Sunday, April 16, 2006

What's my votivation?

It's no accident that "middle school" and "middle America" share an adjective. After all, they both vote the same way.

Toward the end of my sixth-grade year, our school held its student-council election for the next term. During French class one afternoon, a popular seventh-grade girl next to me handed me a decal. "Vote Andrea for treasurer! She's my friend." I accepted the sticker eagerly, happy that she deigned me worthy of such swag. Never mind that I couldn't have picked Andrea's face out of a police lineup consisting only of Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Mike Tyson and Andrea; her friend had given me a sticker, and that's all that mattered.

The decal itself was a real piece of work. It read, "Vote Andrea L. for treasurer." In green fine-point marker! In cursive! It really stuck out, as long as your eyes were within a foot of it. I stuck it on my shirt with pride. Andrea for treasurer!

The next day at lunch, I strode toward what I could say were my friends, but I try not to use words too loosely. Just ahead, several classmates were huddled around a popular girl whom I knew well. Her name was Brandy.

Ah, Brandy. I'd known her since the second grade. She had it all: breathtaking looks, a penchant for fun and a mystique of refreshing uniqueness. And though in a year's time she would turn around and torment me along with everyone else, we remained good friends in sixth grade. And here she was, handing out stickers to everyone while boldly proclaiming, "Brandy for treasurer!"

I stopped short of talking to her that day, because I felt guilty that I could not vote for my old friend. After all, I had gotten another decal first, and I wasn't about to betray Andrea's theoretical trust. Never mind that Brandy and I had known each other for four years, and that I knew from class projects that she was trustworthy of the position. She was second with the sticker, and that's all that mattered.

Brandy lost.

I applied this logic to all of our school's campaigns, and would do the same that summer as I attempted to analyze the presidential race from a 12-year-old's perspective (much like Fox News does today). My initial pick: Pat Buchanan. If he was good enough for CNN...

Fortunately, I grew out of this political mindset. But many others never do. They spend their entire civic lives completely apathetic, and then make up their minds based on whatever pet issue/catchphrase/campaign trinket strikes their fancy the most. And once that happens, not even the sharpest crowbar of sense can pry open that mind.

People with strong opinions don't change in droves; for example, I doubt that either Rush Limbaugh or my mother voted any differently in 2004 than they did in 1992. The pendulum, then, swings largely on the strength of whichever party fares best at luring swing voters. In a nation so evenly divided as ours, swing votes can mean the difference between prosperity and disaster.

Mind you, swing voters with an open mind are not the problem; ideally, this should describe every voter. But many swing voters are not open-minded--they're more accurately described as open-ended. These are the ones responsible for such execrable quotes as, "I agreed with Kerry on virtually every issue, but I voted for Bush because he's tough on terror" and "I don't like anything Bush does, but at least he doesn't flip-flop." Campaigns flock to these people like maggots to month-old steak, because they know that the political climate is ultimately decided by those who slap on the first ideology handed to them.

No wonder it's called a race.


T-Mac said...

Well, I agree with 90% of your argument, but would only make two observations. First, I think people tend to get more conservative with age, so the "my mother" analogy might not be perfect. Second, while I agree that voting holistically and choosing a candidate who is best overall is smart, I also think there's merit in voting for the candidate who is best for you specifically on the issue that impacts you the most. For example, if I'm old, vote for the candidate who won't privatize social security. If I'm GLBT, vote for the candidate nicest on GLBT rights. I can't fault a voter for picking the most important and germane issue to them and voting on it.

Violet said...

My dad had a great take on his own voting criteria: "I can vote for someone who prays to God for guidance, but I can't vote for someone who says that he does what God tells him to do".

Speechie said...

Well Mr. Reporter, when you're right you're right. And when you leave things out, you definitely things out...I forgive only because I know how tired you were.

In elementary school were are ignorant because we simply do not know any better. In our twenties we are ignorant because we are apathetic, and by the time we reach our forties, we are ignorant because we do not know any an American people we are raised to follow the guidance of our parents and whether we like it or not, we tend to become them in the end. Of course, there are the obvious exceptions to the rule, eg, the agnostic and the Buddhist wishing each other a Happy Secular Easter or more appropriately a Happy Egg-n-Bunny Day...and that is why there is HOPE for our nation.

I waited and waited for you to bring up those individuals who are not marred and/or jarred by the confidences and dogmas of their parents and their respective religions.

I could go on, but in lieu of that I will simply write a post about your post...that's easier.

Again, I realize you were tired, but Mr. Reporter, come on...:-p

Hugs from Hell,

Ian McGibboney said...

"I think people tend to get more conservative with age, so the
'my mother' analogy might not be perfect."

T-Mac, I hear that a lot, but I don't necessarily think it's true. The balance tends to remain.

The problem isn't so much that people vote for their interests so much as many only THINK they're voting for their interests. Let's face it: a very select elite in this country have anything to gain from the Dubya presidency. And yet, he has served two terms. Why? Fraud, of course, but also because enough people were swayed by anti-terror rhetoric and fear to not risk voting against him. In this case, the trinket was terror.

Violet: brilliant. I totally concur.

Speechie, every rule has its exceptions. This column is more of an indictment of those who use frivolous criteria to vote than anyone else. As much as people like Sean Hannity irritate me, at least they have deep-rooted beliefs. You know that giving them a flashy campaign sticker won't sway such an important decision. Ultimately, I wish people would just pay attention.

Phillip said...

people pay attention, just to the wrong things. consider that a person's attention span grows shorter and shorter as time passes, and that the most prevalent form if information and influence is tv (greater than that of family/parents, i would aver) and it's not a stretch to say that people vote for slogans. i don't think this has all that much to do with age. granted, the older you get the more you may take a more active interest in what the youts (excuse me, youts?) of today do, but for many people this means they pay more attention to the corporate media, which promotes mostly bumper-sticker "news" anyway.