Many years ago, before my state switched to all mail-in voting, I was walking from the bus to my office on a Tuesday morning that happened to y Election Day. And I had walked over to the polling place (two blocks from my place at the time) and voted before I caught my bus to work. My office at the time was in a building that was literally across the street (in different direction) from the offices housing two of the local television stations. And I saw on the sidewalk ahead of me a cameraman and a young woman holding a microphone.
When I got to here, she stepped up and said, “Excuse me, sir, may we ask you a few questions?”
The camera was now pointed at me. I said, “Sure.”
“Did you know there was a primary election today?”
“Yes, of c–” I answered.
She interrupted me. “And did you vote this morning?”
I grinned. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.”
“I’m sure you know that many people don’t vote in the primary, sir. Why did you vote? Was there a particular issue on the ballot that drove you to vote today?”
I know that I blinked dumbly at her for a moment before I said. “Um, I always vote. I have never missed a primary, general election, or special election since I was old enough to register. Voting every time is what you’re supposed to do…”
But before I had finished that answer, she had dropped the microphone, turned to the cameraman and made a slashing motion across her throat. “Thank you, sir” she said perfunctorily, and turned her attention to someone else walking down the sidewalk.
Apparently that wasn’t he answer she was looking for.
I was reminded of this story because a lot of people I know are re-tweeting and re-blogging a comment from a blogger who I have frequently quoted before about how important it is to show up and vote. Except he doesn’t quite say it that way. In an earlier draft of this post I quoted him and then picked apart his arguments, but that isn’t really useful.
While it’s true that some demographics show up less consistently to vote, that isn’t the only problem. There are a lot of people pointing fingers at the voters for not showing up, but doing so ignores at least two other major issues:
- Voters who do show up, but cast their votes for third-party candidates who can’t wint
- Voters who look at the choices and are appalled that they get to choose between an ultra-conservative and a moderate conservative, so they don’t show up.
Both of these are different aspects of a big blind spot that most people suffer from and that the major media outlets completely ignore: The center is not where anyone pretends it is. The Democratic party is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a liberal party. The two major parties in this country are not sitting at opposite ends of a spectrum. The Republicans, yes, are super, neanderthal-ishly conservative, but the Democrats, are also conservative. Going by voting records, 90-some percent of the elected democrats in congress are more conservative than the majority of the U.S. population on topics of: gun control, health care for all, gay rights, women’s rights, tax policy, Social Security funding, and allowing businesses to discriminate against people for religious reasons.
And the establishment Democratic operation keeps endorsing candidates in that right-of-center realm. Which makes a lot of the natural Democratic base roll their eyes and either not show up, or come to the polls and throw away their votes by voting for third-party candidates.
There have been a number of primaries in various states in the last month or so where unprecedented numbers of Democratic voters are showing up. Some precincts ran out of ballots, so many more people than ever have before showed up! And in a number of these races the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is spending money endorsing a candidate who they think will appeal to the Trump voters. And in a lot of those races, all those extra democratic voters showing up are voting for candidates that actually espouse a few liberal policies. And they’re winning.
I don’t buy the line from the DCCC that those extra voters are picking losers. I think it’s the DCCC that keeps picking losers. Of the excuses I hear from people who either don’t vote and throw their votes away other ways is that they don’t feel they have a real choice. Even in races where the Republicans are fielding a foaming-at-the-mouth racist, and the Democrats are putting up someone who looks middle of the road. And that’s because the middle-of-the-road guy keeps making conciliatory remarks about the blatant racism, et al, of his opponent. And while there actually is a difference between the two, to a lot of folks looking on, it just doesn’t seem that way.
And we’ve been bitten before. The Democrats had solid majorities in both houses of Congress during the first two years of Obama’s presidency, and they didn’t enact any liberal policies. They spent two years begging and pleading with a few slightly less rightwing than Attila the Hun Republicans to get them to support a half-assed watered-down version of a couple of their promised initiatives. Even with more than 70% of the voters approving it, they didn’t even try to repeal Don’t-Ask- Don’t-Tell (allowing queer people to serve openly in the military) until the lame duck session after they lost their majority in the first midterm.
Yes, I agree with the blogger I alluded to above that it is on us to show up and vote. It’s on us to encourage others to show up and vote. But one of the ways we can encourage them to do that, is to give them candidates they actually believe in.
I’m looking at races this week where the milquetoast right-of-center candidate backed by the establishment Dems lost to a left-of-center candidate who enunciated some progressive ideas. I’m noticing that those are the races where people are turning out. I’m noticing that turn out is typical or less than typical in races where the only choices progressive voters are getting is several right-of-center safe bets.
That’s why, after a rather long discussion with a poor schmuck working the phone bank for the DCCC trying to convince me to increase my monthly donation to the DCCC because taking back the House is important, that I stopped my monthly donation to the DCCC, and increased the amount I’m giving every month to Run For Something and Let America Vote. And I’m going to keep picking actual progressive candidates to donate to directly.
And don’t bark at me about showing up. I’ve been showing up at Primary and General Election since 1978. Every one. I confess that I have missed about three Special Elections that happened way off-cycle in that time.
Now, we just need to get the rest of the liberals to do the same.