By Jeff Greenfield
As the momentous day approaches, with epochal consequences for an anxiously awaiting world, I take pen in hand—make that apply fingertips to keypad—to renew a traditional plea I first made more than 30 years ago. It’s a plea I’ve made in print, on the air and, now, through the miracle of digital technology. But its message never changes.
It’s a plea directed to those of you who are still uncertain about which way to vote. And it’s as simple as it is heartfelt: Stay home.
The candidates have been at this for years; both President Obama and Mitt Romney began running for the presidency six years ago. They’ve made speeches, answered (or evaded) questions and raised billions to convince you of their worth—or the other guy’s worthlessness.
The media have been covering their every move and word, even when the candidates thought they weren’t. (Can you say, “Cling to their religion and guns”? “47 percent”?) The coverage has been slanted, scrupulously fair, superficial, in-depth, misleading, dead-on. With the flip of a page or the click of a mouse, you have been able to find out every conceivable piece of information you might want on their backgrounds, families, values, experience, positions taken, positions abandoned, promises made, promises broken, and the music on their iPods.
And after all this time, you’re still trying to make up your minds. The overwhelmingly likely reason is this: You have the reasoning power of a baked potato.
OK, I grant that you may be of the small minority of concerned citizens who are genuinely torn and who have not yet evaluated the relative worth of health care reform notions, the vagaries of the tax proposals or the respective approaches to the increasing power of the renminbi.
But I wouldn’t bet a nickel on it.
The odds are, you’ve just been too busy obsessing about the misfortunes of the Kardashians or the quality of your ringtone, to spend any time thinking about who might be the better president.
Well, that’s your right. Unlike the Australians, we don’t compel people to vote, and it would likely be a First Amendment violation if we tried. A refusal to vote can be seen as a statement that the electoral system is rigged, meaningless or so thoroughly corrupt as to deserve contempt. (“I never vote,” one citizen said long ago. “It only encourages them.”)
And there are other valid reasons for not voting. As a personal matter, I stopped voting more than a decade ago, on the grounds that it helped me as an analyst not to think about making a choice in the voting booth.
So it strikes me as a sound, honest statement for a prospective voter to say: “Look, I haven’t given this election a minute’s thought, and it’s just not fair for me to cancel out the vote of someone who actually gives a damn.”
Indeed, it’s not just sound and honest—it’s the ethically responsible thing to do.
Men and women in my lifetime have died fighting for the right to vote: people like James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered while registering black voters in Mississippi in 1964, and Viola Liuzzo, who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1965 during the Selma march for voting rights. In these days of early voting, we’ve seen people waiting in line for hours to exercise the franchise. Countless others, who have never had to fight for it, have spent real time either trying to decide how to cast their vote or donating their time to persuading others.
So if you’re one of those folks who have stayed utterly disengaged through all of this, do the honorable thing: Honor those for whom the vote really matters by staying home.
You’ll be doing yourself—and the country—a favor.
By Jeff Greenfield