A Lesson for 2006: Voting Your Hopes versus Voting Your Fears

While in college, I was a member of the campus Green Party. Highly ideological and filled with the enthusiasm of inexperience, I more often than not found myself in arguments against the campus Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians, over issues which I believed to be of great importance. Although I understood a good number of issues at the time — or so I thought — it was the inexperience from which I drew my enthusiasm that led me to the ideas and conclusions I had at the time.

Let’s get the record straight on a few things: my beliefs are not those of your common political party-liner. I joined the Greens because I highly admired Ralph Nader. (I still do, to a certain extent.) He seemed to be the only honest politician running that year. Although I disagreed with him on a large number of issues — abortion and feminism being the two with which I disagreed the most — I felt that the honesty with which he represented himself, his economic ideas, and his backers more than made up for any ideological differences I may have had.

During that election cycle, I campaigned almost non-stop for the man: I put stickers on my car, stuck signs on my lawn, and wore t-shirts sporting the slogan “Nader/LaDuke 2000″. (I think I still have that one.) I even went door-to-door throughout my little town of Seffner, doing for the Green party what funds could not afford to do: reach out to people one on one. I attended rallies, I organized campus activities — I did it all!

I actually, in my heart, believed that we could pull it off, if not a victory, then at least a strong stance. If you’re going to fail, you might as well make it a spectacular failure. Or, as my teacher used to say, “If you make a mistake [playing the violin], do it LOUD! There’s no reason to compound an error with inaudibility.” I really believed that my efforts wouldn’t be in vain.

The election came. Win or lose, I had invested myself in something I truly believed in, something I could honestly be proud: I fought for what I believed, and I voted my hopes as opposed to my fears.

And the election went, and unfortunately those very fears became reality on January 20, 2001. Still, my fears could really be unfounded; there was still hope, right?

Right?

As was expected, for a long time I questioned whether I did the right thing by voting for what I believed in — when I voted for Nader — instead of voting “against” something, by not voting for, but selecting Gore. (Don’t get me wrong, I liked Al Gore, and I highly admire Lieberman; I just liked Nader better.) After all, Nader didn’t really have a chance to win, or so everyone told me. Not because he wasn’t a good man for the job, but because it’s a two party system, and everyone knows that this is a two party system, just like the forefathers wanted it just like it’s supposed to be, because too many candidates is a bad thing. But I didn’t want to believe that. I wanted to believe that America would vote its conscience, regardless of party lines, as opposed to blindly accepting the status quo. I believed America wasn’t really full of media-controlled lemmings, that it could make up its collective own mind and not be sold to the moneyed interests, and that this time around it would rise and make such a noise so as to shake the very foundations of the American political institute.

I was wrong. Dead wrong. America didn’t, and this battle, like so many others, became one for the lesser of two evils, instead of a battle for the greatest good. Heck, Nader only won 4% of the vote, not even enough to win matching funds; this would’ve been a victory for us, and hope for 2004.

And that’s how it ended, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

I battled with the question of whether I had done the right thing. I asked myself whether I would, if given the chance, make the same decision again, knowing full well the outcome. Would I have gone against what I believed to be right and done something which, at least within my conscience, would have been a moral wrong by voting for someone I didn’t truly believe in? Could I have denied my truest of hopes in order to avert a potentially greater evil? In other words, do the ends justify the means?

I don’t know whether I can ever really have an answer to that question. Honestly, I’m not sure it’s even worth asking, except as a guide to future decisions. Will I continue voting my hopes, knowing full well what the price might be, or would I succumb to the prevailing political winds and vote for the lesser of two evils, hoping that evil will be lessened gradually over time? I hope that I never have to make that decision again, but I’m not holding my breath on it. (After all, a year is an awful long time to be holding your breath.)

Sadly, the election of 2004 was won not by ideology, but by fear mongering. Where certain politicians couldn’t win by their actions or records, they won by putting fear in the heart of their countrymen. The spoke not of a bright future, an improving country, or a chicken in every pot, but instead played on the fear of the people, telling then that if they didn’t get (re)elected things would get worse faster than they were already getting. Most disgusting and frightening of all, they did it by forcing those of us who have high moral standards to either vote for them or stay quiet, by having their cronies point out that if we voted for the “wrong” person, we would be doing a great moral wrong, greater than not voting. I’m not sure there can be a greater moral wrong than not voting in a land which depends on your vote to survive.

Here’s the lesson for 2006: Don’t let the mistakes of the past repeat themselves. Become a student of your local and national political situation. With your vote, with your campaigning, and even with your candidacy, fight that which you believe to be wrong and stand up for those things you believe to be right. Don’t let yourself be swayed by single issues, catchy slogans, or fear mongering on the part of politicians, but instead fight for that which is right. Fight for your life, your liberty, and your pursuit of happiness because after all, if you don’t have that, what do you really have?

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