I have never been involved in politics to the extent of seeking office or even campaigning actively for a candidate. Nevertheless, I have been passionately interested in elections all my life. In fact, I think it is very likely that I hold the distinction of being the youngest person ever to cast a vote for president. On Election Day in November 1956, when I was three years old, I went to the polls with my folks. The election workers apparently were so impressed by my fascination with voting that they allowed me to have a ballot, mark it, and actually put it into the ballot box. I hope it did not count, but I actually cast a vote for Eisenhower as a three year-old!
I did not pay much attention to the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon race but from 1964 onwards, I had an undying interest in things having to do with electing a president. Through 13 presidential election seasons, I was an avid fan . . . not always a fan of a particular candidate because I have been more unimpressed than impressed with the people running for president over the years . . . but always interested in the process of electing our nation’s leader. In the ten presidential elections in which I have voted, I voted six times for the winner and four times for the loser.
Now things are different. For the first time in my life, I can say that I am sick and tired of the whole deal. My interest might get renewed by the time things start heating up for the 2016 election. Or it might not. At I write today, I do not know if I will ever be interested in politics again. I am pretty sure I will never again feel the excitement of that three-year old who “liked Ike” so passionately that the poll workers bent the rules to let him “stuff the ballot box” with an illegal vote.
What happened? It is a combination of things. I no longer think the way the majority of Americans do. I used to think that I had my finger on the pulse of America. I could predict with pretty good accuracy how the electorate would react to any situation. But not any more. The America I used to know would not have approved of same sex marriage. Up until yesterday, no state, in a vote of the people, had ever bestowed its blessing on people of the same gender being married to one another. Court rulings and legislative acts had legalized it, but the people had never voted it into effect. Yesterday, voters in three states gave it their approval. A fourth state declined to ratify the idea that marriage is between a man and a woman. It is no sudden revelation that my values are different from that of a great many of my fellow citizens, but yesterday’s election results drove that point home more clearly than ever before.
I am disenchanted about the way many voters decide whom they will support. Perhaps using the word “decide” is being too kind because that implies that a thoughtful process of evaluating the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses is involved in making the choice. Having listened to voters’ comments and considered the results of the exit polls, I am left with the conclusion that many people did not deliberate at all about their votes. They acted out of primal instinct. “What’s in it for me” seems to be a much more important question than “What’s best for my country.” I have always been a political independent. Even when living in states where I had to register by party to participate in local primary elections, I never gave up my right to choose the candidate that I thought was best suited to the job he or she was seeking. Knee-jerk voting for or against a candidate because of party label, skin color, financial background, or other similar characteristics is a lazy way of making what ought to be a carefully-considered choice.
The tenor and tone of the recent presidential campaign disgusts me. I have studied election history enough to appreciate that mean-spirited campaigns are nothing new in American politics. But the 2012 campaign may have broken all the records. While the Republicans are not blameless in this behavior, the Democrats sank to depths that I have never seen before. Joe Biden’s performance in the vice-presidential candidates’ debate epitomizes all this. The conduct of this obnoxious political hack should have been condemned by the head of the ticket and by all other clear-thinking Democrats. Instead, the President chose to emulate his vice-president’s behavior in the second and third presidential debates.
Both parties and their associated political action committees flooded the airwaves in swing states with attack commercials to the extent that I would have thought voters would have been disgusted enough to say “A pox on both your houses!” Apparently not, however. Political experts candidly admit that those ads are disgusting but explain that they think they must use them because they work. Yesterday’s election provides the latest proof that observation is accurate.
Candidates make charges that they know to be false then, when challenged, they call the other candidate a liar. I don’t know if I am more amazed by their audacity or their hypocrisy.
I have a whole laundry list of reasons I have been turned off by politics. There is no need to go through the list item-by-item. I have stated more than enough for the reader to understand why I am disappointed, disenchanted, and disgusted by what has happened to the American electoral process.
It is time for a sabbatical. I will no longer be a political groupie. I do not plan to write or speak on this subject any more for the foreseeable future. Never say never. Perhaps I will toughen up my stomach and get interested in the 2016 or 2020 campaign; perhaps not. On this first post-2012-election day, I can think only about how saddened I am that we do not have a better way to find good, capable leaders for our country.