Friday, February 1, 2008

Crooks, Civics, and Poli-Sighs

My mom didn’t think much of politicians. “They’re all crooks” was her blanket assessment—a mantra she repeated often. At first, I took her seriously; I was an impressionable child. I’m sure this dismissal and pronouncement of dishonesty is why I had no interest in Poli-Sci, once I got to college. However, I do credit my first Political Science class with helping me figure out why she felt that way. After all, we lived in Chicago during the heyday of the first Mayor Daley’s political machine. Our city’s gangster legacy didn’t help, either—Al Capone, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, thugs and Mafiosi. I used to wear this wacky button to the polls every year. I got it when I subscribed to the now defunct Chicagophile newsletter, a nostalgic publication for former residents of the Windy City. It said, “Two ballots for me—I’m from Chicago.”

Despite these seedy influences in the party that ran the show in My Kind of Town, I am a dyed in the wool Democrat. I can barely remember the times I have crossed party lines and voted Republican, Independent, or Green. The first time I voted was in the
1968 Presidential election. The Wikipedia article linked here aptly called it “a wrenching national experience” following the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the violence at the Democratic National Convention that year, and demonstrations against the Viet Nam war. As a voter, I was off to quite a start from these slanted beginnings—the influences of parents, my local culture as I grew up, and the volatile times during which I cast my first ballot.

You might say that, for me, politics smacked of violence and unfair influence. My same mom who didn’t mind bad-mouthing her duly elected “crooks” was not beyond wrangling a parking ticket fix or whatever else she could buy for the right “contribution.” I knew this was wrong—she was a hypocrite—but she was my mother and I loved her, warts, inconsistencies and all.

Still, it is hard for me to deal with the simple responsibilities of being an informed voter. This realm of life give me the creeps—sometimes a little too literally. It’s like pulling teeth for me to analyze the issues, I am so acutely aware that there are few unbiased sources of information. I rely heavily on the
League of Women Voters and political satire shows like Real Time with Bill Maher, the Daley Show with Jon Stewart, and the Colbert Report. In case you’re wondering why a politi-phobe watches this stuff, my husband is addicted to these kinds of programs, and I learn more through wit and outrage than any other way. Besides, I can’t resist being nearby and to hear his loud belly laughs.

During each election, including California’s February 5th primary, I labor over my election materials. I take my one small vote seriously, despite all the psych-out of my personal political history. I vote Democratic for the most part, only because this party’s platform and candidates usually reflect my own positions more closely than those of Republicans. Still, I’m open-minded. I voted for Arnold for Governor, and I’d do it again. How bad can a guy be who sleeps with a Democrat and is a part of the Kennedy clan? His bipartisan household makes him a natural bridge builder, a role I admire and take on myself, whenever I can.

I believe our best hope for outstanding leadership—a better country, economy, and a world at peace—is to eliminate the two-party system and vote for candidates on their merits. I’d even settle for a three-party system, if the third party were for real and not a wannabe that can’t get past the resources and influence of the big boys to play seriously. That means finding a way to level the playing field. Let’s hear it for throwing out the Electoral College, too, while we’re at it, or at least rethinking it. In 2008, I’m pleased that when it comes to the Democratic choices, it is not a matter of the usual lesser of two evils; rather, I could live with any of the major contenders as President. That’s a first in my voting lifetime. Things are looking up.

Good citizenship is hard in these laborious decisions of who merits our support and how much to get involved. We are beginning to see the power of the people via the Internet to influence elections and decisions by elected officials. I encourage everyone to list the issues you care about strongly and to decide which ones are important enough for you to take the time for an email, call, or volunteer stint. After all, we boomers aren’t getting any younger, and there’s nothing better we can do with some of our “spare” time after retirement than to help make the world a better place—or at least our little corner of it.

I don’t do enough to make change or influence it, at least in the political arena. This year we were brave enough to wear our stance about a local proposition on a lawn sign in our front yard. At least it’s a start. Meanwhile, I will continue to make the best decisions on my ballot, based on unbiased information—or at least biased information from both sides plus a run through my own intuition (read internal lie detector).

I have the privilege of knowing several recent immigrants. Their pride and honor in becoming citizens of this country is inspiring …

… and they have inspired me to ponder what it means to be a “becoming” citizen.

No comments: