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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Johnny One Vote

I'm going to get a little political today, but maybe not in quite the way that you think.

I voted this last week. Exercised my right as a free citizen. Let my voice be heard. Stood up and was counted. Pick your cliche. I've seen many people on MySpace and on Facebook who proclaimed loudly and proudly in their status bars (by "loudly" I mean either with all-caps or exclamation points) that they had cast their vote. I envy their enthusiasm and joy. I was more saddened by the whole experience. The confusing ballot measures, the "lesser of two evils" choices between the candidates -- these things left me feeling more disheartened than anything. Also, knowing that, just because I had voted early didn't mean I wouldn't still be subjected to the barrage of negative and/or misleading campaign advertising and automatically-dialed recorded messages in my voicemail between now and Super Tuesday.
My penultimate disappointment of the last week has been the news of the $4-million (or more) 30-minute campaign ad for Barack Obama. The price tag just seems staggering to me.
Now, this is not an indictment of Obama at all. Given the way this year's (fifteen months'?) campaigning has gone, it was a natural progression.
As Benjamin Franklin said, "Don't hate the playa, hate the game." (Or something like that.)

I guess that is what troubles me the most. This country has mobilized in terms of both volunteer hours and funding to support one candidate or another to "rescue" the country from its dark days. To hear people speak about their politician of choice, you would think we were electing a new Messiah rather than a public servant.
I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but neither of the choices presented to us can truly "rescue" us from anything. In fact, there isn't any one person out there who can.
I see all of these people out pounding the pavement to get the population registered to vote -- I get asked more for my voting status on the 16th Street Mall now than for spare change!
I receive about five calls a day from one political camp or the other. Once a day, someone knocks on my apartment door holding a clipboard.
I can't help but think that, if we paced ourselves, if we spread this energy and activism out over four years, we wouldn't need to be rescued. If we as citizens were 1/4 as much involved and informed every year as we are for just this one year, we would truly be the nation that we set out to be 200+ years ago.
Our vote is important, there is no denying that, but we are more than our vote. The prevailing attitude seems to be that, once the ballots are counted, we can all just sit back and let the newly-elected miracle worker make everything groovy again.
History should have taught us by now that it doesn't work that way.
We are a nation "of the people" not of ballots. The government can only do so much, or, as we have unfortunately allowed it to become so mired in bureaucracy, so little.
Obama's ad is only a fraction of the total cost of the campaigns this year -- on both sides. Obviously, Obama didn't go into his own pockets for that money -- it came in the form of contributions. Now, just imagine what would happen if, instead of raising $4-million in one year for a 30 minute television ad, the individuals who so readily handed over that money decided instead to raise $1-million every year and put it toward solving a problem or supporting a cause they believe in?
Could they make as much impact as a President who is himself only one part of the government? I happen to think so, and remember, that's only a small chunk of the total funds spent on this election.
And, again, I'm not slamming Obama. McCain has raised and spent a lot of money, too. The size of the price tag is not on them, it's on us. We let it get this way. We are the ones who have become so complacent in our self-governance that we need to have hundreds of millions of dollars spent on us just to get us caught up on what's going on every four years.
The young man who knocked on my door today probably spends at least ten hours per week walking around and telling strangers why they should vote for Obama.
Now, I don't imagine that Obama is this young man's uncle, so I suspect that he is advocating for this man he does not know because Barack Obama's philosophy is somewhat aligned with his own.
Now, what if this young man simply spent two hours every week talking to strangers about the events and issues nearest and dearest to his heart. Could he not still make an impact? Perhaps even more of an impact?
The two young me who came to my door last year from the LDS church fervently, strongly believed in what they had to share, and, while they didn't get a convert out of the deal, they did get their message heard. The older woman who handed me a copy of The Watchtower the other day isn't going to find me sitting in the next pew anytime soon, but it only took her a second or two to do it, and the next guy might be more receptive. The point is, it's something she believed in strongly enough that she was willing to risk being told to "F*** off." (I didn't, but if she'd caught me on another day . . .)
I know I probably sound like an idealist, but I think I'm really more of a pragmatist.
I don't wish to be cynical, but can we really believe that either McCain or Obama will be able to enact their respective plans for change when they are finally put behind the big desk? Will not the day-to-day business of running the government curtail or even de-rail some of their plans, no matter how well-intentioned?
So much emphasis is placed on the power of a person's vote, and I don't want to diminish that. A vote is a powerful thing.
It's just that, if we believe that our power begins and ends with our ability to cast a ballot, we've put all our eggs in one basket.
So, whoever ends up taking the big chair after Tuesday, let's remember one thing:
The real seat of power in this country -- or at least what should be -- is the one under our own tuckus.
We can choose to get up off of it and truly become -- as we were intended to be -- a nation of leaders, or we can stay on the couch and be a nation of followers.
Capitalism and socialism both have a utopia at the end of the rainbow in which no one wants for anything and everyone lives in peaceful harmony. Whichever camp you fall into (and this country was founded on elements of both philosophies), I would just like to point out that, well, we ain't there yet. We've got a ways to go.
There is still work to be done, and it's going to take all of us.

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