To keep the focus of the blog consistent, I try never to post content on the main page that doesn’t relate in some way to the Muppets or the Jim Henson universe. If I can’t find a way to relate it, however obliquely, I put it under a separate tab.
Unfortunately, however, it seems that the pages I post under a separate tab don’t go out to subscribers, so most of you didn’t see my voting story. I linked to it in a recent post that related it loosely to Sesame Street, but that didn’t get the attention that I hoped for either.
It’s really important to me that you see this, take it to heart, and learn from my mistakes, especially if you are an American who is eligible to vote but thinking about not doing so. So I’m making an exception to my rule and posting this completely off-topic post on the main page where it will remain, pinned to the top, until after the election.
The first presidential election I was eligible to vote in occurred in the year 2000. I had taken government class in high school but ended up getting a C and didn’t glean much from it. In the year 2000, which was two years later, I was excited about the primary, but when my chosen candidate was not nominated, my enthusiasm waned following the conventions.
I didn’t vote in that election at all. I had several reasons, none of which was a good excuse:
- I was a university student living across the state from the county where I was registered to vote. I didn’t know how to request an absentee ballot, and I didn’t bother to find out in time.
- I had (and continue to have) fundamental conflicts with core planks in each party’s platform. I didn’t see how I could vote for either in good conscience.
- Neither of the main party candidates struck me as trustworthy.
I don’t specifically remember if anyone called the 2000 election “the most important election of our lives.” In retrospect, however, it was. The 2000 election set the stage for just about every terrible thing that has happened over the last four years. George W. Bush is no less a sociopath than Donald Trump; he’s just a little bit better at hiding it.
But at the time, I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight, so I didn’t know that. I didn’t realize how high the stakes were. I still believed in voting as an abstract concept, but I thought I could hold out until there was a candidate worthy of my support. It wasn’t apathy or abdication of my civic duty, I rationalized to myself, but abstention. People in Congress, whose job it is to vote, nevertheless have the right to abstain. I thought I could claim the same right.
You probably know all about what happened in that election from your history books: The Florida recount, the hanging chads, the eventual Supreme Court decision. What your history books may not tell you about are the months of agonizing suspense, with the future of our entire democracy hanging in the balance. I felt partially responsible for the uncertainty.
Now, you could say that one little vote in sparsely populated and deeply red South Dakota wouldn’t have tipped the balance either way, and you’re probably right. But there were probably thousands of people in Florida, maybe even millions, who were disaffected in the same way I was. If they had exercised their civic duty, maybe the count wouldn’t have been so close. Maybe there wouldn’t have had to be a recount with its surrounding turmoil. Maybe it would never have gone to the Supreme Court.
Maybe we wouldn’t be where we are now.
Following that election, I made myself a promise: Whatever else happened, no matter how unappealing the candidates, no matter how ambiguous the issues, no matter how the electoral college worked against me, even if it cost me every scrap of self-respect that I possess, I would never again fail to vote in a presidential election.
There have been four presidential elections since then. I’ve fulfilled my promise and voted in every single one. In the two involving Barack Obama it was easy because he’s someone whom I genuinely wanted to vote for. Otherwise, as depicted on South Park, it’s mostly been a choice between a giant douche and a shit sandwich. For those of you who may be in the same position I was in back in 2000, feeling like you can’t vote for either candidate in good conscience, here are some tips for making a decision that you can live with:
- Try to find out more about each of the candidates. Unfortunately for me, The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell was not published until 2002, and I didn’t read it until at least 2005. Once I finally read it, it allowed me to see Al Gore in a different light. I found out, far too late, that he was someone I could have felt good about voting for.
Research the candidates beforehand, not only their policy positions but who they are as people.
- Choose the lesser of two evils. As soon as the 2000 election ultimately went to W., I got a sick feeling in my stomach. It wasn’t until Gore lost that I realized that I would have much preferred that he’d won.
Try to imagine the most likely outcomes of the election. Gauge how each hypothetical makes you feel. Vote for the one whose victory would be less disappointing to you. If you can’t bring yourself to vote for one candidate, then tell yourself that you’re actually just voting against the other.
- Consider the running mate. Tim Kaine really impressed me back in 2016. I may have filled in the circle next to Hillary’s name as a matter of necessity, but I was really voting for him.
In some ways, Kamala Harris is even more impressive to me. There are the obvious qualities, e.g., her gender and her heritage, that make her a groundbreaking candidate. Those things are important because representation is important, but they don’t really tell me anything about who she is as a person. What really impressed me about her was when I found out that she once took a principled stance on behalf of the LGBT+ community, one that could have negatively affected her position and perhaps her whole career.
It’s now been 20 years since the 2000 election, and the stakes are higher now than ever before. It is not a hyperbole to say that this is the most important election in the history of the United States and that our very lives might depend on the outcome. I’m writing this in the hope that you newly eligible voters will learn from my mistakes and exercise your right to participate in our democracy. Because if you throw away your shot now, you might not get another one.
Unfortunately, you do not have the luxury that I had of figuring things out the hard way. That’s partially my fault, and I regret shuffling my responsibility off on future generations, even though I didn’t realize at the time that that’s what I was doing. I own my grievous mistake, and I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since, even though I never can.
The thought occurs to me that maybe some of you are convinced that voting is important but not sure how to go about it. In the interest of trying to maintain oblique Muppet connections to justify putting this post on the main page, I invite you to check out Stephen Colbert’s Better Know a Ballot for state-specific voting guidance.
History has its eyes on all of us now.