Some comments to an earlier article of mine posed the contention that it does not make any difference which candidate or party gets your vote because they are essentially the same. This observation is often based on the view that our federal government is bloated, overgrown, consumptive and insatiable. The notion that any mainstream candidate is merely another player in a series of political pawns is understandable, especially for the young and impassioned. While I mostly agree about the state of the federal government, I still believe there are fundamental ideals and practices which set each party and their candidates apart from the other to justify voting for either.
I believe the differences stem from one’s personal deep convictions and core values both of which take time to develop and mature. Although currently I can only speak for myself, now an arch conservative, as a young liberal in the late 60’s,(and a more moderate one through the 70’s), my convictions ran deep, at least initially, especially during the Viet Nam War years. I was driven mostly by subjective emotion. As I moved toward liberal moderation in the 80′s, Jimmy Carter resonated with me. As it turned out, he was the last Democrat I voted for and Ronald Reagan was the first Republican.
As a teenage liberal, I viewed the choices for president to be limited and sparse. Having reached the new legal voting age of eighteen in March 1970 I was ineligible to vote in 1968’s tumultuous race, but I was rapidly becoming a political creature. I advertised my disdain for our police action in Southeast Asia with a rejoinder to the then popular bumper sticker that cleverly, (I thought), proclaimed “Viet Nam: Love it or leave it.” I ate up high school civics and finished college with an undergraduate degree in political science all while aspiring to be a guitar play in a rock band.
I was just a high school junior preceding the 1968 election. Like many teens of the time, I was a staunch and enthusiastic supporter of RFK. I grieved with great sorrow and disappointment when he was gunned down not more than 30 miles from where I lived. With his assassination my personal hope for meaningful change collapsed into a disheveled pile of fragmented causes and opinions. The unity that Bobby seemed to represent for young America was gone or at least significantly dashed from where I stood. I wondered what point there was in voting for anyone else.
Although he was his former rival, Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, (and Senator McGovern of South Dakota), tried to pick up what RFK left behind but they both lacked the charisma, devoted following and neither could muster the excitement and hope that another Kennedy president seemed to represent. When it was apparent that Senator McCarthy could not garner a competitive segment of voters, the Democratic nomination ultimately went to another, (former), senator from Minnesota, then Vice President Hubert Humphrey. That was the moment I reached my political indifference.
I could hardly discern any distinction between the Vice President and Republican candidate Richard Nixon. To me, they both represented the mainstream, wishy washy status quo. They each had some level of desire and willingness to continue the war in Viet Nam which I vehemently disagreed with. They were both old and out of touch in my eyes. In current parlance, they were clueless but then again, I was basically driven by one issue.
When Richard Nixon won the election, I was again very disappointed even though as President, he eventually took some steps to eventually “end” the war which preceded his ultimate political demise and resignation in the face of the Watergate scandal. Those were dark political days for America and the fact that a moderate conservative Republican was the focus of that debacle was no incentive to re-think my political leanings.
By the time 1972 rolled around, I was finally ready and eligible to vote in my first presidential election. Enter a recycled Senator McGovern, who became the successful Democratic nominee. Even though he was younger and certainly farther to left of center than Richard Nixon was on the right, in my mind, he still did not constitute an authentic candidate with enough zeal to implement real political change despite running on anti-war platform against the incumbent. I was beginning to understand the meaning of The Establishment.
I wish I could remember who I voted for in that general election but that was too long ago. I’m pretty certain I did not vote in the Democratic primary because I probably declared myself an Independent. I could not align myself with either of the mainstream parties. That would be unthinkable and I wasn’t willing to be a sell out. I undoubtedly supported a peripheral candidate like Eugene McCarthy with a nostalgic nod to his ’68 effort. What I do remember is feeling as though there was not much of a choice when candidate McGovern faced off with incumbent Nixon. They were both establishment politicians. I was crestfallen. I was ready to act like I did on the elementary playground as a child when I did not like the rules of a game or could not win for lack of skill or know how.
Although I thought I had an authentic political passion, I was just a young, inexperienced second year law student. Even though I worked part time, I was still a full time member of academia – single and now looking forward to a career in the legal profession while I indefinitely put my rock star aspirations on hold . Instead of a mere bowlful of harvested grapes, I was like a bottle of young, immature vino that required a few years of aging to become drinkable.
Until I got my ticket to practice law and began the grind of daily full time employment, my political views were influenced more by what I had read and learned during seven years of secondary education than real world experience. My emotions had been the underlying sandy foundation of my politics. My politics were subjective instead of objective.
Gradually, my eyes began to open to the trials, tribulations and small personal victories that stem from any fledgling career. In my daily contact and interaction with clients and colleagues, I steadily obtained a experiential appreciation for government, especially at the judicial level. Not only did I now have the responsibility to support myself, I saw first hand the struggles and challenges that others were facing, especially those who had suffered significant injuries and were unable to work or support a family. That got my attention.
Both my parents were hardworking, moderate, Catholic Democrats. They instilled in my brother and I a sense of self responsibility along with their work ethic. They were both children of European immigrants who had obviously succeeded in teaching them the same valuable life lessons. My parents were also driven to continually better their lot in life by saving and investing. I watched silently as they moved our family from a one bedroom apartment in the Bronx to a three bedroom house in suburban California. I appreciated their progress when they saved enough money to build a swimming pool and pay for room additions to our modest home. Without realizing it, all of this life data was being stored on my cerebral hard drive.
When I started to earn a decent wage and see a regular portion of it gobbled up by taxes and deductions for benefits, I gained a clearer picture of what working for a living meant. Thus began the turn toward my current political leanings. My emotionally driven views were being supplemented by real life experiences and obligations. I bought my first brand new car, had credit cards and had a little money saved. As a result, I slowly began to realize that the differences in candidates were in the details especially their positions on taxation and government services which I was now helping to pay for. I felt more compelled to participate in the political selection process with an objective view because I had more at stake. I understood that emotions have only a limited place in deciding how I would exercise my choices at the ballot box.
By the time I was married and had my first child, it was as though I had awakened from a liberal coma. Being a young lawyer brought me to places I had only heard or read about like upscale restaurants and posh hotels. My more experienced colleagues were hardworking, driven professionals living in nice houses, driving late model cars and wearing expensive suits. Many were also involved community volunteers finding time from their heavy caseloads to help and lead others. There were many more issues in life beside America’s involvement in international political squabbles.
Fast forward four decades. The United States is still engaged in trying to maintain an international balance of power. There is a plethora of domestic issues mostly centered around our faltering economy. There are plenty of emotionally charged topics to go around. There has never been an individual candidate or political party with all the solutions. Problems, especially political, social and economic ones, are never that simple to solve. It’s a process, not a puzzle. It is a process that requires participation despite the shortcomings of political parties and candidates. Participation is essential and is available to all registered voters and if you have a criticism, disagreement or idea it makes little sense to voice it anywhere else save for the polling place.
The age old adage that you’re part of the problem if you’re not part of the solution is especially pertinent here. Don’t expect to find a perfect political match in our system. It does not exist. Exercise your franchise even if you regard it as pointless or meaningless because neither is true. Failing or refusing to do so is a self serving and arrogant expression of nothing effective unless you want to allow others to make decisions for you without your vote. If you think you are making a difference by withholding your vote, think again. The kids on the playground will continue without you.
Photo credit: RafePhoto (Creative Commons)