Choosing to Vote (Or Not): A Family Matter

Enjoying the greatest American pastime!
Here's me and Nate a few years back, enjoying America's greatest pastime...goofing off in a giant baseball mitt. Photo taken by my father.

I am voting for my first time in the upcoming election; my brother, Nathan (age 24, Georgetown ’10, BA in Japanese, registered in Washington, DC) is not voting. We are both emphatic about these decisions.

My brother and I are very close and have similar minds—we are passionate and informed people with a left-leaning slant. We both believe in freedom and justice, and take a similar stance on issues both social (pro-choice, pro-marriage-equality, pro-environmental-awareness), political, and economical (anti-war, anti-large-corporation). But we differ fundamentally on why it’s important to vote–or, as Nathan argues, why it’s important not to.

In the coming election we are faced with two candidates who represent a wide collection of flaws, contradictions, and strong opinions. Even more fundamental than the choice between these two candidates, however, is the choice of whether to vote at all. Below, my brother and I discuss why we’ve chosen our path in the upcoming election.

S: I guess we can start off with the big question: Why aren’t you voting?

N: I’m not voting because I consider it to be morally wrong.

S: In this election, or in general?

N: This election—sorry, it’s a big question, there’s a lot of room for interpretation in what I just said. It’s not that I believe voting to be morally wrong, but I do not feel comfortable morally endorsing either of the political parties or the American government. Even though I personally support Barack Obama as a person and I love him, I can’t formally make an endorsement of a political system that I do not believe in and a government that has been bought and sold, and is more corrupt than Barack Obama could ever be. As much as I would like to vote, I’m not comfortable doing it. It’s a symbol. It’s a very…

S: Legally binding?

N: Well, treasured. It’s a treasured symbol of freedom with a lot of tradition. So many people have died in the process of making it possible for people like you and me to vote that I feel that my vote is sacred because it’s literally connected to the life of this country. I feel that the best way for me to make my voice heard is or to carry out my own moral decision-making as a citizen is to refuse to vote for a system that I feel has been bought and sold and corrupted by greedy people. That’s why I’m not voting—it’s not just because I’m angry, although I’m very angry. I feel that my vote is sacred and I don’t feel like wasting it on something that I don’t believe in.

S: Why aren’t you voting for a third party candidate, like Jill Stein?

N: I don’t know that much about the third party candidates. What I do know is that they’re not going to change the American system.

S: Do you feel that it’s a wasted vote?

N: These people are working so hard to make a difference, but when I reflect on it at the end of the day, I don’t believe that these people stand a chance. It’s not that they’re not doing enough, it’s that they’re fighting against the greatest power structure in the world. They’re trying to improve a shitty situation from the inside out and I don’t believe it’s credible that they’ll improve our situation. So, essentially, maybe it sounds like a cop-out, but I have a strong feeling that it’s too late. Believe me, I would like to

Oh, dear, this is embarassing...
Possibly the most embarrassing picture ever taken, but here's us plus my best friend George on Halloween, approximately ten years ago. I'm a mental patient, Nate's Wolverine (I made those claws out of duct tape and a paper plate!) , and George is a pirate. Photo by Merylee Glicksman Felder.

vote, but I don’t know if there’ll ever be a candidate who I feel comfortable voting for.

S: Would you not also agree that a non-vote is also a wasted vote?

N: No. Third parties always fail, and part of my thinking against voting is that they are trying to change the situation from the inside out, but they end up paying lip service to the situation. In essence, voting for a third-party candidate endorses the election itself. By not voting, I seek to avoid doing that. It’s a fucking circus! I don’t want to be a part of it.  People are so passionate, and they care about voting and each other, but the results can be disastrous, like with the election of George W. Bush. Third parties, in effect, interfering with an election that’s already corrupt from the outset… People with high special interests, like in the environment, it provides people with an outlet to try to create some positive influence on the issue, but no third party will ever have enough serious influence to be taken seriously.

S: Well, sure, it’s either going to be Romney or Obama here. One of these two people is going to be president. I’m going to vote for Obama.

N: I would also vote for Obama, were I voting.

S: I think we have similar complicated feelings about Obama. I have complicated feelings about issues like drones—

N: You mean that you don’t want to vote for someone who’s murdering people.

S: Yeah, of course.

N: But you’re going to. That’s the main issue, that moral justification! The real important consideration here is murder!

S: You don’t subscribe to any version of a “lesser of two evils,” then?

N: I do not.

S: So you see things in black and white.

N: Not always! I don’t think of it that way. When it comes to the issue of state-sanctioned murder, though, of course, of course I’m not going to endorse such a system.

S: Do you think it’s possible that there will be a candidate one day who will not be involved in wrongful death?

N: No! Not realistically, not anymore, that’s part of what I hate about this position. It will not likely be possible for me to support my own society.

S: Alright, well, tell me briefly why you don’t support either of these two specific candidates.

N: Okay. Well, for the record, Mitt Romney is the face of the fucking enemy. He’s a dried-up white weirdo and if you learn about who this person really is…leveraged buyouts, fucking people out of their jobs, lying, Mormonism…which, by the way, will motivate starting a war with Iran if he is elected president based on religious reasons. I passionately hate Mitt Romney…I think that each candidate should be judged individually on the basis of his or her own merits before we start talking about the “lesser of two evils.” I really believed in Obama in 2008 because I felt he was progressive on every important issue except for, you know, the basic assumptions about the society I feel are unjust.

