Once upon a time, I shared Henry David Thoreau's opinion that voting is a waste of time because it empowers inevitably corrupt majorities that only do the right thing by individuals when it becomes expedient. He correctly predicted, for example, that by the time the majority favored the abolition of slavery, there wouldn't be any slaves left to free.
My adherence to Thoreau's idealistic belief that government should eventually disappear altogether lasted slightly longer than my 45-second flirtation with libertarianism, a somewhat similar political philosophy completely unequipped to deal with reality.
So I resumed my citizen's duty. But voting has usually been depressing. I never go to the polls without feeling like I'm a character in a grade-school civics class. To the kid in me, it feels like a privilege coated in nostalgia. To the adult in me – especially as an adult living in Georgia – it feels like a waste of time.
Not so last Tuesday. There was a virtual party atmosphere where I vote. The Bush administration, the most corruptly soulless in our nation's history, is on the way out. Bush has learned nothing. His proposed new budget cuts publicly funded health care and slashes the funding of National Public Radio in half. Meanwhile, the murderous Iraq boondoggle requires more money and disregard of the Constitution. Bush's State of the Union address, replete with lies and delusion, was a case of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.
I don't know anyone in either party who isn't happy Bush will be going back to Texas to cut brush on his faux ranch. The ebullience prevalent at the polls last week was partly that and partly, too, the luxury of choosing between two stellar Democratic front-runners whose gender and race would have made their candidacy unthinkable until recently.
I'm old enough to remember segregation. While people seem fanatically careful to explain that their vote for Barack Obama has nothing to do with his race, I'm not so sure. I went to my voting precinct with every intention of voting for Hillary Clinton. A woman in line with me argued convincingly that Hillary, although a good candidate, was not "electable." This took me by surprise, since I've just as often heard that racism makes Obama "unelectable."
I realized the woman, being young, didn't share my awe of Obama's candidacy because of his race. It was not an issue to her. She wasn't around to see separate water fountains, movie theaters that sat blacks in the balcony only – much less the warriors of the Civil Rights Movement whose sacrifices had brought us to this turning point in electoral politics.
When it came my time to vote, my heart steered me to Obama's name, despite my plan to vote for Hillary. Like many others, I'd love to see them on the same ticket, but my vote went to the dreamer instead of the wonk.
One practical matter did affect my decision. Obama reiterates the message of "change" at every campaign stop, and Clinton has taken up the same theme. Clearly, their race and gender would be a monumental change on the surface, but they are talking about changing the disastrous direction the country has taken with George Bush.
Recent surveys have demonstrated that the American people are fed up with Bush and want change to a degree few presidents have provoked. That's been obvious since Democrats took control of Congress in the midterm elections. And yet the Democratic leadership has repeatedly caved to Bush and otherwise held hands with Republicans out of fear of being demonized as evil partisans – despite the public's overwhelming wish for Democrats to take bold action.
What this says is that as much as Obama and Hillary wave the flag of change, they won't get much done without a shift in Congress, too – especially in the Senate.
How did this help change my vote from Clinton to Obama? After all, Clinton is arguably the more pragmatic and skilled politician. She's also "polarizing." But Obama, as my fellow voter argued, does attract more independents and liberal Republicans and it really is going to take a broad base to push Congress out of its anachronistic thinking, no matter who is elected. Otherwise, things won't change much.
So I voted for Obama, and doing so left me with a feeling I've never had while voting. I realized I'd participated in something truly history-making. I actually felt emotional and happy for a moment that, even with all the evil George Bush has done, the ideals of America can still penetrate the fog that has descended upon us in the last seven years.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.
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