I've also been challenged to cope with my own crushing disappointment that the political system that governs my self, my family, all my loved ones, and the land that I live on and devotedly call home is so unconscionably far from a model that truly supports my own values and values that are consistent with protecting and nurturing all human life and the safety of our homes and the precious resources that not only sustain all life on the planet, but make it captivating and delightful to live here, as well. This governing system is so broken that it would require nothing less than a complete restructuring of it to allow us to live in a true democracy. I'm not alone in feeling this way. I'm aware that many of you agree with me. Political lobbying, for one thing, and "corporate personhood," for another, are two of the gratingly salient examples of how we, the people, no longer truly have a voice.
(A very smart friend offered the critique when he read this section to not forget how much freedom we still have in our country, and I acknowledge that to be true. My desperation comes from my awareness about how much MORE our entire citizenship would be capable of given equal, reliable access to the resources that make for the healthiest, most successful personal outcomes, and I am vehemently anti-capitalist because I believe capitalism to be a massive factor in the devastation of environmental resources and many human rights related issues, and this system is profoundly embedded with capitalism. I feel very strongly that needs to change.)
Any genuinely "progressive" or "liberal" thinkers have, by now, hammered in the point that there are increasingly smaller differences between the two parties in this limited party system and that we need more choices. Some say we need a third choice. Some say we need no choices at all and need to abolish government all together. I think we need to have as many qualified candidates show up on a ticket as can make the commitment to being in a significant governing role. And the emphasis here is both on qualified and committed to governing.
While we're on my personal platform for election and party reform, we also need to do away with electoral college and go straight to a popular vote. Furthermore, we need to not only eliminate corporate political lobbying, but end any and all political contributions entirely. Any candidate who meets some basic criteria should be provided an election year stipend by the existing government. Let's say that in order to earn that stipend, potential candidates need to have earned a bachelor's degree, have worked in the U.S. work force for at least 20 years, have spent a minimum of 5 years in an elected political office, have contributed to a volunteer, civic improvement project for a minimum of 5 years, and, finally, must pass a stringent competency exam on American political and foreign relations history, states' history and culture, roles of all offices of U.S. government, checks and balances inherent in that system, complete with a section on world geography, a Howard Zinn Foundation approved section on American people's history, a writing feature, and a rigorous science component. This way even candidates of limited financial means can forge a candidacy, and candidates will by their very accomplishment of achieving the candidacy will have demonstrated that they might be viable in the presidential arena.
(I'm totally open to different ideas on the criteria for candidacy. These are my off the cuff ideas and aren't perfectly fleshed out.)
And, it shall be strictly prohibited that any additional amount be contributed to the campaign by the candidate or any other entity. This makes the playing field much more even -- we will no longer have billionaires buying their way into office. Political advertisements will be illegal. There will be designated public forums for displaying candidate's views, goals, and platforms. There will be commercial-free, instantly fact-checked, televised and internet available debates scheduled monthly for the entirety of the election year starting in January. There will be candidate profiles of equal length run in all major newspapers that will exclusively report candidate stances on required issues that will have been decided upon by vote of the people prior to the start of the election year. The campaign stipend will be used as candidates see fit to creatively express their intentions above and beyond these widely available, all inclusive, presidential candidate information sources, but, again, not through the purchase of advertisement in any form.
If you have spent any time sincerely ruminating on democracy and governance in this country, you, too, probably have some kind of elaborate fantasy of how we can make the election process fair and appropriate in garnering valid candidates who genuinely represent the interests of broad scopes of the American people. Or, perhaps I have delusions of grandeur and I am the only one out here single-handedly scheming how American political reform should take place? In any case, all of our fantasizing won't do us a lick of good where we are sitting right now. It is mere days away from the election, and one way or the other, we are all going to be disappointed in one way or the other, as no one candidate can possible ever perfectly represent the values we seek our governors to support.
This brings me to the point that inspired this rant. The reality is, that despite the inevitability of disappointment, today, right now, during this election, you do have some choices. Let's break those choices down.
1. You could choose not to vote. I read a fascinating article, which I can unfortunately not find now to reference, that asserted the validity of refusing to vote. The point made in the article was that in other nations around the world, when voter turnout has become astronomically low the election results have been deemed invalid, forcing political reform that in some cases resulted in true people's candidates getting voted in during subsequent elections. This is a possibly very valid form of protest in the big picture, but you know what? It isn't right now. It's too close to the election and too many other incredibly uninformed people will be out there voting even if you don't. If you believe this kind of revolution is necessary to allow us to get to political reform, then I implore you to immediately devote yourself towards aggressively recruiting others to do the same and campaign and raise awareness on how and why not to vote for the next election year. But, if you just don't vote in the presidential election this year, as an aware, politically conscious, and particularly progressive thinker, then you are quite literally feeding your tiny share of democracy to the drooling, gnashing maws that are howling to keep you and yours oppressed, silenced, and useless. I don't recommend it.
