If you are over the age of 18, a US citizen, and you’re not voting on Tuesday, you are a stinky stinky moron, and my response, should I ever hear you bitch about the government of the United States, will be to laugh like a drunken horse right in your face. If nothing else, taking a few minutes out of your day to vote will entitle you to two to six years of unmitigated kvetching about your system of government. Talk about a return on your investment.
If you are under the age of 18, not a US citizen, and are voting on Tuesday — well, that’s just no good for anyone. Go shoot some pool or something.
I vote. Almost as important, I am politically independent. I’ve always been registered as an independent. Part of this is due to my contrarian nature regarding joining any organization; once you join something, the people in it start wanting you to do things with them. The next thing you know, your weekends and Wednesday evenings are given over to bake sales and irritating rallies and stuffing envelopes until your fingers are sausage-shaped agglomerations of paper cuts. When I die, I can guarantee you that my list of regrets won’t include not spending more time doing any of those things. Probably the only organization I see myself joining at some point is the PTA, although that will be exclusively a preventative measure, to head off any attempts to ban Huck Finn or the Harry Potter books before someone has to haul in the local branch of the ACLU, and my tax dollars go to pay lawyers rather than to educate my child.
But part of it is due to the fact I dislike political parties. This is usually for one or more of the following three reasons: Their overall platforms, their tenuous relationship to the actual principles of democracy, and their general emphasis on getting an agglomeration of their kind elected rather than finding the best representatives of the people that those representatives are supposed to elect. Some parties set me on edge more than others — I’ve never made any secret that I distrust the GOP to such an extent that I tend to think that people who register Republican have some sort of unfortunate brain damage that keeps them from thinking clearly — but to be clear, I don’t like any of them. Ultimately political parties are about someone else telling me how I should exercise my franchise, based on the idea that they’ve got so many other people planning to vote the same way. Or to put it another way: “50 million Dubya fans can’t be wrong!” Well, yes, they can.
The one fly in the ointment here is that generally speaking enough people do register for and support political parties (specifically the Republicans and the Democrats) that here in the US those are the flavors you get when it comes to election day; indeed, over the history of my voting, I don’t think I’ve ever voted for someone who wasn’t of one or the other party (despite my general paranoid suspicion of the GOP, I have voted for Republicans in the past and would do it again in the future if — as in the past — there were compelling reasons to do so. See, that’s what being independent is all about). Certainly tomorrow I’ll be voting for candidates from those parties. But as is often the case, it’s not so much that I’m voting for a particular candidate as voting against another, and putting my defensive vote into a bin where it can do the most good. This set-up is hardly my fault. The problem isn’t that I’m not part of a political party, it’s that so many other people are.
Look at this way: If you registered as an independent, more candidates would have to think independently and focus on what actually works for their constituency — an actual representative democracy rather than one where the parties offered their candidates just enough leeway from the party platform not to alienate the voters in their district. Political races would get proportionately less “soft money” from the outside world, meaning the would-be politicians would have to actively engage in grass-roots campaigning, which again means the candidates would have to be more responsive to the needs of the constituency.
There’d be less political triangulation in the primary season, in which moderate editions of political party candidates get the bounce to appease the hard-line nutbags that constitute the political baggage of both parties — or are bounced through the maneuverings of the other party, which is hoping to for an opposing candidate that alienates the maximum number of moderate voters. Party politics would also enter far less into the sausage-grinding process of law-making, since the concern the lawmakers would have is whether they’re pleasing the people back home, not the party. We’d see ever-shifting alliances of politicians, based on specific issues, rather than an inflexible platform that grown men and women have to be politically “whipped” into adhering.
Where’s the downside here? Is there a real downside to the end, not only of the two major political parties, but to all political parties altogether? Certainly not for the individual. You can still have your own political beliefs, you know. You can still be a “pro-choice” card-carrying member of the ACLU without being a Democrat; you can still be a “pro-family values” gun-toting member of the NRA without being a Republican; you can still be “pro-polyamory” Ayn Rand-worshiping dateless freak without being a Libertarian. And you wouldn’t have to put those little cardboard signs on your lawn every two years.
Just think about it the next time you go to register. If you really want better political discourse in this country, do it by making the politicians listen to you and your neighbors, not your party affiliation. Vote independent. Hell, the reduction in political junk mail as you’re taken off the party mailing list will be worth it alone.