I sat down last week with students at Marion and Peabody-Burns schools to talk about my experiences in journalism. One student commented about being frustrated by political news, and then she said something a bit upsetting. Because I was the one being interviewed I wasn’t taking notes, so I can only paraphrase what she said: She is glad she won’t turn 18 until after the election, because she doesn’t want to have to help choose who is going to screw up the country for the next four years.
Four things stand out about what she said; three upset me, and one is cause for optimism.
To start with, I hate hearing that someone is glad he or she doesn’t get to vote, or doesn’t want to vote. Voting is the most important civil right we have, because voting is the way we address all of our other rights as citizens. Lots of people fought long and hard to get the right to vote and to protect that right.
Second, her comment tells me that she doesn’t think any election except the presidential election matters. She is glad she’ll get to wait four years to vote. But before those four years are over, there will be congressional elections, state elections, county, city, and school board elections. All of those elections matter, and the more local the election, the more difference a single person can make.
Third, her comment about choosing who will ruin the country for the next four years shows awful pessimism. She doesn’t think it matters who wins, because things aren’t going to improve either way. In her eyes, there is no meaningful choice; it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. This is a symptom of making elections all about winning and not about governing. At least at the national level, the major political parties show more interest in getting in or staying in power as opposed to using that power to better the country. The 24/7 news channels aren’t helping. Their coverage of the election reminds me of ESPN’s coverage of sports, spending so much time predicting who is going to win, by how much, and why, rather than analyzing the consequences of policies proposed. The difference is that sports are trivial; elections matter.
But I found a little piece to be optimistic in what she said. Her comments indicated that if she was able to vote, she would, because voting is a duty that comes along with the rights and freedoms we have. And she is right about that. Voting is the first line of defense in protecting the freedoms we hold dear.
— ADAM STEWART