Maybe it's just better that some don't vote

August 12, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

Mike Royko is on vacation. In the meantime, some of his favorite columns are being run. This column first appeared Nov. 8, 1978.

I've never been bothered that droves of people don't voteNot once have I ever written a column before an election urging people to exercise that right.

But what does bother me is when I'm forced to listen to some bore explain to me why he doesn't vote. Many non-voters find something profound and important in what they don't do.

It happened again a couple of days ago. This time it was a man about 30 years old. Unmarried. Big-paying job. High-rise apartment. Cushy lifestyle. Self-ordained ladies' man.

"I'm not going to vote," he said, without being asked. "And I'll tell you why. It doesn't matter to me who wins because it doesn't affect my life. It has nothing to do with the way I live. It won't change my life in one way or another.

"It may be important to people in the news business because they make their living writing about elections. And it is important to people in politics because it has to do with their egos. But to most of us, it is irrelevant. Regardless of who is in office, nothing changes. At least nothing that affects me personally."

Well, I made a mistake. I tried to answer him.

I began to talk about the Vietnam War, and how we might have avoided or shortened that bloodbath had we given more thought to the kind of people we sent to Washington. Had there been more brain and less bluster in Congress, we might have been out of there sooner. Who knows how many lives would have been saved?

But then I remembered that, despite his age, he had managed to avoid being touched by the war. He came from that fortunate upper-middle-class background whose members were so adept at finding loopholes in the draft laws, the generation that left its social conscience behind with the abolition of the draft. Thus he, like so many of his peers, had spent those bloody war years increasing his knowledge of rock music and savoring the pleasures provided by the birth control pill.

So from his safe perspective, it wouldn't make much difference who held office then, since the war didn't touch him, as he said, "personally."

Then I began a small lecture about the '50s and the '60s, and how it mattered a great deal to the black people of this country which candidates happened to be elected to public office during those times. Not only to Congress and the White House, but also to the state legislatures and even various sheriff's offices.

All of that monumental civil-rights legislation, a century overdue, wouldn't have come about if there hadn't been enough people in public office who believed in it.

But then I remembered that he isn't black. He grew up in a wealthy family in a wealthy suburb, and his closest contact to blacks was when the hired help came to clean the house.

And the closest he ever got to a place like Selma, Ala., or to people like Bull Connor was when they might have caught his eye on the color TV set that undoubtedly stood next to his teen-listing phone in his air-conditioned bedroom.

In fact, I couldn't think of one argument I could give him for voting, because his reasons for not voting were unassailable. As he said, none of it touched him personally.

He is part of the me-first, me-second, me-forever, me-me-me-me-me generation. The fact that the outcome of an election might affect others doesn't matter to him, because those people don't matter to him.

So he sneers that politics is outside the mainstream. What he doesn't recognize is that he is the one on the outside. Let's hope he'll stay there.

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