Friday, October 22, 2010

What's a Voter to Do?

I married into a nest of Republicans. In this family, a game established by the patriarch entails a set of questions of his device, always about events of the day and politics. After every holiday meal, all generations debate the answers, singing out in happy banter, voicing their insights, opinions, and assertions, all decidedly to the right of center.

My beloved father-in-law and his three children, including my husband, all have advanced college degrees. The same for their spouses, and their children, and now even their children’s spouses, our son being the only exception. (He went to technical school and remains single, thank God.)

It makes an impressive collection of conservatives working on pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

Arriving from a blue collar family in Oklahoma made up of teachers, oil refinery workers, deputy clerks in the county office, and postal employees, I kept quiet at the California dinner table for a long time. My mom and I are the only ones with any college on the Oklahoma side of my life. Back there, we were the sages. But if we mentioned our bachelor’s or master’s degrees, we’d only be showing off. And the conversations on Aunt June’s floral velvet sofa after an orgy of mashed potatoes and gravy heaped on turkey and green beans never approached the erudition of my West Coast family.

Somewhere during my acclimation, I remember hearing that only Democrats have hearts, and only Republicans have brains. There I found my rationale for becoming independent of party affiliations. I have a heart and a brain, and I vote all over the ballot.

Lately, though, neither my intellect nor my conscience can find comfort.

I listen to the debates; I read the stuff in the paper and the voter’s pamphlets. I put x’s and o’s on the chart in the “Election 2010” section of the Times like a gridiron coach developing a play book, choosing quarterbacks and defensive linesmen. I try not to be a one issue voter. I think about the economy and education and jobs and taxes and immigration.

But my guts count for something. And this candidate makes my shoulders sag. That one makes me hold my nose. Too many candidates seem like more of the same self-serving do-nothing office-holding politicos, unwilling or unable to do more than join the pack and play self-righteous. Any candidates who do seem fresh and selfless also seem doomed to be swallowed into the belly of the business-as-usual whale.

It’s crazy making! What’s a voter to do? Choose a stinker, or throw your vote away in feeble protest.

What I’d like to do is grab the table by its edge and flip it skyward. Start over. New game. New players. New strategy. New plan. I understand why some people don’t want to play at all.

Yet I marked my vote-by-mail ballot and sent it off to be counted. Why?

Maybe I voted because 21 people were killed in Karachi, Pakistan, during elections there. No one’s going to shoot me to keep me from participating in our frustrating democracy, though my exasperated brother-in-law sometimes shakes his head at me.

Maybe I voted because in the face of seemingly fossilized opinions and limited enlightenment, we elected a black man; and now we are mad at him not because he’s black, but because he hasn’t solved our problems fast enough.

Maybe I voted because I want to be heard. The action of voting says I do not give up and become a conspiracy-theory survivalist living in a commune with shotguns, “keep out” signs, and trip wires. I use the system to improve the system. I will not slink away in bitterness and retreat.

Maybe I voted because I’m just now starting to get it. At sixty, I’m finally beginning to understand enough of the intricacies of human nature, of complex systems, of long-term change, and yes, of politics, that by voting, my hope and belief are renewed.

Wow. Who knew? Renewed hope. Renewed belief. Voting: a shot of B-12 for the campaign weary.

In fact, now that I think of it, no nest of Republicans or Democrats can keep me from voting.

I voted...Will you?