hopefuls defiant about their "wasted" but passionate votes, and nihilists on the fringe talking conspiracy theories, false equivalency, and the pointlessness of it all. Between Facebook, Twitter, cable TV, talk radio, blogs, and online newspapers and magazines, there's no dearth of coverage on all this rustling around; no way to get out of the loop unless you make a conscious effort to do so or you live in a van down by the river. And even a van can be equipped with Internet.
For those who like their political marching orders nice and easy, it's a simple matter of subscribing to the mandates of their church, family, ethnic group, union, demographic, party, favorite cable channel, or economic class and logging votes accordingly. But for those more independent sorts, the urge to seek education and enlightenment outside the compound is strong... and that's where it gets tricky. Because finding unmuddied political enlightenment in the glut of today's less than neutral media, whatever the medium, is like shopping at Ross For Less: you might find a Jones of New York for $30 but you'll likely have to go through hours and racks of trash to get there and the hip-checking in the aisles is sure to get risky.
There's something manically democratic about our ever-expanding media catalogue. And with that deepening glut of content to fill, we get esteemed professors of Ivy League universities, loud-mouth editors of smash-mouth tabloids, recognized political veterans, and verbose but fairly articulate actors and rock stars, with all their opinions sitting equally, side-by-side, on the same virtual bookshelf. No differentiation is made for gravitas, merit, or expertise, no particular sniff test is applied to the veracity of what's being said and, one can guess, given the responses from the chattering classes, that no particular weight is shifted one way or the other based on qualifications. Hard, then, to ferret out what's worth believing. Particularly when so much of what's being said is contradictory, incendiary, or just plain bleak.
I had a friend once who spouted endlessly about the inescapable web of deceit we all live in as human beings on this earth -- the mysterious Illuminati, the World Bank, the stranglehold of Wall Street, the corruption of all governments -- and once, after a particularly heated diatribe, I asked, "So what am I supposed to do with all that?" It was an honest question. What is a normal, every day sort of person, raising a family, working a job, trying to make something useful of their life, supposed to do with all that apocalyptic information? He had no answers. Because there are none. Even if mad chicanery is actually as systemic as doomsayers would have us believe, we, those not knee-deep in secret societies and global conspiracies, have no knowledge of, hand in, or solutions for the nefarious world potentially existing behind the scrim. We just gotta get the mortgage paid and the kids to school on time.
So what do we do? An election rolls around, we want to fulfill our civic duty, and so we read, research, pay attention, and when we do, we're bombarded with all manner of tugging and pulling from this side or the other, right down to those who suggest it's all so dark there's really no point in voting anyway.
We've got Robert Scheer, the editor of TruthDig.com, who writes in his article "Sigh No More: Obama, Romney Leave No Room to Argue":
It is absurd to depict this rhetorical stew of superficial nitpicking by two candidates with a proven record of subservience to the Wall Street bandits responsible for wrecking our economy as a meaningful exercise in democratic governance. Both would rather talk about anything but Wall Street's financing and control of both parties and chose instead to dwell on their nonexistent differences over health care reform.
Then there's Chris Hedges, also writing for TruthDig.com with "How Do You Take Your Poison?" suggesting:
If you insist on participating in the cash-drenched charade of a two-party democratic election at least be clear about what you are doing. You are, by playing your assigned role as the Democratic or Republican voter in this political theater, giving legitimacy to a corporate agenda that means your own impoverishment and disempowerment.
And of course the dynamic duo of Jonathan Turley & John Cusack in "My Interview with John Cusack on Civil Liberties and Obama," capsulized with Turley's admonition about voting:
I think that people have to accept that they own this decision, that they can walk away. I realize that this is a tough decision for people but maybe, if enough people walked away, we could finally galvanize people into action to make serious changes. We have to recognize that our political system is fundamentally broken, it's unresponsive.
All of these men (oddly, all men) are brilliant, articulate and clearly passionate about what they believe. There is credibility in much of what they have to say. But I maintain -- as do others as brilliant, articulate, and passionate as this crew -- that there remain, still, abiding and essential reasons to vote:
1. A president can appoint (with Senate approval) Supreme Court judges who may serve for life.
2. A president can appoint federal judges, ambassadors, top government officials.
3. A president has veto power.
4. A president is the commander in chief with tremendous influence in declaring or ending war.
5. A president can call out troops for short-term military action both here and abroad.
6. A president has federal pardon power.
7. A president can issue "executive orders" that do not require congressional approval.
8. A president has the power to influence legislation.
9. A president represents our country and interacts with world leaders.
10. A president can make treaties.
I'm not naïve enough to dismiss out of hand the concerns and warnings of the aforementioned writers or others who believe that corruption, greed, and governmental overstepping have insinuated themselves into the equation. But I also will not accept that there is little or no morality to be found anywhere in anyone, particularly anyone in the two major parties, including the two men running for president. To suggest that voters abdicate their role in electing the next president because "they're all the same," "they're all crooks," "they're all in the pocket of Wall Street," seems corrupt in and of itself. It promotes a sense of civic and cultural dystopia that leaves those looking for answers with none at all.
So my prescription is this: if you believe in a third party candidate, vote for them, regardless of whether or not they have any chance of winning. If you've paid attention, read between the lines, and trust your own gut about one of the major two party candidates, vote for them. If you feel ambivalent about both but understand it's important to get some skin in the game, then do a little homework, find something about one that resonates, and vote for that person. If you think your energies would be better spent fighting corporate corruption, Wall Street crime, and civil liberty violations, then do that...but vote anyway.
Because to not vote is to have no hand in who gets those aforementioned powers, no influence in choosing who might be the better choice, even if, in your mind, they'd be "the lesser of two evils." Whether you vote or not, someone will be elected president. And that person will be your president, making decisions that affect you and this country for many years to come. Have a say.