Time To Participate In Democracy, American Humans

We are, as a people, fairly smart folks.

It’s easy to think we’re all stupid — we do, as a whole, some profoundly stupid shit. (We invented the Slanket. We watch Honey Boo-Boo. We drink soda from a 7-11 “Thirst Aborter” cup that holds more liquid than an elephant’s gastrointestinal system. We eat Funions.)

But all in all, we’re pretty fucking snazzy in the smarts department. I mean, uhh, hello — we humans invented the Internet. And cat videos. AND MOTHERFUCKING DEMOCRACY.

So, let’s all just take a moment and high-five ourselves.

Done? Good.

Let’s also admit that, though we are smart, we’re also selfish. We tend to our own needs first — and, to a point, those needs extend to our self-identified tribes, which may be a unit as small as a marriage, or a family, or a town, state, country, religion, geek clique, whatever.

And yet. For selfish people, I notice that quite frequently, we vote against our own best interests. Which actually seems to defy the notion that we are selfish, but aye, here’s the rub: we are often convinced that our own best interests are something other than they are.

We are, in a sense, seduced.

Seduced by a kind of fantasy.

That fantasy is, quite frequently, that we are one day going to be the kings of the castle. That we will be wealthy-ass motherfuckers rolling on a gooshy-wooshy waterbed filled with Goldschlager and covered in cash. We will one day live in the big house on the hill. We’ll have investments out the pee-hole. Simply put –

We vote like we’re one day gonna be rich.

It’s not impossible, after all. Class mobility is a very real thing. We don’t have castes. Our economic status is flexible. We’ve heard countless stories of someone pulling themselves up by the bootstraps, even though nobody’s boots have fucking straps anymore and if they did we’re probably look at them like, “What the fuck is wrong with your boots? OH MY GOD TIME TRAVELER GET ME MY GUN.”

Funny enough, nobody ever seems to acknowledge that class mobility is a two-way street.

So, a suggestion:

Maybe it’s time to stop voting like you’re going to one day be rich.

Instead:

Vote as if one day you might be poor.

Get shut of the myth that being poor is automatically the fault of the person suffering. I’m not so naive as to say that our fortunes are never our own doing — I’ve known plenty of people who have shot themselves in the ass again and again, earning and owning their many misfortunes. But I’m also not so daft as to suggest that sometimes? Shit happens. A tree falls on your house. The company that has employed you for 20 years suddenly shits the bed and dies, leaving you without work. A loved one dies. Car crash. Identity theft.

Bad luck. Get fucked.

Tell me: do you want to vote for a candidate who only takes care of you in the boom times? Who is there when things are good? Who doesn’t offer you a hand up so much as a pat on the back for being successful? Or is it better instead to vote for a candidate who will help you stand up when you’ve fallen? Who tries to put in place a safety net for before you fall? Who recognizes that sometimes awful things happen to not-awful people and that we need to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves?

Vote like you’re one day going to be poor.

Vote like one day you might lose your health insurance and then get sick.

Vote like one day you might get hit by an earthquake. Or a tidal wave.

Or, I dunno, I’m spitballing here — a hurricane.

Because it can happen to you. And it can happen to your friends. And family. And neighbors. And strangers.

It can happen to any of us.

Needless to say, I’m voting to re-elect President Obama. Because I think out of the two candidates, he’s the guy who’s going to help this country when it’s down. And that’s where we were four years ago. We were tumbling down, down, down the rabbit hole of recession and, at the bottom, depression. Things are, by my eyes and by most metrics, better now than they were four years ago. More to the point: our country didn’t crash into the wall and leave a trail of smoking economic wreckage littering the ground.

I’m not some Big Government guy — but I recognize that government has its place. And I believe that place is to help us when we need it — it’s easy to bemoan socialism or government programs and hand-outs when you’re not a person who can benefit from them. It’s easy to say the government should stay out of our way — but then one day you need Medicare for our aging parents, or unemployment, or ten gallons of free gasoline from FEMA so you can keep generators on for just one more night.

