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January 2018
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Griping and Voting (Originally written November 1999)

Let me preface this rant with a reminder to my readers that I'm in the United States, and am talking about the situation in the United States. What I say here absolutely shouldn't be assumed to apply to you if you're not a U.S. citizen.

One of the favorite pastimes in the United States seems to be arguing about politics - who are the good elected officials, who are the bad ones, is this country following sensible policies on this, that, or the other, and so on. Following close behind that is griping about our elected officials - how this one is a liar, that one a philanderer, the other a complete crook, and there isn't an honest one in the bunch, and so on.

One of the things to like about the United States is that the right to gripe like that is, for all intents and purposes, enshrined in the Constitution - the nearest thing to an official "holy writ" that the U.S. has. Freedom of speech here means that we can openly criticize our elected officials without worrying about whether we are being overheard by someone who will knock on our door some night and make us disappear - a not unknown phenomenon elsewhere.

However, with rights come responsibilities (a topic on which I can rant separately for a long time - but not here and now). One of those responsibilities is to exercise another right - the right to vote for those elected officials. If you're a U.S. citizen reading this, chances are good - about 60%, according to the last set of figures - that you didn't cast a ballot in the last election (If you did, good for you - you can skip the rest of this paragraph). What does that mean? It means that you abrogated your responsibility to think for yourself and cast a vote for someone whose policies would reflect your concerns. And now you don't like the results? As far as I am concerned, you have nobody to blame for your 'misery' but yourself. Yes, the people who voted for our current crop of losers are stupid, and they could have made better choices - but they made a choice - something that you, in your infinite wisdom, refused to do. They cared enough to make their opinions known where it counts - at the ballot box - even if they didn't have enough brains to be able to spell 'opinion'. Yes, you still have the right to gripe - but it seems pretty hypocritical to me if you're doing so without having cast a ballot.

What's that you say? You did vote, but the people you voted for lost? Gripe away - you've made your voice heard, but it wasn't listened to. Of course, there's more that you can do, to maybe make the next election go your way:

You can become a political activist - one of those obnoxious, in-your-face people with a Cause. That's perfectly fine. You're getting out in public and telling people exactly what's wrong, and how to fix it, which is more than most people will do. You're also probably mortally offending a large number of those you approach, including some that probably otherwise would have agreed with you, but those are the breaks - you have to take the bad with the good.

You can write letters to the editors of every newspaper you read, or that includes your neighborhood in its area of coverage. Of course, you risk the possibility that your letter will never reach the people you're really trying to convince - the other readers of those papers - because editors have to exercise editorial discretion, and decide what letters are acceptable for publication, and which of those will actually fit in the allotted space. But it's still an option.

You can become a pest - always trying to get into the offices of elected officials, buttonhole them at public meetings or other public events, and so on, so that they'll listen to your concerns and maybe do something about them. This is occasionally productive, but only because it's a situation of the squeaky wheel getting greased - they want you to shut up and go away. But that's OK, because you got something accomplished, right?

You could become a campaign worker for a politician whose views and/or voting record support your own. You're helping to get a message you support out into public, and hopefully convincing others to support public officeholders and officeholder wannabees that will drive policies that you support.

You could run for public office yourself. Even if you run on a so-called 'third party' ticket, if your message resonates with your constituency, you could very well find that you're an influence in the election - and even if you lose, your ideas may be co-opted by one of the major parties next time around. Consider Ross Perot, for example, in 1988 - he ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, debt reduction, and social service cutbacks - and by the 1996 elections, even the Democratic party had adopted that mantra, and the United States was (at least nominally) in surplus for the first time since the Kennedy administration. Good ideas do have a tendency to spread...

All of these methods have their place, alone and in combination. Which of them you use, and to what extent, is entirely up to you. In the final analysis, though, there's only one thing that you need to remember: Democracy is not a spectator sport, and you will get out of it only what you put into it. The more obnoxious people with Causes that I see haranguing me on the street, the more annoyed I am about the haranguing - but the happier I am to see the U.S. system in action.

I'm feeling...: thoughtfulthoughtful
I'm listening to...: America, The Beautiful/America (My Country, 'Tis Of Thee)