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Why I Hate Elections

I have a confession: I hate presidential elections.

As someone who cares about politics and democracy and an educated public, Iím not supposed to feel that way. Iím supposed to get excited and either give up my weekends to volunteer for my candidate or give up my nights to detailed debate analysis and my daily allotment of procrastinatory web surfing to keeping up with the latest twists and turns. Iím supposed to be interested in the strategy, in the platforms, the skullduggery.

Iím not.

Itís not that I donít care about the outcome. On the contrary, I care all too much.

I feel like I can retreat into high drama very quickly here, but lives hang in the balanceólives of Iraqis and U.S. soldiers, lives of people in neighborhoods destroyed by predatory lenders and foreclosures, lives of people without affordable healthcare or jobs, lives of people driving on our unsafe bridges and roads, lives of people in the path of hurricanes and droughts.

And then thereís rights: First amendment rights, Fourth Amendment rights, rights to form a family and have it respected, rights to control over oneís own body and oneís own private life.

I could go on. Iím sure you could too, whether you agree with me or not.

The point is, I hate presidential electionsóespecially this one and 2004ísóbecause I canít be cynical about them. That means that whenever I think about the current one and what the results would mean either way, Iím immediately embroiled in chaotic mixture of terror and hope.

After eight years of Bush II and the two elections that gave us that, after more information than I ever wanted to know about continued Republican vote suppression tactics and the insecurity of voting machines, after hearing the appeals to the basest racial fears and what amounts to death threats, after watching the fundie base get excited about its chosen VP candidate, I canít exactly be optimistic. The right answer may be clear to me, but that counts for, well, one vote in a blue state.

On the other hand, I canít exactly be all doom and gloom either. Thereís plenty of evidence that Obama is doing well, that the McCain campaign is shooting its feet bloody, and that we may come to our collective senses in a few days time.

Iím usually pretty good at sitting with a paradox, but with this one I seem to be mood swinging like crazy, even when Iím mostly abstaining from the sordid details of the daily campaign. I read a recent New York magazine article about someone making election predictions based on demographics and past behavior instead of just polls, and how he thinks Obama will win. I caught myself relaxing into the comfort of an ďexpertĒ prediction. ďOh, then. Itís going to be OK.Ē

Then I see more news about homeowners in Michigan who are in foreclosure having their registrations challenged, false allegations about ACORNís voter registration drives, and people who hate Sarah Palinís guts giving her more media exposure than Obama, Biden, and McCain are getting put together just because sheís a gossipís dream. And then I have flashbacks to the cold, leaden feeling in my gut when the Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount in 2000.

Perhaps if I canít be cynical, I shouldnít be hopeful either. I realize thatís a little cheeky given this particular election season and its themes, but bear with me.

I keep remembering an essay I read in Ode magazine a few years back, in which the author argued that optimism is as damaging to change as pessimism, because both keep you from acting on reality as it exists in front of you. Keith Farnish at The Earth Blog puts its even more strongly: ďWhen you hope for something to happenónot the benign good wishes, but the deep, heartfelt hope that aches for an outcome of your choosingóthen something happens to you: your motivation to work for the desired outcome actually reduces. In effect this is the very opposite to the meaning of Ďgiving up hope.í By entrusting an outcome to the ethereal entity that is Ďhopeí then you are passing on responsibility to something that is out of your control.Ē

Of course taking on too much responsibility on oneís own little shoulders is a problem in its own right, but the up side of presidential elections, at least, is that you rarely have to go out there and organize anything from scratch in order to act.

So, just like I hauled my underslept butt to New Hampshire for a day of door-knocking in 2004, Iím taking a big breath and letting go of both the hope and the fear that it wonít be needed, wonít make a difference: Iím a little late to the game, but Iíve got myself a list of 50 voters in Pennsylvania to call. Iím going to spread the link far and wide. Maybe Iíll even talk to my Pennsylvania relatives. Itís better than being consumed by a fear vs. hope war.

But Iíll still be glad when itís over.

óMiriam Axel-Lute

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