I’m also in favor of Obamacare. I’m a writer and a freelancer. I look forward to having real choice and cost control when it comes to my health care and health decisions.

Has Obama been the perfect president? Did he make good on all that Hopey Changey goodness? Maybe not. Certainly our president has fallen down on the job a number of times. But I still think he answered more of his campaign promises than anyone ever expected. And I don’t think he should be punished for not taking this country from zero to 60 in terms of the economy — any improvement is good improvement. Four years ago we were hurting. Four years later we shouldn’t expect everything to be an economic boomtown.

Now: if you feel that the one who will help you when the chips are down is Mitt Romney, more power to you. Message is still the same: go out and vote. Let democracy have its place. As wildly imperfect as it may be.

Oh, and do read up on your local elections, too. The economy may not trickle down as many once said — but politics sure as hell trickle up. And yes, I know, things don’t technically trickle up but let’s pretend there’s no gravity. SHUT UP WITH YOUR ACCURSED WITCH SCIENCE. We’re playing with metaphors over here.

What I’m trying to say is –

Get out and vote.

(Thanks to my wife for helping crystallize some of these thoughts.)

52 comments

  • If I invented a villain for a story that has had as many women and children killed as Obama has, while convincing millions he’s a stand-up guy who just needs a chance, the story would fail for being utterly unbelievable. Obama is not making things better for the poor. He is making things better for the insurance companies (at least in America. He’s straight up killing poor people in other countries.) And you are helping him. I’m not saying Romney would be any better, but this wasn’t a Vote for Romney rant, this was a Vote for Obama rant.
    I don’t vote (you’re probably pleased to hear that.) I don’t vote because I don’t like the concept of Democracy- I don’t think I should have any say in how you live, and I damned well don’t want you having any say in how I live. The thing is, a lot of people don’t vote. Pretty soon, the non-voters are going to outnumber the voters, by a large margin. Your social contract, your legitimacy of the State, is predicated on the consent of the governed. This consent is expressed through voting. To not vote is to not consent. It is to declare you have no confidence in the government, or its institutions, no matter who runs it.
    I know what I’ve written won’t change your mind. Its not really intended to. I just want you to remember it, and remember this- whoever wins today, you are responsible. You, and all the other voters out there. You consented. You declared your eagerness to be governed. If Obama wins, it Romney wins, one thing is true. The next four years. Are. Your. Fault.

    • @John:

      I’m a pretty cynical guy, but I’m not that cynical. Or maybe I just refuse to be.

      Regardless — not voting is your right, as we are a country that celebrates freedom, and sometimes that freedom means doing nothing at all.

      But I hope you at least do something. I hope you protest and try to enact change at some level, even if it’s not through voting.

      – c.

  • John -

    I have chosen to sit out many elections myself. I sat out the last one, and not out of laziness.

    But to say that by not voting you are not accountable for the way this country goes is a fallacy. The reason I am voting this time around is because I actually think the country will go one of two very different directions depending on who gets elected, which has not necessarily always been the case in the past. I don’t tell you how to live your life, and I respect your right not to vote, as I hope you respect my right to head down to the polls.

    One option besides voting is a government that doesn’t even pretend to care about our opinions and feels free to murder women and children in its own country without bothering to make excuses for doing it. A lot pf people in the world today are living under that sort of leadership. And if you think that no government at all would be the best way to go, I invite you to look over the Articles of Confederation, tried out right here in the old US of A, and examine how well they actually functioned.

    Democracy is absolutely the worst governmental system except for all the other ones.

  • Capillary action and superfluids can both trickle up. Economic stimulus targeting the poor, rather than the rich, trickles up to the rich just fine and boosts the economy with vastly greater efficiency than tax cuts for the rich. And if we can keep the Republicans from killing Obamacare, I just might be able to afford health insurance for my wife without needing to hold down a corporate job. I’m voting for Barack Obama.

  • I voted for Obama. I am all for health care and if the adults can’t rally and get a system for everyone, they could at least insure kids, like every kid. Kid’s health care is free in Germany, all kids. No family should have to be ruined because a kid is sick. It’s also insures that the country will have a healthy work-force in the coming generation.

