confess, last Saturday I went to see "The
Dead," which is the current name of the band comprised
chiefly of the remaining members of the Grateful Dead. (Now
that Jerry Garcia is literally dead, perhaps they are no longer
grateful.) The concert was really quite good the people who
think the band is just peddling hippie nostalgia are misinformed.
Even when those guys have an off night, an open-minded listener
can appreciate that at least they are trying to keep pushing
their music into new places. What's more, with Garcia gone,
the rest of the band is now able to actually rehearse. (Garcia
was notorious for not being able to put up with any stretch
of rehearsing that lasted for more than 20 minutes or so.)
I was perturbed by the brief lecture Bob Weir and Phil Lesh
delivered on voting, just before performing their encore. Weir
told the audience to make sure to register and get to the polls
this fall. "It couldn't be more important," he proclaimed.
There were, he noted, tables at which one could register right
there at the show. (Isn't there some law against asking 18-year-olds
who are under the influence of several hits of acid what their
party affiliation is?) He added that if every Deadhead in Florida
had voted in 2000, "this country would be in a very different
place right now." Then Lesh chimed in, saying, "It's
your responsibility to vote."
implication was that everyone should register to vote against
Bush, and presumably for
John Kerry. But let's consider what such a decision really means.
It is clear that many of the people who are enthusiastic about
electing Kerry feel that way because they believe that the current
administration deceived the American people into supporting
an unjustified war against Iraq.
describes you, I want to say that I think your heart is in the
right place. But do you realize that Kerry has said he will
increase the number of US soldiers in Iraq? Do you recall that
Kerry voted for
the war? Now, of course, he is attempting to excuse that vote
by pointing to the faulty information he was given. (Well, at
least excuse it a bit, because he has never said that if he had been in Bush's
place, the US wouldn't have attacked Iraq, only that he would
have spent more time talking with the head honchos in other
countries before doing so.)
you fooled by the propaganda
pouring out of the White House and the neoconservative press?
I sure wasn't, and I know that many of my antiwar friends on
the left were not either. So why was John Kerry duped? Shouldn't
he have had access to even more information than we did? Given
that he had to cast a vote on whether or not to authorize the
war while you and I had no such opportunity, that he is paid to think about such matters, and that he has a staff
to help him ferret out the relevant facts, then shouldn't he
have been far less susceptible to the disinformation campaign
than we were?
that it's a good thing if you take some responsibility for the
actions of your nation's government. (I say "some,"
because it is easy to take that idea way too far, so that you
wind up indulging in righteous superiority because you are all
torn up over, perhaps, how awful the slave trade was, or how
brutally the US suppressed the Filipino effort to achieve independence
after the Spanish-American War. Yes, it was awful, and yes,
it was brutal, but those really aren't the sort of things you're
going to fix now, are they? Feeling guilty about situations that one
had nothing to do with and that one can't possibly change is
just a way to boost one's own self-image, and has nothing to
do with genuine responsibility.) So sure, do whatever you can
to steer the society in which you live in a better direction.
But in this election, casting a vote for either of the two real
contenders means voting for more war.
of whether or not to vote also came up for me a week or so before
The Dead concert, when I was talking to a friend of mine about
the upcoming election. He's fairly interested in politics; furthermore,
he knows that I write about and devote some thought to political
affairs. So when I told him I wasn't planning to vote this fall
he was quite surprised, and expressed his disapproval in
a polite and friendly way of any citizen who doesn't make
his voice heard at the polls.
he had mistakenly assumed that I would be sitting this one out
because I am indifferent to the state of the country, or I just
can't muster up the energy to get out and cast my ballot. Quite
to the contrary, I am an enthusiastic non-voter. After all, to write a column about not voting
takes more effort than does walking a couple of blocks to a
local school and pulling a few levers. What's more, not only
do I not vote, and write about not voting, but I also endure
the censure of others when I tell them I'm not going to vote,
and I pitch the case for not voting when the topic happens to
come up in conversation. (I generally don't bring it up myself you become a terrible bore if
you are so fixated on your pet idea that, as though it were
Rome, all conversational roads seem to lead there.)
Bush and Kerry are not the only two people running for president
this year. Some readers might urge me to cast my vote for one
of the minor party candidates, as the best way to express my
displeasure with the choice offered by the two major parties.
I have encountered libertarians who believe that it would be
a significant statement if, for example, the Libertarian Party
candidate received 5% of the vote in a presidential election.
I assume that there are Green Party members, Naderites, and
others who have similar goals. But even if, for instance, a
Libertarian some day garners that much support, then I think
the primary result will be that Republican and Democratic candidates
for office will spout slightly more libertarian rhetoric. Perhaps
Congress might even pass a bill legalizing medical marijuana
or something of the sort, which, I admit, would be a fine thing.
Otherwise, however, the Republicrats will continue governing
pretty much as usual, generally increasing the reach of the
state into all of our lives, whatever slogans they might bandy
about while running for office. (Remember, our previous president
declared "the era of big government is over," and
then made the government even bigger, while the current one
promised us a more "humble" foreign policy, and then
embarked on the least humble one we've yet witnessed.)
vision of how we can express our unhappiness with being free
to choose our preferred beverage, so long as we pick Coke or
Pepsi, is a bit different: I'd like to see a presidential election
where only 5% or 10% of all eligible voters go to the polls.
A turnout that low would be far more damaging to the position
of the elite who run this country than would a few million votes
cast for some minor-party candidate. (I wonder if the people
who believe that defeating Bush will make a significant difference
in the way this country is governed have noticed that the only
real alternative to Dubya is another millionaire from the Skull
and Bones society?) The fact that real political power in the
US is in the hands of a tiny fraction of the population is obscured
by the quadrennial spectacle in which the rest of us can pick
one of their two candidates to be "our" next president.
So I say,
let's rock the non-vote. Since we aren't being offered any really
meaningful choice, let's not lend credence to the pretense that
we are. If you weren't planning to vote, then, instead of mumbling
apologetically when asked about it, proudly tell others why
you aren't. If you were intending to cast a ballot, perhaps in order to protest
our current foreign policy, then consider the notion that you
might do so more effectively by staying home and reading a good
book. If we spread the word, then maybe in a few years we will
see tables at rock concerts where the attendees can sign up
to get themselves removed from the list of eligible voters.