"The disposition of all power is to abuses, nor does it at all mend the matter that its possessors are a majority. Unrestrained political authority, though it be confided to masses, cannot be trusted without positive limitations, men in bodies being but an aggregation of the passions, weaknesses and interests of men as individuals." ~ James Fenimore Cooper
A Recovering Voter
Hi. My name is Joe. I’m a . . . a voter.
I didn’t start right out voting. You know how it goes, you start on the soft stuff for a little buzz and it leads you on, and pretty soon you’re hooked on the hard stuff, the real high.
My sophomore year in high school was when it started. My buddies were getting older guys to buy them beer. They were sneaking booze into the punch at parties. They were trying to feel up Brenda Jones. Me, I was campaigning for John Kennedy, passing out brochures, manning the phones on Election Day. It’s embarrassing to admit it now, but that was my introduction to “being a good citizen,” to the idealism of voting.
As soon as I was old enough, I voted. Every election. The national elections, of course. Who didn’t want to be part of that process? I mean, to vote for the President. Wow! And I voted consistently Democratic. Sorry about the language, but there’s no other way to say it.
Then there were the state elections. State senators, representatives, governor, judges. I couldn’t get enough. I was fulfilling my “obligation,” being “part of the process.” Pretty soon I was voting in local elections; you know, mayor, city council, even school board members. And I didn’t have any kids yet. Most of these were nonpartisan elections, but it didn’t matter by then. I voted. I studied the candidates. I boned up on the issues.
I couldn’t wait to vote. I looked for special elections, the kind where they want to raise property tax rates. Sometimes, when there was a long, dry spell between elections, I fantasized. I thought about starting a recall drive. Maybe pick on some local or county official that wasn’t too popular. Not because I wanted him or her out of office. Because I wanted to vote. I needed the fix.
I remember waiting in those long, snaky lines at 7 a.m., seeing the big, old clunky machines, waiting to pull down the little levers to make my choices—I’d always pull the little levers down even when voting straight party tickets. I wanted to feel I was making critical decisions. Each lever was a little high, leading to the big one. Then I’d throw that big lever back. Wham! And the curtain would open and I would step out, a beatific smile on my face, and face the line of voters still waiting. I’d feel superior because I’d gotten there first. I’d proven my citizenship. What a high!
Disenchantment set in. I’d been taking uppers, voting Democratic. By 1972, I was tired of them. What they gave me wasn’t enough. The promises of euphoric utopia, if only we would vote for them, began to fail. I was tired of being high on liberal platforms. I wanted to come down. In 1972, I voted Republican.
Well, who knew? Still in the future, Watergate was looming. A president disgraced. A resignation. A national scandal. And I had voted for the man. What a letdown. Even the off-year elections didn’t do anything for me. I had gone from drinking liberalism to snorting conservatism. It wasn’t enough. My mind was screaming out for a really meaningful voting experience. I needed more! I started to mainline. In 1976 I began to vote straight anti-incumbent. Turn the rascals out. Which rascals? Didn’t matter. Get rid of them and let a new bunch in for a while. Then vote them out. But vote. Do the right thing.
The effects were fleeting, the high lasting less time than ever. The between-election discontent grew. The big D people or the big R people. It didn’t matter who was in there. Voting didn’t seem to matter much now, but I couldn’t stop. In 1992, I made a watershed decision. I went off-brand, third party . . . I voted Libertarian for the first time. It was exhilarating! It was meaningful! It was principled! My vote meant something again! And no, it wasn’t wasted, because I was voting for something I believed in.
It was a strange, energetic new high. And it got me back into activism. I joined the big L party. I worked on projects. I joined the local group. Worked on outreach. Brought in new members. And voted. It was in my blood and I couldn’t stop. Didn’t want to stop. I couldn’t wait for the next election cycle.
I wanted to start joining organizations just to vote for chapter president or on what week to have a bake sale. I started hanging out at the polls, even though they were closed. I spent all my time reading newspapers, political opinions, news magazines, political sites on the Internet. Everything else—job, family, friends—suffered. I couldn’t stop. I was a hopeless addict.
Addiction is when you do something that you know harms you, but you don’t stop. The harm in voting, what I never saw lurking in the corners, was the moral responsibility. Sure, if my candidate wins, and he does something stupid, like bomb a foreign country to take everyone’s mind off his Oval Office peccadilloes, then part of the moral responsibility lies with me. What I didn’t know is that I’m still responsible when my candidate loses and the other moron does something equally idiotic. Why? Because I took part in the system that put the weasel in. I not only took part, I embraced the system. I became the system.
On August 20, the day of the Georgia primary, I came to terms with my addiction. I voted for NOTA—None Of The Above—and I did it the easy way. I stayed home with about 71 percent of Chatham County voters. For the first time, I ignored an election. On purpose. Instead of the post-non-electoral guilt hangover I expected, I felt just fine, proud, in fact, that I finally did the right thing.
The election day choices were business as usual. The Republicans shamelessly stumped on the platform of lower taxes and less government while the past year under their reign has seen more expansion of government than in any period since the LBJ years.
At least the Democrats were honest about their equally shameful collectivist intentions, which are to have everyone live at the expense of everyone else while they expand the category of “rights” to include . . . well, everything that other peoples’ money can buy.
On Election Day, I refused to be part of a system with which I disagreed, the American political system as now practiced. A system of excesses, failures, and abuses. A system that has slowly and quietly repealed the American Revolution and ground beneath its heel the standards for which that war was fought. A system that no longer honors individual liberty and personal responsibility and no longer protects private property. A system that in the past 100 years has so thoroughly perverted the meanings of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as to make both of these fundamental charters of freedom unrecognizable to their authors.
I took the first step. I admitted I was powerless over politics—that my life had become unmanageable. I’m not sure if twelve-step programs work for voter addiction, but this is a good first step. I just have to hold on, get past November, and maybe there will be hope for me. Just thinking about it, about the chance to try the new machines . . . computer voting! I’m getting the shakes already. Is there hope for me?