Election day is fast approaching. If you have a minute, I wanted to say a few things about this notion of voting for the lesser of two evils.
I turned 18 in 1974—which means I was about eight when JFK was killed, the last time an entire nation felt good about a president. When I came of age, Richard M. Nixon was in office. The Watergate hearings were live on TV. Before that we’d had Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Vietnam War—Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?
I was tear-gassed for the first time at a “flower festival” in downtown Baltimore at the age of 15. I got my voter’s card and my draft card within weeks of one another. I had long hair, smoked pot, and questioned authority. It wasn’t just a style thing. It was politics. I knew kids whose brothers died in the war. My neighbor, the older boy who was nice enough to play catch with me, fled to Canada. It was us against them, the youth culture against the “establishment,” which meant the WASPy white men by and for whom our country was established. (It might be interesting to remember also that it wasn’t until 1971 that the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. If you could die for the country, the reasoning went, you should be able to vote.)
Hillary is a fucking politician like the rest of them. But let’s face it, you need that skill set to play this game. We can’t have rogue presidents going off half-cocked.
The first time I was eligible to vote for a president I was in college. It was 1976. Gerald Ford v. Jimmy Carter. Nixon had recently resigned. Ford was the lackey who pardoned him, known for his klutziness. He slipped on the steps coming out of Air Force One. Several times, playing golf, he hit the ball into the gallery of spectators—one time he beaned a woman on the head. He also hit his partner in the head with a tennis ball while playing doubles. All of it caught on camera.
Carter was a peanut farmer. Everybody thought he’d be honest. Living as I did in a state that was different than my residence, I was too young and stupid to get myself a mail-in ballot and did not vote. I figured it didn’t matter, anyway. I was just one of the millions.
By the time 1980 rolled around, I worked for a newspaper in the nation’s capital. As we were members of the fourth estate, management encouraged us not to vote. Carter vs Reagan. It seemed like a total farce. An actor was running for president? I remember I spent the election night working on another, unrelated assignment—three days and nights at a Washington, DC facility for the mentally challenged. I slept in a dorm with severely delayed older men. My roommate liked to hold my hand and pull his red wagon down the halls. I watched the returns on the TV in the common room. When Reagan won, well, it just seemed apropos.
I didn’t vote in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 or 2000. By now the idea of my fourth estate neutrality had fully taken root. I was a militant non-voter. I didn’t want to be part of the masses. I felt like I could make a bigger influence through journalism. It was my job to illuminate and influence. Voting seemed petty in comparison.
But after six years of working in the belly of the beast—at the Washington Post, which arguably covered politics and political culture more exhaustively than any other paper on the planet—I was thoroughly disgusted. I didn’t understand how the system was allowed to work as it did. Politicians stood up and talked a bunch of shit. Then the press covered it and discussed it as if it was pile of gold. Of course, there was nothing I could do to change it. Instead I left and started working for Rolling Stone, where notions about telling the truth were different.
Regardless, after living in DC for a number of years, and getting to know my fellow city residents—a ton of career bureaucrats and staffers and lobbyists who mostly kept their jobs no matter which party was in power—I started getting the idea maybe it wasn’t so important exactly who was elected to the presidency, anyway. It kind of seemed to me that even though the president changed every four years, all of the functional parts of the government basically stayed the same.
And then the impossible happened. The Republican party stole the 2000 presidential election. Remember the hanging chads in Florida? Vice President Albert A. Gore won the popular vote. George W. Bush barely won the electoral. A recount was started in key state Florida. The Supreme Court stepped in and declared Bush the winner. In the years since, it has been recognized that a major reason for Gore’s loss in Florida was third-party candidate Ralph Nader’s strong (7 percent) showing in that state. In the end, it seems, it was a bloc of idealistic Democratic voters, people who didn’t wish to settle for the lesser of two evils, who ended up enabling Bush.
We all know what came next—when 9/11 happened, Bush was president: a man whose father, as president, had unfinished business in Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11—we know now it mostly involved Saudis.
Citing bogus evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction found in Iraq, Bush hoodwinked the entire nation, and the world, and began the war and related strife in the region that is still going on today. To date, 35,000 American service men and women have been killed and wounded. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, have led to 210,000 civilian deaths. According to the US State Department, nearly 29,000 people were killed in 11,774 terrorist attacks in 92 countries in 2015. And then there’s the refugee problem due to Middle East conflict. And post-colonial issues all over Europe.
After Bush and his fucking WMDs I got down off my high horse. I realized it really did matter who is president. Do you think milquetoast Al Gore would have made the same moves? It turned out it really does matter if I vote. As much as I hate to be one of the masses, for one day, that’s what I need to be. What I’m supposed to be. One of the many who cast our individual votes. We can be heard collectively or not at all.
Following the jubilation of participating in the historic election of Barack Obama, a man who seemed so worthy and presidential, we face an upcoming election where the choice feels pretty weak.
On one side there is Donald Trump, the very incarnation of the social media circus we have created around us—a great character for our infotainment era but a dark reflection of the national zeitgeist, where lines in the sand between competing micro-interests are becoming more and more entrenched.
On the other side we have Hillary Clinton. We want to love her because she stands on the precipice of history with a chance to become our first woman president. At the same time, she feels disappointing, cut from the same old cloth of politics as usual—pantsuit or pinstripe, it doesn’t seem to matter, there’s a lot of baggage there, even though we all love Bill, who did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinski.
Bottom line: Hillary is a fucking politician like the rest of them. But let’s face it, you need that skill set to play this game. We can’t have rogue presidents going off half-cocked.
Probably your reaction to all this bad news about our political process is to be angry, comedic, ironic. Laughter is the best medicine, sure. (Though I think that liberal funny guys like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who have become wildly famous for bending the news to make punch lines, are the very reason that someone like Trump now exists—if the left can play that game, the right can too, only they’re not laughing, they’re angry and full of hate.)
Or maybe your inclination is not to participate—I’m outta here, man.
I know we’re used to having an array of choices in life; I know our choices in this fall’s presidential election are disappointing. But these are our only choices. (Have you ever thought about who, exactly, would even want to hold political office? Of course the pickings are slim.)
When it comes to the election of the president of the United States—at least this election–you’re going to have to swallow your highly-customized sense of micro-pride and choose the lesser of two evils.
To write in a vote—for Mickey Mouse or Snoop Dogg or even for that poor libertarian candidate who seems so nice but can’t think very fast on his feet—is basically to waste yours.
Please: Remember the hanging chads, and the weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist. Remember Ralph Nader.
Suck it up and vote for Hillary.