Sunday, November 4, 2018


One of my more vivid memories of growing up in the Bronx in the 1950s was Election Day. It was a school holiday, of course! (In a society which truly valued voting, it would, of course, be a holiday for everyone.) My parents were faithful voters, never missing an election and even making the extra effort to register in advance as was regularly required in those days. When I was very young, I would accompany them to the polling place and watch with a mixture of curiosity and awe as they took turns going behind the curtain of the clunky old voting machines, which would still be in use years later when I started voting. (I remember in 1960 watching the presidential candidates vote on TV and marveling at how backward California seemed with its paper ballots! I could not have imagined how today we would be yearning for the greater security paper ballots provide compared with contemporary computerized ballots!)

That was at the height of the Cold War when we were acutely conscious of the threat from a monstrous foreign enemy and of a potential conflict capable of eradicating human life from the planet. Yet it was, in retrospect, a much calmer and perhaps even saner time, a time of far more pervasive national and cultural unity and a perceived sense of common purpose, all of which are so manifestly lacking now. If voting was then the expression of that long-lost civic culture, now it may be our only avenue to repair our tattered union and recover some minimal sense of common purpose.

For all the blatantly targeted efforts at voter suppression, voter turnout looks hopefully high this year. It may well set a record for a "midterm" election. (While still reflecting an unhealthy over-obsession with presidential elections, the term "midterm" still sounds better than the even worse term "off-year" which we frequently used in analyzing such elections in the past.) 

Still, we largely lack that "Greatest Generation" civic socialization that motivated my parents to vote in every election. Voting - hence the extreme importance of boosting turnout - is the only mechanism to make meaningful change in our political process. The process is already skewed to favor underpopulated, rural areas - institutionally gerrymandered, so to speak - by the constitution, by the absurdity of state equality in the Senate, etc. It is skewed more malevolently by partisan gerrymandering by which contemporary politicians get to pick their voters, instead of the original idea which was for voters to pick their politicians.

As with bad speech, for which the only effective remedy is more speech - good, healthy, sane speech - the only remedy for non-voting, voter-suppression, and gerrymandering is as much voting as possible.

So voting is what it is all about - this election and every election!

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