Ten good reasons to push that little lever today

November 05, 1996|By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON -- Let me confess that I have a record. I am a political recidivist. An incorrigible, repeat voter. A career lever-pusher. My electoral rap sheet is as long as your arm.

Over the course of three decades, I have voted for presidents and school board members. I have voted in high hopes and high dudgeon. I have voted in favor of candidates and merely against their opponents.

I have voted for propositions written with such complexity that I needed Noam Chomsky to deconstruct their meaning. I have been a single-issue voter and a marginal voter. I have even voted for people who ran unopposed.

Hold an election and I'll be there.

I say this as a confession because I know that voting is no longer considered chic. Voting is hopelessly dated -- circa 1840, back when 80 percent of all Americans voted in the presidential election. It's also dated circa 45 years old, the threshold above which two-thirds of us still go to the polls.

Today is November 5. The Democrats say it's morning in America. The Republicans say it's midnight. And an entire cohort of Americans barely know what day it is.

Election Day.

Apathy's in vogue

Absentee non-voters once were sheepish about their no-shows. Today, they seem to believe they're on the disaffected high road. It's cool to proclaim a pox on both sides, to swear they're all alike and it doesn't make any difference. It's sophisticated to claim a profound -- and not so profound -- lack of interest.

One unabashed 21-year-old named Dawn told a reporter at my newspaper, "I'm not into politics," as if voting were Thai food or runes. Her companion Julie topped this indifference saying, "I think, like, what if I vote for him and help him get in and then he sucks? It would be my fault."

As a working journalist, I have a union card that entitles me to cynicism. I use it liberally. But on Election Day, I also have a League of Women Voters, Norman Rockwell, John Philip Sousa, Frank Capra need to march down with Jane, Dick and Spot to the local polling place.

So allow me to offer Ten Reasons Why I Vote. Get the handcuffs ready.

1. I vote because when I was a kid, voting was grown-up. Sue me, it's still a chit to adulthood.

2. I vote because my dad ran for Congress in the 1950s. And lost by 500 votes. Enough said.

3. I vote because even the lesser of two evils is the lesser of two evils.

4. I vote because women spent over a century fighting for "the cause" so I could vote. Hear ye, Susan B.

5. I vote because I have never in my life been called by a pollster. There's only one place to register my opinion: the booth in the school cafeteria.

6. I vote because Election Day is for me a national day of stillness when the conflict and the attack ads suddenly halt and the whole country waits to see what citizens will decide. Sometimes what's corny is also true.

7. I vote because my husband's college roommate is running for the state Senate up north and so I know for a fact that not all politicians today are rotten. Go, Richard.

8. I vote because I remember being a 13-year-old poll worker for my dad when a creep yelled in my face, "I wouldn't vote for him if he was the last man on earth!" I still vote to cancel his vote.

9. I vote because, unlike disaffected Julie and uninterested Dawn, I think, like, what if I don't vote for him and the other guy gets in and he sucks? Yeah, "It would be my fault."

All this is apolitically incorrect. It's suspiciously hopeful in an era of hip political alienation. It's as retro as civics class; unfit for any radio talk show. But I suspect that Election Day has this effect on a bunch of unrepentant voters. Consider this final reason:

10. Without blushing, I vote because it's what small-d democracy is about. Because there are places where people fight for generations and stand for hours to cast a ballot knowing what we ought to remember: That it makes a difference. Not always a big difference. Not always an immediate difference. But a difference.

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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