A Voter’s Lament

I have not voted today, nor do I plan to. Back in September, I wrote about how, because of the anxiety it was causing, I had gone on a news embargo. The only news that I got of the outside world and its politics came from seeing random headlines that happened to be on websites I visited. I ignored the local papers on the rack at the corner bodega, and chucked the copies of the Times delivered to my door every weekend, still wrapped in plastic, straight into the bin. Bookmarks for news sites on my computer were ignored. Since then, I’ve slowly been able to reintegrate myself with current events, but only in an uncommitted fashion. Because I care so much about what happens in this country and the world, I cannot care about it. Put another way, I was damaging my psyche to such an extent by investing myself emotionally in politics that the only way I can feel comfortable being up to date is by being a dispassionate observer.

So, that solved my problem with the news, but why am I not voting?

The last election I missed was in 2002. Since then, I have voted in every presidential and midterm contest, and the off-year elections for citywide offices here in New York. When elections were held in other countries, and a disenfranchised political party would urge its supporters to boycott the polls (Iraq comes to mind), I would shake my head. How is someone supposed to change the system if they refuse to participate in it? That reasoning still holds true to this day, but only to a certain extent.

I am a liberal. By that, I don’t mean I’m a progressive or a Democrat. I’m so blue that if someone called me socialist, however inaccurate that label would be, I would not be offended. If someone called me a commie, however, they should be prepared for righteous indignation.

I’m the type of liberal that believes government is the single greatest agent for social justice that mankind has ever invented. I believe in strong regulation of business, because the market does not prevent unethical behavior, nor does it punish such practices in an effective fashion. Without regulation, our water would be undrinkable, our air would be unbreathable, our cars would be deathtraps, and our collective life expectancies would be years, if not decades, shorter, due to all the carcinogens our bodies would absorb. Without the flawed financial regulations we have, tens of millions of us would be living in abject indentured servitude to banks.

I believe in progressive taxation and the social safety net. I believe in investment in infrastructure. I believe in sensible national defense, and that the military-industrial complex has siphoned away trillions of dollars too much in my lifetime. I believe it is a travesty that although we have the greatest economy the world has ever seen (that crown will be, or has already been, given up, depending on the source), we do not have universal healthcare for our people.

I am horrified by the role money has taken in our politics since the Citizens United ruling. Politics, as described by Robert Caro, has always been about the acquisition and distribution of funds. Whichever politician has control of the most money also has the most power. But, the ability of a small number of wealthy Americans to influence members of Congress with their riches has overwhelmed the system, reducing the significance of a single vote.

I find it both shocking and depressing that we have been unable to find the will to combat global warming. This will cost us in the future in ways we can scarcely imagine. Global warming is such a monster that in the worst-case scenario it threatens civilization itself, yet we do nothing.

Strong regulation of business, progressive taxation, public investment, massive reallocations from defense to other areas of the public interest, universal healthcare, removing money from elections, and tackling global warming. These are the things I believe government should be doing. Yet on these issues, Congress is largely silent, or outright hostile.

Conservatives do not represent my ideals, to the extent that I fear conservative control of government. Logic would dictate, then, that I cast my votes for the Democratic Party. But, while a vote for the Democrats may serve to keep the wolves at bay, that party does not represent my interests, either. The Democrats are not a liberal party. They are a party that is not conservative; this does not mean they are liberals. As currently structured, there is no national party that represents my interests, nor is there likely to be for some time. For that reason, I am not voting today. If my non-participation is a factor, albeit small, in handing control of government to an ideology with which I strongly disagree, then so be it. Maybe if we suffer through a decade or so of damaging conservative policies, there will finally be politicians willing to embrace true liberal ideals from beyond the fringe. Until then, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are simply not enough.

I wrote above that money has reduced the power of the vote. As far as I can figure, voting in a midterm is around the fourth-most important way to influence policy. The top three are money, federal judicial appointments (making voting in a presidential election still essential), and making noise. Votes are more of an affirmation of policy rather than a rejection. For the winner of an election, the message is that they are doing nothing wrong. But when they do wrong, only noise, and very loud noise, can make a politician change tack before election day. That is why I rank noise, i.e., civil disobedience, as higher than voting. Noise is also more effective because it influences politicians from other states or districts. Currently, my Congresswoman is Nydia Velazquez, an anonymous eleven-term member of Congress who, as far I can gather, hasn’t had her name on a significant piece of legislation in her entire tenure, but who has a seat for as long as she wants. In 2012, she won reelection with 95% of the vote. In 2010, it was 94%. In 2008, it was 90%. What purpose does a vote for or against her serve, other than perpetuating a broken system?

This is the story in districts and states across the entire country. I have lost faith in Congress. Of the 535 members of both houses, perhaps less than ten hold the same political views I do, or have a sense of urgency to confront our greatest problems. The art of politics has been honed to a fine edge, turning Washington into a for-profit business designed to further the personal prospects of its participants, not to represent the needs of the citizenry. Until that changes, no member of Congress, or candidate for a seat, will get my vote.