We come to an interest in politics via different routes, sometimes direct, sometimes circuitous. Mine couldn't have been more direct. My grandmother Maggie, in whose home I was born, delivered by the family doctor who was a friend of my grandfather's - and with whom I spent a lot of time while growing up, was herself a political junkie who, as they say, never forgot and never forgave. Her instincts were generally spot on - she had, for example, always distrusted Nixon as much as she came to like JFK. Her fascination did not fade with time. Decades after one political triumph or malfeasance or another, she could (and did) still relate the details to a listening granddaughter who loved to hear her talk.
Her individualistic interpretations of politics and politicians led her to some widely varying (and sometimes contradictory) positions. For example, she adored FDR and throughout her entire life, years after his death, viewed him as a savior of the nation, but she disliked Eleanor, his wife, because "she stuck her nose in where true ladies did not go". Where she went, incidentally, was down into coal mines to see for herself the conditions in which the miners worked (Maggie approved of better working conditions for miners but disapproved of women who invaded previously male areas). Eleanor's other big faux pas was her support of African-American contralto Marian Anderson's giving concerts in previously white-only venues in Washington, D.C. (like most of her generation in the South, Maggie was a die-hard racist).
Like many political junkies, Maggie held conflicting opinions about politicians. While admitting that FDR's expert use of political power had sustained the U.S.A. at its time of greatest need, she generally distrusted those who aspired to political power. Her two favorite sayings when discussing them were:
(1) The minute politicians start talking about God, religion, and family values, lock away the family silver and hide all the pretty daughters.
(2) If you want to know why politicians do the things they do, always follow the money.
All of the above, incidentally, is strictly for anecdotal interest because this blog post isn't about how Maggie felt about politics but what she did - or, rather, didn't - do about it. She never voted a single time. As far as I know, she did not even register to vote.
Why this was remains a mystery. It's probably a confluence of several factors. Maybe she simply never got in the habit - she was born into a world in which women were not allowed to vote, a situation that changed only when she was in her 20s. Maybe she believed in the upholding of traditional male-female relationships and voting was something men did. Maybe she oftentimes liked none of the candidates. Maybe she was busy with family responsibilities, especially since she did not drive and had no easy way to get to inconveniently located polls. Maybe she was just lazy and there were other things she'd rather do. I don't know. I'm pretty sure my grandfather wasn't a factor, as he wouldn't have dared tell her not to do something.
Whatever the reason, this smart, politically aware, extremely patriotic woman never bothered to vote. Which blew my mind when I first realized it and blows it even more now.
I think of her today, of course, because this week's midterm election matters so much, and I very much fear the outcome will be decided not by the politically aware, those who understand that it's necessary to use the governing process productively to achieve a general good, but by those who simply don't care enough to vote even though it's much easier now than when Maggie ignored this civic responsibility years ago.
The success of cynical political strategies that keep power in the hands of the few by "stacking" an ideologically constipated Supreme Court and by pitting different segments of the American population against one another has led us to a point where this could easily be the last relatively free election. Not everyone thinks that is a bad thing, of course. Most Republicans in power seem focused only on staying in power and getting their hands on the benefits thrown their way by wealthy interests. They manage this personal aggrandizement, of course, by delivering, by rigging the system to increase the dominance of economic rulers even more. Which means that truly free elections - without all the bizarre lies, gerrymandering, voter intimidation, dirty tricks, and all the other devices employed by those politicians who care only about their individual interest - are anything but good for those whose only aim is to stay in power. In fact, it's pretty clear they'd probably rather not have elections at all, which leads one to conclude that many of their antics are aimed at making people - especially those who do not agree with them - think that elections don't matter.
Don't let this abandonment of principles, these corrupt manipulations of public opinion mislead you. Elections do matter. They matter because politics matters.
Politics is not nice, nor is it pure. The old expression "politics make strange bedfellows" is firmly rooted in truth. Politics is compromise, a recognition that none of us at any time get all we want from the political process. That disappointment, however, does not mean that one should not bother to get out and vote but rather that we should consider very carefully what it is we value about our system and who is most likely to work toward a goal that we consider most important.
Even if one is totally cynical about the political system, there is in almost all elections a "lesser of the evils", a choice that shares more of our goals and has the determination to work toward them, even if that might involve political risk. This year, if you value a decent society in which elections are fair, tax responsibilities are equitably distributed, investment is made in the technology and infrastructure that moves the country forward, and economic opportunity exists for all, the only choice is to "vote blue" up and down the ballot even if one doesn't agree with all the candidates' actions or positions. Most of all, that is true when it comes to a workable strategy to deal with climate change - if we don't address that issue with the speed and intensity the growing emergency demands, everything else is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. And it is clear that Republicans will do anything to avoid even admitting that climate change is real, much less that it is urgent we address it.
So what I'm saying is, don't be a Maggie. Don't wait for perfection on the part of the candidates. Don't vote for a write-in joke because you're irritated with all the other choices. Recognize that politics matter. Vote accordingly.