Several weeks ago, I canvassed for Hillary Clinton, an event I can only remember with anxiety. It wasn’t bad, no one yelled at me, and most people were very supportive (Most people also pledged to vote for Hillary, BTW.); talking with strangers just makes me feel anxious. However, one woman did say something that bothered me: she didn’t know if she was going to vote because no candidate aligned 100% with her. So, since she couldn’t support everything any of the candidates did, said, or stood for, she was probably going to stay home.
I couldn’t help but think that this woman was misunderstanding how to be supportive. Most of us cannot say that we support our significant other, children, family, friends, and coworkers 100%. There is always something they say, do, or stand for that we either can’t understand or oppose. However, who they are is important enough to us that we decide to support them anyway. What they stand for is close enough to our values that we can fudge the rest. It’s pretty much the basis of every long-lasting relationship.
And yet, when many Americans think about politicians, they don’t apply the same standards. They nitpick at their histories, looking for reasons to distrust or dislike them. They’re waiting to find that smoking gun that will prove that they aren’t worthy of their time. They’re unwilling to stand in their shoes and look at the situation with anything like sympathy or the benefit of the doubt. Then, when they inevitably find something that could be construed negatively, they blow it out of proportion and condemn every politician as a charlatan.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should give all politicians a pass or ignore suspicious behavior. Watchdog organizations are important as are federal investigations, and the media should be asking hard questions. We should not tolerate corruption, bigotry, racism, or hatred of any sort in our leaders. But we should also not expect them to be infallible or have principles cloned from our own.
I cannot remember a single election, local or national, that hasn’t been characterized as “choosing the lesser of two evils.” People walk into polling stations already disillusioned by any candidate or simply stay home, theorizing that it simply doesn’t matter. Why choose an evil at all? Why not just abstain?
The problem with this is that low voter turnout does not mean the country will abstain from having leaders. We still have to have X, so abstaining doesn’t punish anyone you’d like it to. Communities will not softly dissolve into truly socialistic or communistic entities. Lawmaking will not stop. Humanity will not suddenly learn how to treat each other with respect and be truly generous. What usually happens is our most vulnerable people get hurt. Marginalized communities by definition are small and susceptible to the whims of the majority. When we stay away from the polls we say, “Good luck, guys. I don’t give a shit about you.” Unsurprisingly, nothing gets better for them.
So I’d like you to try something new as primaries and elections near: figure out which of your choices is best for your community. Think of them as ice cream choices. You can only choose from vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry. Did you want chocolate chip cookie dough or cookies and cream? Sadly, that’s not on the menu, and you are so hot and your sugar level is crashing. You have to choose something. You choose vanilla because it’s the lightest and looks the coolest and will go best with toppings. And guess what? It’s still good! It’s ice cream. It’s always good.
That’s how you have to think of your political choices. Who will be best in this situation? Who will hit enough good points? Who does or says things you can be proud of?
Voting is an opportunity to help shape our country. It’s about building a future you can be proud of one step at a time. However, if you want to actually feel some satisfaction, you have to be willing to work. You have to be willing to cast your vote, do your homework, make some compromises, and lobby for your principles. Remember, our country is a work in progress. We will always be working on it, and that’s okay.
* Image by Nick Anderson, taken from http://www.cartoonistgroup.com/subject/The-Political+Participation-Comics-and-Cartoons-by-Nick+Anderson’s+Editorial+Cartoons.php