Friends of mine who have told me they are not going to vote on Nov. 6 give me three reasons for their decision.
First they say, “My one vote won’t make any difference. Illinois is a blue state, and everyone knows Obama is going to win, so what’s the point? Regarding voting for state senators Lightford, Landek, Harmon, Welch, Ford, Zalewski and Hernandez – all Democrats – they’re all running unopposed. It looks a little like the ballots Russians used to get in the Soviet Union – one party rule!”
Second, “I’ve heard a lot from the presidential candidates and a little from the people running for Congress, but I haven’t got a clue when it comes to which 57 [!] judges on the ballot deserve being retained. How is the average person supposed to vote intelligently on that many names?”
Their third reason is the most discouraging – disillusionment. Fact-checkers have earned their pay this fall pointing out all the misrepresentations, exaggerations, quotes out of context and downright lies which have appeared in PAC ads and even from the candidates themselves. President Obama called one of Romney’s misrepresentations “a whopper,” and Time and Newsweek have pointed out several times the president has stretched the truth or told only part of it.
What’s more, both candidates appeared to be actors in a play, reciting their memorized lines and taking on the persona of a character the script called for. Who came off as “presidential?” Did either of them look at his watch or yawn? Who was more aggressive?
OK. So there are a lot of compelling reasons to stay home on Nov. 6. Why should we go ahead and vote anyway?
My first answer is a kind of existential response. To those who complain that their vote won’t change the system, I say, “Welcome to real life.” The older I get, the more I accept the fact that, in contrast to my youthful ambition to “make a real difference,” very little of what I do is going to change anyone. Nevertheless it’s important that I do the little I can do.
Above all, it’s important for our own sanity and integrity to refuse to play the victim. I’m unwilling to promise that if I get the ball rolling, others will join me. What allows me to fall asleep peacefully most nights, however, is not that I’ve dramatically changed the condo building where I’m on the board or that many people are inspired by my columns or that I’m a “special person.” My cousin Patti tells me that, but then again she says that to everyone.
What gives me peace of mind is knowing that I’ve done the little bit that I can do. My vote on Nov. 6 isn’t going to change the world or turn the economy around. What it will do is change me, or at least chip away at the paralyzing “victim mentality” that prevents people from getting off the couch and acting.
Second, the Illinois State Bar Association rates all of the judges on the ballot as either highly qualified, qualified or not qualified. It only takes a few minutes to go online and get some help evaluating who to retain and who to throw out. Other sites are Vote for Judges.org and Chicagobar.org.
The third reason I am going to vote is what my JV football coach would yell at us when he saw us slacking during drills: “You play like you practice.” I marvel at the moves made by athletes or the improvisations created by musicians. They seem to be instinctive. They’re not. The reactions of athletes are there because they’ve practiced them a thousand times. Virtuosity in musicians happens only because they practiced their scales over and over.
The habits we acquire when nothing is on the line determine how we will respond when everything is on the line. That’s why drill instructors are so hard on their recruits.
Your voting might not change anything next Tuesday.
Do it anyway.