2. You could vote third party. This is, unfortunately at this time, akin to not voting. If you have not been loudly, vehemently, actively, devotedly spending the last four years doing all you could to build a visible, viable third party platform that is actually on the public radar and could garner enough votes to gain a significant piece of the highly sought after American public's attention, let alone win the election, then I'm sorry, but you haven't earned the right to vote third party this year. If you want to vote third party after committing yourself in that way before the next election, then you are making a conscionable, admirable political choice. Otherwise, you are making the exact same choice as non-voters. See above.
3. You could vote for Romney. Perhaps you are so incredibly disappointed by the Obama presidency that you feel you must do something different, but you insist on voting and insist on voting for one of the candidates who are actually going to get elected. If you vote for Romney not only would you be voting for a candidate who is demonstrating such a profound lack of competence during the campaign that he is arguably trying to throw this election (as the Daily Kos asserts here: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/09/15/1131332/-Mitt-Romney-s-brave-and-lonely-campaign-to-re-elect-Obama), but you would be voting to send the American people plummeting into irrevocably devastating economic collapse, leaping profoundly backwards in the availability of our basic human rights and expected social justices, and condemning the entire world to cope with devastating and permanent ecological disaster that may severely diminish the quality of life on the planet for the whole of humanity. Do I actually need to say more here? Are you willing to take this risk? Clearly voting for Romney is in no way a viable choice for any thinking person with a conscience.
4. You could vote for Obama. So, here is where I get to make my requisite, apologist plea for you to vote for the lesser evil, right? No. I'm not going to do that. I can comfortably tell you that as a deeply thoughtful person fully integrating the myriad of profoundly complex factors influencing the fate of the world around me that I believe voting for Obama is not only a reasonable thing to do as a very left-leaning, liberal American, but that right now it is the ONLY reasonable thing to do. If I need to assure you that I not only understand but share your rightful outrage at some of the ugliest points of Obama's presidency thus far by rattling off my gripes with him then I will: he didn't fucking close Guantanamo Bay, he has been slow to end the war in Iraq and is still grossly escalating the war in Afghanistan, he has supported the National Defense Authorization Act, he still supports U.S. oil drilling and silly concepts like "clean coal," and has appointed a Monsanto henchmen to the head of the FDA, right? I'm sure I have forgotten some, too.
I am, like you, thoroughly disgusted by these acts. But if you believe these acts rest solely on Obama's shoulders, then you are misinformed on how the American government works.
And, I am not trying to say that Obama has no part in these acts. He does. He has made choices that are in direct violation with my strongly held views on how our government should function.
But, Obama has also made choices that I value. He has participated in making choices that have prevented the tenuous and suffering economy from gasping its last breath, for the sake not of the wealthiest Americans, but working people like almost everyone we know. He has initiated a desperately needed dialogue on American health care reform and accomplished in making the first strides, baby steps though they may be, in working toward a health care model that will provide adequate care for all Americans. He has been vocal in supporting women's and family's rights, and turning around to make a public display for his support of the gay and lesbian citizens. He acknowledges the need for a change in America's reliance on fossil fuels and does promote green energy, even if it is alongside less wise plans for U.S. energy. He acknowledges the role that science has in improving the quality of human life. Quite importantly, he is neither despised nor ridiculed by most of the other countries on the planet; Obama's presidency has assisted in making positive strides in the world's opinion of the U.S. as a political, economic, and cultural entity. And he is an incredibly positive social role model for young Americans through his confident displays of intelligence, commitment to family and equal partnership with his wife, graceful conduct in a brutal political arena, and continued diligence to his goals and commitments while being publicly attacked on a daily basis just for being a black man.
I think all of this is very much worth acknowledging. I could say nothing I appreciated about the Bush presidency. Could you? How do you envision it would be during a presidency with Romney at the helm? What positives do you think you will be able to make note of at the end of that four year stint in American history?
By profession, I am a counselor. I spend every day working mostly with children and families dealing with severe mental health concerns, poverty, addiction, trauma, abuse, and so on. When I am working to help these people determine how to make the best choices to bring positive change to their lives, usually their options are quite limited. We cannot wave our magic wands and make the ills they face every day just vanish, and thus, I work with them to help them decide what are the sometimes small steps they can take to build toward the lives they want.
So, please, let me help you make that same sort of decision. Neither you or I can angrily, outrageously, or righteously force the U.S. political system to be exactly what we believe it needs to be to promote radical changes so the U.S. will become an equitable, peaceful, prosperous, healthy nation full of citizens with their needs meet, their homes and environment protected, and ample opportunities for personal success. We cannot willfully deny to make any choice at all, because in our lives making no choice always relegates your choice to being made by someone else for you. But we can actively work within our current situation. We can make good choices here and now to allow us to move forward toward making larger, more significant choices with greater impact on our collective future. Casting your vote for Barack Obama in this election, and encouraging the other conscious, thinking people you know to do the same IS that choice right now. Think it through, and do what you genuinely believe to be the most conscious action you can take in this situation.
Then fight like fucking hell with all your heart and soul to create the world you want to see every day for the rest of your lives. Voting is one very small step you can take. Your life is full of endless possibilities for how to support your vision of the American dream.
Best of luck to us all.
(And if you are interested to see how the New York Times agrees with me in their endorsement for Obama as president, see here.)