Monday, October 22, 2012

Democracy Belongs To Those Who Show Up

“Don’t blame me. I’m from Massachusetts.”       
--1970’s bumper sticker

The death of Senator George McGovern this week recalled the most lopsided presidential election in United States history, fifty years ago next month. The 1972 race between incumbent Richard Nixon and McGovern was a blow out for the ages. Nixon beat McGovern with 68 percent of the popular vote and 97.7 percent of the electoral vote.  Only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia went for McGovern. But it was the coda to that election which was most startling. Just twenty-two months later, Nixon became the first President to resign from office, facing impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors that he and his staff committed, ironically, all to get him re-elected in ’72.  But that’s how it is in a democracy. You never, ever really know.

We can never predict what will happen in an election or post-election. Until the vote actually takes place and the ballots are counted, no decision has been made, no man or woman elevated to our highest office. History is still unwritten, just waiting for us to participate.  Whether an election is a landslide or a squeaker, every vote does really count. Consider John F. Kennedy who defeated Nixon in 1960 but did so only by .17 percent of the popular vote.  

So why do so many Americans still not even bother to show up and vote in our presidential elections?  We may call ourselves the land of the free and the home of the brave. 2012 may be the most important presidential election in our lifetime, as many pundits and pols declare. But then why will millions of our fellow neighbors and citizens stay at home on election night and neglect to make their voices heard?

In 2008 131 million Americans eligible to vote did vote, but 98 million other eligible voters just sat out.  57.1 percent voted but 42.9 percent didn’t bother to go to the polls.  That was the highest percentage of voters in fifty years, back to that infamous ’72 election, but I wonder.  Why all the no-shows? 

Is it apathy about the process? Cynicism about the candidates?  Maybe frustration with the whole chaotic process?  I get that many Americans are fed up with the way our country elects its Presidents.  By November 6th, Romney and Obama will have spent a combined $2 billion to get elected, about $15 per vote. Voters have been buried under hundreds of thousands of hours of radio and TV spots and scores of robo phone calls.  I think most Americans are polled out, debated out, and electioned out.   

Yet this does not excuse any American of eligible voting age from embracing the most precious and hard fought human right we possess as citizens: the simple privilege of voting.  Think of it. We show up at the polls and there are no tanks parked out front to intimidate or harass us, no gun toting soldiers blocking the doors.  There is no one looking over our shoulder in the privacy of the voting booth. We do not fear arrest or imprisonment or torture because we choose to vote.  No religion or political party or movement or tyrant rules us with an iron fist.  We are free. We can vote.

So yes, feel free to join in on all the complaining about how democracy is such a messy experiment at times.  Argue your point.  Praise your candidate or skewer the other guy. Make some civic noise—that’s the right of every single American.  But then a week from next Tuesday, vote. VOTE!

Get up off the couch, put down the screen, click off Facebook and Twitter, stop texting for just a little while, get to your local polling station and then vote.  Be freedom in action, freedom embodied, freedom alive.

As the patriot Samuel Adams declared in 1781, “Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote he is…executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.”

Don’t blame me. I’m from Massachusetts and I’m going to vote.  How about you?

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