Friday, November 10, 2006

The Vote

Military members seem to be war-debate magnets. People representing all demographics, with opinions ranging the spectrum from the most liberal to the staunchest conservative, jump at the chance to validate their beliefs with someone who wears the uniform.

My trips to see family all over the country inevitably result at some point in probing discussions about my feelings on the war, the administration and foreign policy. I rarely divulge much. Because the military serves a national instrument of power -- a political tool intended for influence in the international realm -- many military members (appropriately) assume an identity of political neutrality.

I do, however, feel strongly about the context of the discussion itself -- particularly about the credibility of the person looking desperately to validate his or her deeply held beliefs.

First and foremost, in order to maintain credibility in any political discussion, I believe you must exercise your right to vote. The right to vote and the right to freedom of speech are intrinsically related. Yet, according to statistics released yesterday, only about 40 percent of eligible US citizens voted Tuesday, and sadly, that's an increase from the 2002 mid-term election.

Let me say that again: 40 percent.

For as long as I can remember, (even during the Clinton years), it seems like 80 percent of my voting-age peers have expressed passionate distaste with governmental leadership. Okay, so perhaps this personally-contrived statistic has no basis in fact, but I doubt many would argue against the premise that, given the chance, far more than 40 percent of Americans would speak out against the administration and the war. And yet, some of those incredibly "passionate" citizens didn't turn out to vote.

Let's not forget that 40 percent is an improvement -- a figure we should be celebrating.

While I value positions on both ends of the spectrum, I've begun every discussion lately by asking, "Did you vote in the last election?" If the person is particularly anti-war or anti-administration, the question is "Did you vote in the last presidential election?" Given that only 64 percent of Americans turned out for the 2004 election, I have a good chance of shutting down the conversation with three or four out of every 10 people. And though I try to find a diplomatic way of saying it, my feelings come to this: If you didn't vote, I'd rather skip the tirade.

I'm not admonishing those who exercised their right to vote, nor those who were hit by some emergent tragedy on election day. Nor is this approach more relevant to any particular position on the issues, whether conservative or liberal. Instead, the point here is taking responsibility. A statistical spike in car crashes sufficient to detain 60 percent of the voting population on Tuesday surely would've made national headlines. Instead, I venture the guess that most people who didn't vote either chose to abstain, neglected to go to the polls after work, or just exercised poor planning in obtaining an absentee ballot.

If one holds so little passion that he or she chooses not to vote, how can I, in good conscience, take seriously that person's self-proclaimed passion on the vital national issues of leadership, war and foreign policy?

If you voted this election, fantastic. If you voted in the 2004 presidential election, even better. If not, well, to copy an old quip, it's time to put your vote where your mouth is.

Reuters article on Tuesday's election turnout:

Census Bureau Report, including more information on 2004 voter turnout statistics:


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I couldn't agree more with your sentiment. I've internalized what I believe you're promoting to the point that when I was at the polls Tuesday and saw that there was a Education Board post I could vote on, I was very upset that I hadn't paid attention and researched who to support. Arguing for ANY issue without any attempt to describe how it played a role in one's recent vote for an office that has an influence on that issue makes the person arguing completely irrelevant IMO.

  3. Ugh, I know what you mean. I had the same sinking feeling when I read a couple of items on the FL ballot. But just think, we're in the minority. I find that very disheartening. Thanks, sincerely, for taking voting seriously.

  4. Let me start by saying I vote, so you have to listen to me (wasn't that the message of your post?).

    I'm glad that this election is over. Debates have broken out at the pharmacy counter a few times, and the various views are all over the place regarding Medicare part D.

    I've been interested to see how often a person's views are inconsistent with their own situation (in both directions). Someone who is receiving a large benefit from part D might oppose the program, while a person recieving little benefit might support it. I find it somewhat refreshing that most people seem to support what they percieve to be good for the whole, rather than the logical choice for themselves. Must I assume that they are uninformed? I'de rather believe them idealistic.

    I also have to (or choose to) walk the line of political neutrality at work, but there is a key difference.

    The easy part for me is that I can leave my neutrality at work. On my own time, my advocacy is my own, and is not assumed to represent any greater entity. Having to carry it the rest of the time would be something else altogether.

  5. Believe me, I don't think idealism is dead or that all Americans are sheep. Only two points I would offer:

    1. You have to understand that when I say "most people," "many people," or "the vast majority," that doesn't usually represent the informational or educational elite, (two distinctly different groups, but both applicable for purposes of our discussion).

    2. While it's difficult to become accurately informed on anything these days with the overwhelming amount of information "glut" (ack, I can't remember who coined that word), I believe it's far more difficult to become well informed on issues of intelligence, national security and military issues, because so much of the pertinent information is classified or unreleasable.

    I can't tell you the number of times I've knowingly watched news media, both at the local and national level, report inaccurate information. But I couldn't correct the record, because the "proof" was classified or otherwise unreleasable. Sometimes, if you don't give reporters the whole story, they fill in the blanks themselves. It isn't usually malicious -- they just "balance the equation," so to speak, in the way that seems most logical. (Then the reporters start interviewing each other and the story spins completely out of control, becoming widely-known "fact" for all intents and purposes.

    Other times, the bureaucratic government release process works slowly enough that we miss a reporter's publication deadline. It's not that we're entirely broken, but it's hard to compete with groups like Al Qaeda. Terrorist groups usually operate on the "cellular" level, giving their lieutenants authority to release statements at the lowest possible level. They can afford to do that because they don't answer to taxpayers and they don't have to be concerned with verifiable accuracy.

    I refer you to al-Zawahiri's letter to Al-Zarqawi from July 2005 in which he said the following: “I say to you: that we are in a battle, and that more than half this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media.”

    Given all this, I find comparing an informed public in the context of Medicare part D (about which I am, admittedly, woefully ignorant), to an informed public in the context of foreign policy to be a bit of a stretch.

  6. This will, piss off some people, but I have never been afraid of that. STOP READING NOW. I didn’t vote. I most likely will not vote in any election in the foreseeable future. I don’t think that ALL people should vote. I am wholly against stopping people from voting. Everyone that wants to vote, should. Having said that, not everyone that can, should.

    I don’t have any insight into classified materials. Medicare getting a D in class just looks to be another sad case of Adult ADD. I’m ignorant of issues, matters of importance, and I’m out of cheese whiz.

    However, I work with some really smart people. People have a limited amount of time to focus on whatever it is they choose. Compound that with the ways that referendums are worded (cross between horoscopes and word jumbles: “I voted against the opposition of the ban of war on gay marriage?”), the fact that there is little difference in our parties anymore, those that aren’t corrupt are inept (and some that aren’t are, too), and we have never been the chosen people (just the ones that were willing to do whatever it took to get ahead: notice that was past tense). I don’t think that the whole of America is stupid… but the American Psychological Association states that 1 out of every 4 Americans have some sort of mental illness, most Americans cannot find themselves on a map (unless they are in the mall aided by the “you are here” arrow), and given that most Americans tapped a keg of apathy for the midterms; I gotta say, “thanks, America. You stay home while I go get some cheese whiz.



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