Joined: Aug. 2008
Disclaimer: Within my group of friends, one of us is a non-voter; with the reason that both parties are to blame. On the rare occasions when the group talks politics, he trots out the old "neither is good so I don't vote but I'll criticize without providing a better option". I've been thinking about what to say or how to...so if this seems directed at Erasmus, it's not, per se. Some of the ideas apply, but it is more directed towards my group and, to be honest, is raw and unrefined. Nonetheless, I think has some relevance to this discussion.
Both parties suck. I won't argue that. They both have corrupt, selfish members that care only for themselves and their family, and play up their supposed credentials to get elected. They know what people want to hear and how to play the victim/crusader/outraged everyman as needed. Both parties also have well-meaning, honest people that want to do well for the country and the people they represent. They want to work with others and base their decisions on evidence and what will be best for the population, not what will be best for their next campaign. The frustrating thing is that those people often seem to be powerless and/or outnumbered, if they can even get elected at all. Without a doubt, our system polarizes just about any issue and throws balance of power to the winds. It either does not work as intended or is not capable of handling the situation in the US as it exists today.
So what now? Two main options that lead to a cascade of others: participate in the current but flawed system or abstain. If you abstain you can a) offer no suggestions and simply complain that all politicians are a waste or b) you can push for change. Change such as more viable parties, removal or empowerment of the electoral college, even a new type of government or any number of other ideas about whatever it is that you think is wrong. Let's say that we despise the system, refuse to participate in it, and want it changed. Short of armed revolution, how else will you change the system? Despite the poor phrasing, this is not rhetorical but an honest question. The only thing I can think of is a 'change the culture' mentality, which I do support. But a change in the culture does not mean that the system is changed by default. To me, once the culture is changed you are still left with changing the system from within (by participating) or removing the offending system.
Now what about participating? Is voting in the current system something of a tacit approval of the broken politics? Unfortunately yes, but no less than not voting is tacit approval of the status quo. Once you participate in the system, does that mean that you can't push for change? Should we just give up trying and submit to a broken system? Unequivocally, no. You can work with a broken system by putting into power people that are willing to make changes to fix it. A legitimate concern is that once any party is in power, nothing more would be done; no party would give up power willingly. However such a fatalistic attitude assumes that you could not being to lay the groundwork that would make changing the system possible. Without a doubt, it would be resisted every step of the way but such changes would need to be incremental, and some politicians would be more accommodating than others. It would not be quick and it would frustrating and full of set-backs, but at least it would be movement towards a better system. Sometimes, you do have to work within the system to get the system to improve. I know it is trite and whatnot, but that alone doesn't make it untrue. In my opinion, if you avoid the system because of disgust, what is important to you may be sacrificed because the system moves on, with or without you. And the thing is, it drags you along whether you like it or not.
The teaching of evolution is a perfect example. While no president will be able to settle the issue once and for all, their decisions affect the Department of Education and their veto power can decide laws and funding. Obama has stated his support for evolution pretty clearly (although it would be nice to see if he could match comments by Clinton*). Biden has called Intelligent Design 'malarkey', although I can't find specific support of evolution. McCain seems to have hedged his bet, saying he believes in evolution and that creationism should not be taught in classrooms, but that '...Americans should be exposed to every point of view' and specifically delivered the 2007 keynote address for the Discovery Institute. Palin also seems to skirt the line as much as she can and supports teaching both and the "don't be afraid of debate" type-scam.
So, here's the play: I think we can all agree, for better or worse, that one of the two major parties will win this election. It's not a matter of should they, are they the best, etc. but that there is no practical chance that anyone other than a Republican or a Democrat will win this election. So the option comes down to the pro-evolution/anti-intelligent design ticket and the teach the controversy/teach both ticket. By not voting, you are letting someone else make the decision on this topic which may have significant impact on the status of teaching evolution. Your vote is a chance to at least register your opinion, discussions of the electoral college not withstanding.
Voting doesn't mean you have to commit heart and soul to that least offensive party or that you can't ever move beyond them. But if you do want to have meaningful change, IMO, start by getting the most helpful of two options in and slowly work to get other options in. It won't be fast and it won't be easy, but small chance is better than no chance.
* http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/05/us/politics/05clinton.html Clinton's words were nice, but she is a politician and words mean little without action. This alone wouldn't be enough to believe someone, but it at least lets me see what they are willing to say and what they are afraid of saying.