S: Did you vote for him?

N: No, because I was in Japan for that year, and I regretted it. But now that he has failed to keep his most important campaign promises, I’m now happy that I didn’t vote for him, because I believed that he would put an end to the practice of abducting people, torture, and so forth, and quite the opposite has happened. It’s gotten worse over the years. So while I think that Obama is right about most issues and is a vastly superior candidate to Mitt Romney, his record of liberties is enough for me to consider him to be a murderer. The fact that millions of people will vote for him, putting their names and sacred right of choice on the ballot in favor of murder of a sixteen-year-old kid by a flying robot… it’s ridiculous.

S: Well, by that logic, do you think that there has ever been a good president? Would you have voted for Kennedy? FDR? Lincoln? Is your argument that this election is one that you can’t vote for, or is your argument that voting is and has always been immoral murder-fuel?

N: It’s a difficult question. Looking back on US history, most presidents have been murderers. I think I would probably come to similar conclusions over the history of the US. I don’t care if it’s 1850 or 2012, murder is wrong! I won’t vote for it! You need to be able to really stand up for your decision.

S: I’m writing this article because I want to inform people about two enthusiastic perspectives about voting in this election. The way I feel about this election is that it’s important for me to vote because I though agree that there’s no moral exception surrounding murder, I can’t see around the fact that those immoral behaviors are a constant and will happen no matter what I do.

N: That’s a very important point. They are a constant.

S: They’re a constant in all governments, and although Obama has been a disappointment in this term, I couldn’t abide doing everything I can to make sure that, first of all, Mitt Romney does not enter into office.

N: You can’t prevent it!

S: Well, my vote does count for very little in Massachusetts.

N: Me, too! I have the leisure of having this discussion because I’m registered in Washington, DC.

S: Would you vote if you were in a swing state?

N: If I lived in Ohio, I think I would probably vote for Barack Obama. I’m in a very different position; I really do feel that my vote counts for absolutely nothing. It gives me a conceptual way of thinking about what a vote can really change, so whether I lived here or in a swing state, I don’t feel that one of these “important” votes is really going to make a meaningful difference for the kind of change I wish to see in this country—real change, not Obama change, like everyone getting enough to eat. That’s what I care about, not whatever “change” these candidates are promising.

S: Allow me to make a couple of personally important points. Voting being important is not just about war, what also matters are practical facts, like that whoever is elected president will have the power to elect one or more Supreme Court Justices, that the election will have an effect on how the houses of Congress will interact with one another and how legislation is passed, and that counts for everyone, and voting in a presidential election is one of the only ways that I can have any influence on these interactions.

N: Well…

In Israel
Nate and me in Israel last summer. Photo taken by my mother.

S: Of course, I can and plan to vote for my congressional representatives. But I can’t vote for how they will interact with presidential mandates, and I certainly can’t vote for a Supreme Court Justice, which, considering important pieces of legislation to me, like Roe v. Wade, in a socially bipolar environment, matters a great deal.

N: That structure of government is antiquated.

S: But we have to work with what we have!

N: We do, fine, but a real vote for change would be to reform the government and find a new system of checks and balances. Instead, Mitt Romney, if elected president, could appoint a slew of new justices who could easily take away your right to control your own body! That’s not a functioning democracy!

S: Big question: would you advocate that others not vote?

N: Unfortunately, idealism will make me sound like a moron, but when it comes to moral values, I don’t feel it’s okay to compromise. If not a single American citizen were to vote… From a practical perspective, I don’t think it’s good to discourage people in Ohio from voting. However, I am in favor of expanding consciousness of opinions such as my own by communicating that I don’t support murder and torture and nobody should. People want to make their voices heard and believe in America so much, I think they lose sight of the fact that they’re supporting these corrupt practices.

S: Would you encourage people to vote in congressional and local elections?

N: Oh, yes. I fully intend to vote on a local level.

S: I have one more question—another big one. When the results roll in, when we have either a new president or the same president, what are you going to do?

N: I will definitely cry.

S: (Laughing) What about if Obama wins!

N: (Laughing) I am emotional! I mourn every death that is perpetrated by the government. I know it could easily be me, or you. I would encourage everyone to learn about what really goes on.

S: Well, what are you going to do about it?

N: Put it this way: I will continue to protest murder. Whether or not I can make a difference, I can still stand up for my values. Politicians use social and cultural issues related to morality in order to differentiate themselves. The result is that the country is split down the middle politically because of the important issues. The moral conversation surrounding penises, vaginas, buttholes and babies determines the future of this country politically and economically, as well as any wars that happen.  I’m fundamentally opposed to the manipulation of culture in order to protect the powerful and keep the rich people rich.

S: I agree with you. That’s why I’m voting!

N: And that’s why I’m not!

Sharon Weissburg

Sharon Weissburg (CAS 2015) hails from the lovely city of Providence, Rhode Island and loves fashion, literature, music, and art. She's a pretty big fan of pretzels dipped in marshmallow fluff, too.

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