    I hope the Americans realize that the canidate they pick will be representing America to the rest of the world. Anyone I talk to here can’t understand how a boob like Romney could get so far.

  • John,

    When it comes to foreign policy, “killing poor people” is the name of the game. The sanctions against Iraq were killing people since Desert Storm, degrading the country’s health and sanitation infrastructure and throwing Iraq back a century in terms of material progress. So we can blame three administrations for “killing women and children,” a deliberate policy decision whose rationale was to make life so horrible for the citizens of Iraq that they’d rise up and throw Hussein out. Then Bush II ramped up the body count by invading Iraq on false pretenses, with such a poorly planned and executed post-war that years of civil war were almost inevitable.

    And now we’ve got Obama and Romney competing for bragging rights about who would impose the toughest sanctions on Iran. Again, the philosophy is the same: make material conditions worse and worse until either the leaders submit to American authority or the populace rises up and overthrows them.

    Maybe you’re specifically referring to the drone strikes, which have turned Pakistan heavily against the US (and Obama) despite their being the biggest recipient of aid in the region. The only halfhearted defense I can make of drone strikes is that they look a lot more like a “war against al-Qaeda” than the Iraq occupation ever did. I think the program is monstrous, and should be ended. Having said that, I simply cannot imagine a President Romney turning off the spigot.

    So how do I justify voting Democrat, despite this? That’s a tough question. I have this strong suspicion that more egalitarianism at home will lead to a more humane foreign policy (among other benefits). I quote The Spirit Level too much, but there’s a great chart in there showing that, on average, developed countries with low inequality donate a larger fraction of GDP to humanitarian foreign aid. Oh, and Republicans scare the bejeezus out of me.

    I suppose I ought to be glad you don’t vote. But the current system of democracy has no way of distinguishing between your “I have no faith in you people or your political process” and “I stayed home to watch a Jersey Shore retrospective.” If you’re that dead set against the two major parties, vote Libertarian, or Green, or Socialist. Any one of them would have a better foreign policy than the two major parties do now.

  • John R., that’s the most passionate argument for abstention I’ve read. The problem is it carries the same weight as those who abstain because they’re too drunk to vote. Disengagement doesn’t mean refusal of consent: it only means disengagement. At least look up your local elections and write in Vermin Supreme for president while voting on things that might affect you.

  • But I love Funyuns, Chuck. :( What else am I supposed to eat when drunk and possible indulging in something that isn’t legal but should be?

    Seriously though, readers and commenters, if you can’t swallow the two main candidates, consider voting third party. Better than abstaining entirely. And you really should go vote for your local elections. They’ll have the largest and most immediate impact on your daily life.

  • One additional thought: if you think you can just vote today and depend that the candidate of your choice will behave like a wind-up toy and march forward to execute your desires as indicated at the ballot box, you will be disappointed.

    Whoever you vote for, and whoever winds up being elected as your representative, you need to pay attention BETWEEN elections to communicate how you want to be represented.

    Don’t vote today and wonder four years from now why you didn’t get the government you wanted if you’re not paying attention in between.

  • Funny, you would think, according to the commercials run by some of the SuperPacs, that the reason the middle class is shrinking is that they are all getting rich…

  • Thank you, Wendigs.
    Also: That woman over there getting welfare? She and others like her are taking less than one percent of the budget. Welfare is a less than perfect lifestyle, but it doesn’t actually remove much from the public teat. The Military Industrial Complex; now we’re talking greedy pigs.

  • Let’s also remember to not just vote at presidential elections but also at all of the little elections that aren’t quite as popular, news worthy or promoted. As Chuck was so kind to remind us, politics (and politicians) often trickle up.
    The U.S. political system is set up as a series of checks and balances. The president has to work together with congress in order to truly accomplish anything of value. Your representatives are JUST AS IMPORTANT if not more so than who you select as president.

