Monday, November 4, 2002
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THOUGHTS FOR ELECTION DAY: My
THOUGHTS FOR ELECTION DAY: My wife is very fond of an old New Yorker cartoon in which an elderly woman, sitting next to her grumpy husband, tells her son, “Even after all these years, I still get a thrill out of canceling your father’s vote!” This pretty much describes my household. We have an Election Day tradition. We walk to the voting place, fill out our ballots, cancel out each other’s votes, and then go for brunch.
Why bother? Three reasons. The first is that we both enjoy the playful antagonisms created by our different politics. My wife, God bless her, is a social worker. She counsels children and young parents on welfare. To do this well requires a tremendous deal of empathy, which she has in spades. She’s a liberal in the modern sense of the word; I’m not. We take different positions on issues, but most of the time, after we’ve talked about it, both of us have usually given some ground. This phenomenon is not unique to politics. Over the years, I’ve found myself more open to the possibility that societal forces can impinge on individual psychologies. My wife, in contrast, increasingly recognizes the need for individuals to take responsibility for their actions, no matter what the societal pressures. We will always disagree, but allowing for the possibility of changing one’s mind is the essence of a healthy relationship.
Second, we enjoy our disagreements about politics because they matter so little to our daily lives. How to raise children, how to manage a household, which video to rent on a Friday night; these are the crucial issues of a relationship. I don’t mean to trivialize politics. Thorny debates over reforming Social Security or attacking Iraq matter – they just don’t matter on a day-to-day basis to most people. We both know and are bemused by people who would never date or marry someone on the other side of the political fence (yes, most of them are liberals, but I’m sure there are a few conservatives that are like this). Those who put the political before the personal usually lack a sense of humor and any recognition of their potential to be fallible. On the other hand, my wife and I take great delight in getting the other person to say, “I was wrong” about anything.
Third, even for a libertarian such as myself, part of the fun of voting is the sense of community it helps to create. Voting is a voluntary, secret activity that nevertheless encourages you to mingle with equally civic-minded neighbors. I love the minivans driving around exhorting people to vote; I love the pollsters and hard-core campaigners outside the polling station; and I especially love the kindly old women that give you your ballot (yes, a stereotype, but a true one).
Would these things be true if I was voting in Russia, Turkey, France, or Brazil? Probably not. Lots of pundits bitch about the Democrats and Republican resembling each other; I take great comfort in it. It means that, no matter what happens tomorrow, or in 2004, or 2040, that ninety percent of what makes this country great will remain unchanged after a transfer of power from one party to another.
If you're an American, go and vote tomorrow. Take pride if your party or your candidate wins. But take solace that you are a citizen in a country where losing is not the same as Götterdammerung. The world is a better place when politics is not a matter of life or death.posted by Dan on 11.04.02 at 10:33 PM