Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. One could readily say the same thing about participating in presidential elections.
Every four years approximately half of all eligible voters (they other half has the good sense to stay home) head to the polls to engage in what amounts to little more than the political version of the "Taste Test Challenge." Their choices: Coke or Pepsi, and like ubiquitous soft-drinks, the Republicans' and the Democrats' primary goal is to gain as many loyal consumers as possible. Many voters have been chugging their brand of choice for decades; others may have just started, and a few may have even switched brands along the way.
Of course, as with any established product, there are times — oh, about every four years or so — when the public begins to grow dissatisfied. They discover that New Coke doesn't taste as good as the old version, and that Pepsi One doesn't quite measure up as advertised. Fortunately, there's always a slightly revised version — Pepsi Jazz or Coca-Cola Zero — fresh off the corporate assembly line designed to excite and entice the masses once again. Well at least for four more years — or until the public realizes that despite all the glitter, slogans, and hype surrounding the latest drink du jour, they're still consuming nothing more than carbonated water and corn syrup.
Is there a more appropriate analogy for what our federal electoral system has become?
We no longer have independent candidates representing the views of the electorate; rather, we have two corporate brands fighting for market share — the only tangible difference between the two is the advertising (campaign promises). Obama (Pepsi) promises to be the "choice of a new generation," while McCain (Coca-Cola Classic) declares that he's "the real thing." But while the two products may taste slightly different, they both consist of the same basic ingredients.
We have a Congress with the lowest public approval ratings in history; yet both presidential candidates (and one vice presidential candidate) are, in fact, members of Congress. (Apparently voters are far more forgiving of individual congressional representatives than they are of the lawmaking body as a whole, as if that makes any logical sense.) Even more discouraging, much of the "changes" offered by the two leading candidates are no more than cynical promises to undo the very messes they and their colleagues created.
For example, both Sens. Obama and McCain spent ample television time during the debates pledging to end "corporate welfare" as we know it. Sounds great, but only if voters ignore that both candidates (as well as VP nominee Joe Biden) just voted to spend hundreds of billions of taxpayers dollars to bail out giant corporations like AIG, General Motors and Chrysler.
Both the Republican and Democrat presidential candidates also favor America's ongoing war-mongering and imperialism overseas. McCain thinks that a multi-decade occupation of a sovereign country (Iraq) is perfectly acceptable for a nation that prides itself as a "beacon of freedom," while Obama thinks nothing of threatening military actions against Pakistan and Iran for so much as daring to engage in domestic activities that conflict with America's global interests.
Of course, it's not as if Sens. McCain or Obama are the problem per se; more accurately, they are the products of a system that is broken beyond repair — a corrupt federal Leviathan that pretends that duopoly is choice and that an oligarchy is representative government. Yet every few years, millions of Americans continue to give some semblance of legitimacy to this Orwellian standard of democracy by participating (voting) and perpetuating its existence. They elect to put a fresh coat of paint and new shutters on a home that's very foundation is collapsing, and afterward they wonder why their house remains uninhabitable.
So this November my choice for the presidency will be "Not in my name." Of course, that doesn't mean I don't care about many of the issues the candidates are talking about; it's just I've not yet grown cynical enough to believe that selecting Pepsi over Coke is a viable option for addressing the multitude of challenges our nation faces.
This article originally appeared in the Vallejo Times Herald (California).