  • @Jim I just wrote a lengthy example of why should vote at the very least for your state’s initiatives. I used Los Angeles’s Measure B as an example. It’s about the porn industry*. I was getting a little gross so I deleted it. My point was your local initiatives will have a day to day effect on your life, and these are often won with very small margins. Your vote will count.

    If you feel morally opposed for casting a vote for President fine, but the rest of the ballot? That stuff is important.

    If you really want to make a statement of being “governed” cast your Presidential vote for Roseanne.

    *I’m not in the Porn Industry but if the ballot passes they will leave LA and take their 10,000 jobs and taxable billions of dollars with them. Also, it’s their industry who are we to tell them how to run it?

    I’ll be posting this to my Twitter. I have at least 40 followers. You’re welcome Chuck.

  • Steinbeck said it best – America views itself as a nation of temporarily-embarrassed millionaires. Anytime you hear people saying, “Somebody should do something about that,” the “somebody” they are referring to–whether they realize it or not–is The Government. History’s made by those who show up…and crunchy Funyons.

    If you need to find your polling place, go to http://www.vote411.org/ and punch in your data.

    If you have trouble voting, you can call 1-866-OUR-VOTE to report it.

    DailyKos has a handy-dandy, very purty color-coded graphic with poll closing times for every state and includes downballot races. The site is partisan, but the info applies to everyone:
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/11/05/1154945/-Daily-Kos-Elections-Nov-6-2012-poll-closing-times-and-key-races?detail=hide

    And finally, if you’re a horror fan, sick of it all, or just want to have your fears and suspicions about the US election process confirmed by the Internetz, be sure to check out the Twitter feed of #RomneyDeathRally
    https://twitter.com/search?q=%23RomneyDeathRally&src=hash

  • @Peter stole my thunder in my response to @John.

    Thanks, Chuck. As always, well said. And props to the Mrs. for her input.

    Here’s the best reason I found to vote uttered by my hubby this morning:

    “Go and vote, people. Everyone. We need to cancel out the crazies.”

    No matter what side you’re on –the sentiment remains the same. What path do you want?

    As someone who went from merry-to-round corporate stable to penmonkey rollercoaster life, voting like one day you may be poor, is very, very smart, because the probability that it’s going to happen to you is way up there these days.

    And I’m happy to say that my ballot cancelled out Mitt Romney’s vote this mmorning. :D

  • A. Fucking. Men.

    I started out middle-class, when I was a kid. Lower-middle, maybe middle-middle. My dad worked 2, and sometimes 3 jobs, for most of my life. Get up at 4 in the morning to go do the paper routes he supervised, then he’d go run the factory floor, then, when we had too many cousins living with us to feed on 2 jobs, he’d come home and work at the gas station.

    When I was a teenager, he, unsurprisingly, dropped over dead. And we went from middle-middle, maybe lower-middle class to dead fucking poor. We lived on his social security. it was dark. It was better than homeless.

    And then the government gave me more grants than loans to go to college. And I went. And now I’m a middle-middle-classer myself, paying taxes and raising a family.

    Without the safety net, I’d be a bitter, angry manual laborer who always knew he could do “better” but instead had to settle for what he could find.

    I’m profoundly grateful to the spirit of FDR and Ted Kennedy and whoever the fuck it was set up Pell Grants in the first place. And I think Obama’s much closer to that–as center-right a Democrat as he is–than Romney will ever be. (For the record, I think Romney is no more opportunistic or calculating than any other CEO. He’s not evil, he’s just corporate.)

    I have to vote as if I might need the net, because I already have needed it. And I know the good it can do.

  • Best post ever. Three years ago my self-identified tribe was far from rich, but doing okay. Then a freak accident crashed it down. I mean down like a mofo. If you want to know horror, open your door at 2 am to the words, “There’s been an accident.”

    The social safety net was a rusty creaky thing, but it stopped the freefall and I was able to bring the aircraft to a halt on one wing, a sputtering engine, and a flat nosewheel (yeah, Ima mix my metaphors like a boss today).

    I’ve told countless others this same thing. Vote to keep that net there. Trust me on this one. Otherwise, gravity is head-bitch-in-charge.

