Living in Oklahoma, any vote I cast in an election was irrelevant – Democrat, Republican, Independent, didn’t matter. Oklahoma will always go red in a national election, certainly in a Presidential election and, as of the last decade or so, in most state and local elections. (And no, I certainly do not vote straight down party lines. Some of my votes would surprise my friends, some would mortify my mother). If I voted for a Republican candidate, it didn’t matter because they were going to win, with or without my vote. Likewise, if I voted for a Democrat or a non-party, it didn’t matter because they were going to lose, with or without my vote. Yes, I realize if everyone felt that way and therefore, didn’t vote, it would change the outcome of an election, yada, yada. But in everyday life, going to vote in a State that always votes the same way does begin to feel futile. Still, I have ridiculously sappy patriotic views about how we have a responsibility and duty to vote. I used to record quotes like this on notepads, highlight them in books:
Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual–or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.
— Samuel Adams
I never skipped an election, even if my vote felt irrelevant. Plus, I always took the Divine Miss M along because I wanted her to learn these sentiments.
Granted, with the advent of Citizen’s United and the perverted state of political funding, my idealism had decreased. Frankly, I’m a little surprised anyone possesses it now, regardless of their party affiliation. But, hey, I was about to get some of that sentiment back because we were moving to a swing state! My vote would no longer be irrelevant! I was totally energized knowing that regardless of how I voted, it was going to matter. Colorado may have its leanings but it isn’t so immersed in one party or the other that my vote would be useless. Finally, I thought, a swing state! And a Presidential election year! How could this be better?! I was going to re-embrace my patriotic duty and head out merrily on election day to cast votes that mattered. Regardless of whether they were ultimately those of the majority, my time would be well spent, my votes would actually count for something!
I’ve now lived in a swing state for one and a half months. Less than two months … that’s how short a time span it took for me to eat all of those words.
Given the intensity of this experience, I can’t help but think that unless you’ve lived in a swing state during a Presidential election year, and many have, you know not of what I speak. I thought I knew politics fairly well. I didn’t consider myself naive, I thought I knew the nature of politics was negative and dirty. I thought my patriotic-duty sentiment had taken some hard knocks over the last decade or so, but it had survived, not unscathed but still breathing. I thought I would always feel that voting was important, even if I thought some of my particular votes irrelevant.
Yeah, I thought a lot of things before I lived in a swing state.
Oddly, the demise of my sentimentality first began with the Olympics. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but we like to watch a handful of the summer Olympic events as a family. We tried to stay spoiler free during the day so we could sit down together and watch our favorites in the evening. And it was great family and leisure time … except for the commercials.
There was never a commercial break that did not have at least one, but usually multiple, Presidential election commercials.* I understand the necessity for any candidate to compare and contrast their record and their intentions with that of their opponent. In doing so, there will inevitably be a level of negativity and criticism injected into the message. Also, in spite of people’s repeated cries against negative campaigning, study after study show it’s exceedingly effective. But these commercials? These commercials are so much worse than negative, it’s almost laughable. Instead, they are so hateful and vitriolic it literally began making us uncomfortable for our 11-year-old to watch them. I also got weary of having to explain why this or that statement was completely untrue when Miss M would ask a question about the content. Seriously, these ads are vile. Previously, we avoided watching prime-time television with M because of the content of the programming, the sexual innuendos of the commercials. But this? This was so much worse. And I know I’m more sensitive to this aspect of it than most, but being inundated with that much negativity over and over and over starts to affect my general mood and outlook.
Obviously, we began DVRing so we could skip commercials or if watching live, muting every commercial break and purposely engaging in conversation so we also avoided reading the text spewed forth on the screen. Now that the Olympics are completed, we’re back to minimal television and certainly minimal screen time on the major networks, which we rarely watch anyway. But last night, Jo was watching the news while I was sitting at the dining room table and all I heard in the background was campaign commercial, after commercial, after commercial – all of them as pleasant as the one before.
I didn’t want to be this way but whatever patriotic sentimentality I had left is pretty much obliterated. I’m not even looking forward to voting, though I will, just not with the energy I’d anticipated. Honestly, that disappoint kind of ticks me off. I wonder if the next generation will ever possess that, or if they’ll be even more disenfranchised than mine. I hope not. I hope they’ll demand better, because certainly they deserve better.
*from May 1, 2012 to August 20, 2012, Democrats and Republicans (combining Presidential campaigns, parties and the ever-marvelous Super PACs) spent over $30 million dollars in Colorado alone. $10 million of that was spent between July 31st and August 20th – three weeks and encompassing most of the Olympics.