I Hate Elections
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.
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
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 stealbackyourvote.org
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.