I loved George Carlin, and I thought he was a brilliant comic and social commentator. But on one major point, I have always vehemently disagreed with him…
Your vote matters. Because EVERY vote matters.
First off, realize that universal suffrage (meaning every adult citizen gets to vote) is a pretty new concept in the world. And it is appalling to think of all the people who struggled to get the right to vote for all others that followed, only to have so many people just stop caring and become utterly apathetic and take that right to vote for granted. I think there are many reasons why people don’t vote, and so to all of the people who have the system working against them (like your boss won’t let you leave to vote, those new voter ID laws are making it tough, etc.) I can understand how sometimes you just can’t get it done on your insane schedules (not getting into an argument about absentee or early voting, because even those are not universal) and as a result, you might be reluctant to even try.
But the rest of you? Come on! Are you serious?
There are plenty of people out there who, like George Carlin, don’t vote on principle. OK, fine, but I still think you are wrong. Utterly, totally wrong.
And there are those who think it’s just not worth the effort, because reading and learning about candidates and issues is tough, and you want your brain to keep idling in low gear so you can watch reality shows on TV and drool on yourself and not have to think too hard. OK then, that’s fine… if you are the type of person who wants other people to make all of your decisions for you, because you are functionally not an adult, then sure, I get this argument too. Go stand over there in the corner and let the grown-ups do their thing.
But all of you must realize this: one of the reasons that our democracy is so damaged (and it is) – perhaps even the biggest reason – is because there is such a low voter participation. George Carlin’s argument becomes self-perpetuating, a self-fulfilling rationale, in that the fewer people who vote, the harder it gets to change anything because the people who can organize and spend money to influence those who don’t want to have to think too hard end up winning. George liked to turn the “don’t complain if you don’t vote” argument on its head, by saying the people who vote are responsible for electing the horrible politicians we always get, and therefore are to blame for everything that happens. I love you man, but no, George, you are wrong. People who don’t vote are also responsible, because they are allowing bad things to happen by not doing anything. Anyone can stand idly by as the national edifice burns down, and criticize everything that the people trying to fight the fire are doing. Any moron can do that. But it takes a certain amount of moral courage to participate, to step in and say “I am going to take responsibility, even if it is just a tiny part of the whole, for what happens, and I will accept that responsibility regardless of whether we succeed or whether we fail”. That’s what participating in your own government is all about. It’s about making a stand.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of people out there willing to take a stand, sort of. There are far too many people who are willing to take a stand about a single issue, to the detriment of all other issues, in a way that gets carried to an utterly ridiculous extreme. The Second Amendment is a prime example. There are times when I think the rest of the Bill of Rights might as well be dancing hamsters and singing cartoon squirrels for all the attention that gets paid to it. The Bill of Rights is far too important, as a whole, to pick favorites, especially when that means all other Bill of Rights issues aside from your favorite suffer. So please stop. Democracy does not depend on you getting to have all the guns you want so you can have an OK Corral type shootout with whatever bogeyman you think is coming to get you. That is a childish, 5th grade fantasy that will never happen, and never should happen. Democracy depends on having a functional constitutional framework, with all three branches of government doing what they are supposed to be doing, and the Constitution respected in its entirety.
Do you think we would have such a ridiculously high level of godawful incumbents keeping their seats in Congress if we had something like 80 to 90% voter participation? Hell no. We would clean those jerks out. But we don’t, and low voter participation is one of the biggest reasons.
If more people voted, perhaps politicians would do what was best for everyone, rather than what makes a certain narrow interest group happy. If more people voted, perhaps our elected officials would be more receptive to ideas that might include real change, rather than just going through the motions. If more people voted, small groups of highly organized, dedicated fanatical idiots would be just that – a small group of idiots – rather than the deciding factor in so many elections. If more people voted, perhaps people with lots of money would not have quite as much influence over our elections. And if more people voted, maybe so much effort would not have to be spent trying to convince people to vote, on GOTV efforts and such, especially when those people are like Kelly and myself and vote in pretty much every election.
So here’s a good clip by the brilliant VLog brothers explaining, in far more powerful logic than I am capable of mustering myself right now, why you should vote. So get off your lazy duff and vote.