    And this “I refuse to vote because I refuse to be governed.” Oh-freaking-yawn. However, I’m voting so that net will be there for you as well. And, as of the time of this posting, 1.3 million voters have self-reported via the FB app. And it is mostly young women. I couldn’t be prouder of them. Women understand the power of the vote. Everything we have, we’ve wrested from the establishment via the ballot box. Including access to that ballot box. Rock it ladies!

  • ummm……. in the title of the article you address “American Humans” then go on to write

    But all in all, we’re pretty fucking snazzy in the smarts department. I mean, uhh, hello — we humans invented the Internet. And cat videos. AND MOTHERFUCKING DEMOCRACY.

    Are you still referring to “American” humans here? It’s not as clear. So just to clarify, we all know that it was Greek Humans that invented Democracy thousands of years ago, right? Not American Humans.
    I just wanted to clarify…

  • Steinbeck had a great quote which dovetails with this discussion: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

    Love the phrase ‘temporarily embarrassed millionaires.’

  • Steinbeck’s quote is great (and has an element of truth about American attitudes) — but the real reason that Socialism never took root is, quite simply, that we adhere to an 18th-century electoral college system where the electors are chosen by the two political parties — making those two parties a de facto fourth branch of government.

    No “third” party, whether Socialist, Libertarian, or what-have-you, will ever gain ground in the US, simply because they have no power to appoint electors.

  • [applause]

    Thanks for saying this today. It’s somewhat eased the sick feeling I’ve been walking around with for the last few days leading up to the election.

    I voted early and I voted third party. I have no confidence in the system as it stands, and although the EC means that my vote for a different option counts for nothing, at least I let them know.

    Fuck Romney in his ear.

  • Sorry Chuck…going to have to raise an issue with the factual accuracy of the Elephants gastro-intestinal tract versus the Thirst aborter….Your looking at about 64 ounces (thirst aborter) versus 1055 – 2463 for an Elephant’s stomach alone.

    Between that and the Americans inventing democracy….this post is losing credibility fast.

    I know you’re a writer and thus have some degree of license but COME ON MAN…THERE’S A LINE AND YOU CROSSED IT.

    p.s During my extensive research I learned that Elephant poo is shaped like short cylinders and the radii of these ‘boluses’ can be used to judge the Elephant’s rectal dimensions and thus its size.

    p.p.s. Anyone thinking of taking this comment seriously shouldn’t.

  • A country that lets children go to bed hungry, veterans come home to foreclosure and unemployment, and senior citizens agonize over whether to spend money on medicine or food will never be great. I voted for Obama because I believe that when people are in trouble, he is less likely to say, “Let them eat cake” than is Romney, a man who said that disaster relief was immoral. What?

  • @Paul Baxter:

    Thanks, to you and to Sen. Pell :) .

    I also did not know that he was the main sponsor of the bill that created the NEA. Good man, that Claiborne Pell. Though… Uri Geller? Really, Senator? If he was a hard-righter I’d have to ridicule him for it, so in interest of fairness… REALLY, Senator? :p

  • Usually, i vote based on my values, beliefs, etc.

    This year, I’m voting because with Obamacare my family has health insurance (see Chuck above re lose-your-job-then-get-sick-and-go-broke). Without it, we’re fucked. That simple.

    When you vote, please consider how easily you, or anyone you love, could end up in the same position.

  • Home from voting for 4 more years just in time for lunch but instead of food I got these tasty nuggets of truth and awesome…
    I’m now so full of democracy and self congratulation that I don’t need that cheeseburger. Diet saved!! :) Thanx Chuck!!

  • M. Chapman – Elizabeth Warren would probably be a step up from Scott Brown in the “let’s not dismantle the safety net” argument… go vote :)

  • @Jon Personally, I hate the “safety net”. Really, I don’t really see the need for the electoral college, being established with the notionnthat the common people would not have the whits to pick a wise President. Is it true the common people make mistakes? Is what’s popular always right? Well, yes and no. Sure, Internet Pornography is as popular as ever, trolling runs rampant through the internet walkways, yet when it comes to voting fir a leader, most people take on an air of seriousness. Sure, a handful of people might vote without much thought, but the majority thinks each election through thoroughly, and makes the best decision they can based off that. The fact that the electoral college usually chooses its leader in accordance with the popular vote also supports the fact that the electoral college really impacts our legislsture minisculy, with the exceotion of funky elections like 2000′s Gore/Bush race. And even then, it was debatable that the college impacted our nation for the better!

    A National Vote, I see, will only benefit our government. Sure, there will be some leaders elected in this way that would prove to be mistakes, but that too happens all too often with the Electoral College (forget about Nixon?).

  • @M. Chapman.

    Wrong safety net – I’m talking about Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid, Pell Grants (and now federally issued student loans, about time), welfare, food stamps, Head Start and early childhood education, etc., etc.

    The electoral college, I haven’t really spent a lot of time thinking about.

  • @John – I just wanted to poke my nose in and point out that we’re not a democracy. We’re a constitutional republic. I’d be pretty scared of a flat-out democracy, too, because then the majority WOULD be telling you and me how to live our lives. Thank goodness this is generally not the case (with some notable exceptions for some civil rights issues, of course), as our constitutional republic is designed to protect the minority from the majority and prevent tyranny in government. http://www.lexrex.com/enlightened/AmericanIdeal/aspects/demrep.html

  • How do you guys survive without a safety net?

    As a Canadian, looking at America, even MediCare only assists the critically infirm and the very old (unless I am wrong here- help me out!). How do you guys survive without EI, Health Care, and (mostly) free education?

    Something I’ve always wondered about American views on such things. Seems like a no-brainer. Pay slightly higher taxes and ensure you or somebody else in the country gets medical care free of charge.

  • Was going to vote and then remembered my vote kind of really didn’t matter at all since I don’t like in Ohio or any other battleground state.

    But, uh, yeah: Get out and Vote … or something.

  • @Janina: it really wasn’t Greeks who invented ‘democracy’ in actuality, just the intellectuality around the concept. Greek polity was an oligarchy: too bad for the slaves, the women, and the poor.

    Just wanted to clarify….

  • I did more than vote–I’m an election judge. Some scenes from a suburban polling place:
    Random youth: “Whaddaya mean I have register beforehand?”
    Random old person on oxygen: “I’ve been voting for 67 years. I remember my first election, we didn’t let no darkies in. Back in my day–”
    Me (to young thug): Sir? Sir! Sir, you can’t wear that jacket in here.”
    Young thug: “Dat’s some bullshit, man! Y’all are tryin to suppress my vote.”
    “If you want to vote, you have to take off the Obama jacket inside the polling place.”
    “Nah, I ain’t even registered. I’m here with my baby’s mamma.” He turned the jacket inside out.

    Having said that–
    I’m not in a position to say which form of government is best–and neither are most people, I just happen to be one of the few who knows it. I swear to God, the young bloods that get passionate and protest their pet project injustices have nothing on a middle-aged guy that’s seen his tax dollars pissed away on frivolous programs, corruption and waste for over twenty years. I could buy into anarchy.

  • Oh hey! I dated John L. Robinson!

    Well, not John, specifically, but somebody just like him. You know. Mr./Ms. Passive-Aggressive. The one who says it’s fine, why don’t you pick the restaurant, and then spends the entire meal bitching about how they can’t find anything they like on the menu. The one who complains that the apartment is a mess but barely lifts a finger to do any housework. The one who, when you finally get fed up and put the relationship out of its misery, yells that s/he never liked you anyway.

    Don’t like the US political system, John? Work to change it. Socialist and anarchist and IWW chapters are right around the corner on the Internet. Got a better system? Persuade others to join your way. Think there’s a third candidate other than O v. R? Write them in and work on their campaign.

    But this “if I don’t vote everything is YOUR FAULT” bullshit is, well, bullshit. It’s sitting on your ass letting everyone else do the decision-making for you and then whining that they made a decision.

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