Monday, November 05, 2012

Ode to Voting

i love voting. it excites me in a way that it shouldn’t, making me feel so adult, alive, important. perhaps it’s the immigrant in me who knows that elections are a privilege to be cherished. i know not everyone is so lucky. i might not have been so lucky myself had my family not applied for our exit papers just prior to the grand exodus of 1979, when scores of Soviet Jews emigrated from the then-USSR, stripped of their citizenship and possessions, branded “political refugees” and sent on their way with a smack on the ass. i was a wee 3-year-old at that time, asthmatic and clingy.

though i don’t have any of my own “back in the motherland” stories to tell, i’ve heard plenty from my parents, who still call me each year to make sure i’ve voted, despite our political differences. they know better than anyone the value of democracy, with their own memories of having to work on Saturdays “voluntarily” for wages that were never seen and instead “donated” to communist comrades in Cuba. if they protested, they’d be out of a job. no recourse, no ballots to cast, only photos of Lenin to gaze at, found on the front inside cover of every book published during those dark, red years, when Soviet children would recite the communist manifesto as their pledge of allegiance.

to think that could have been me! the thought makes me shudder. and yes, while life in the former Soviet countries has decidedly turned more consumerist than communist in the last 20 years, it still sucks for jews. to get out when i did for the opportunities that i’ve had has been the greatest blessing of my life, especially when i ponder the alternatives. voting is a happy reminder of that.

election days are a thrill. i rise excited, early, eager to get my “I Voted” sticker first thing in the morning to show off at work all day. nowadays, i vote at a residential garage in my neighborhood, but like every other polling place i’ve ever voted at, the garage is run by hard-of-hearing octogenarians with warm smiles and stained dentures. i want to hug them all.

as i did four years ago, i will vote for Obama. i contemplated voting for Romney not at all, which isn’t to say i’m a diehard Democrat who thinks all Republicans are evil. i hate that kind of divisive thinking that pits both sides against each other in a dehumanizing way. i know plenty of lovely Republicans, my parents among them, and i understand why they vote the way they do.

we’ve had insightful discussions on the matter, some of which may have turned into screaming matches, but all of which have helped me understand their viewpoints better. we have since learned not to discuss our differences at the dinner table and not to try to change each other’s thinking. we don’t love each other less because of it. 

of course, i also live in the perpetually blue state of California, where Republicans are generally moderate in their views, like my parents, so i’ve never come across the kind of backwoods inbreds spewing party platitudes that you see all over YouTube. but it’s easy (and lazy) to make political parodies by cherry-picking interviewees, so i save my outrage for other things like the fact that we only have two viable political parties to choose between, which has never made sense to me. 

i don’t fit neatly in either box, with my political fire being relatively low-heat and of the Sesame Street “live and let live” variety, which i outlined here four years ago during the last divisive campaign. having said this, i’ve never voted for a Republican for president since i cast my first ballot for Clinton in 1996 and i will never vote for one until all the sanctimonious churchiness is taken out of the party platform. i am not a churchgoer and never will be, so i don’t want it in my politics. i would love to see some admitted atheists as candidates, but that’s tantamount to being a satanist in the political world. if i’m a diehard anything, it’s a secularist. 

i’m ok with “moral relativism” and don’t give two shits about how people lead their personal lives, candidates included. i know this should make me a Libertarian, but i believe in socialized medical care and a moderately sized central government. i also believe abortion should remain safe and legal and that gays should be allowed to get married (if no other reason than to be allowed to get divorced and give us reality shows like “Gay Divorce Court”). these beliefs are more important to me than lowering my tax bill, which is why i’ve always voted for democrats and will continue to in the foreseeable future despite being a mostly middle-of-the-road registered independent.

at this point, i’m disillusioned by both parties and hate everyone equally. it seems to have become a business above all else, with everyone lying all the time in an effort to serve their own best interests. the amount of fact-checking that has followed every debate attests to how dishonest the political process has become, and everyone just seems to accept this as the way things are. i know we’ve always been lied to by our leaders, though now we are much more aware of it, yet nothing changes. as someone who is very much a “lie to me once and i’ll never trust anything you have to say again” person, i find this baffling.

with this in mind, it’s easy for me to understand why people get cynical about politics. i hope it doesn’t sound like i’m there yet because i’m still very much pumped on the democratic process. i still believe in the American Dream i witnessed my parents achieve. i still drink alongside them at every family meal, our house divided yet still respectful, as my Pops raises his first shot of vodka to toast to the country he’s proud to call his own. i still get tingles when i hear Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America,” my family’s anthem. and i still never take any of it for granted. 

so when i step between those plastic partitions on Tuesday and punch through my ballot (careful to remove any hanging chads), i will acknowledge how lucky i am for the opportunity. then i will walk out joyfully, my civic duty fulfilled and my spirits elated, before dropping my paper voice into the voting box and collecting my sticker. i can’t wait.