“What Is A Vote Worth?”

What is a vote worth?

When you consider how many people in the world today actually get to freely vote and what the people of this country went through to get the vote, one cannot put a value on a vote.

I once wrote that voting was a political protest (“A Simple Act of Political Protest”) and that such a protest can only be done in a free country. So what value can you put on freedom?

In that same article I pointed out that I wasn’t thrilled by many of the candidates who were running for President and I am still not thrilled or impressed. At this point, I am considering which of the third party candidates I will vote for. Now, for some, this means that I am throwing away my vote.

I still remember the first time that I voted in a national election; it was the 1972 election and I voted by absentee ballot in Memphis so that I could vote for Al Gore, Sr. for senator from Tennessee. National Republicans had decided that Al Gore, Sr., did not properly represent the state of Tennessee and they targeted him for defeat. I had the opportunity to use my old address in Memphis (since my parents still lived there) to vote by absentee ballot and I did. Unfortunately, the beginnings of the Republican “southern strategy” prevailed and Gore lost.

There was one election where I did not vote, in part because I failed to register to vote, and I have regretted that decision ever since. One’s vote is a precious commodity and to not vote is the ultimate waste. Voting is very important to me and I propose that not voting is a waste, voting for a third party candidate is very much a protest.

This will not be the first time that I have voted for a third party candidate. In the 1980 election, I voted for John Anderson. I even had a bumper sticker on my car showing my support. Now, as it happened, when the vote totals for the community were published in the local paper, there was one vote for the Communist Party candidate and many people thought that I was that particular voter. One can only speculate why they thought it was me and not someone else is anyone’s guess.

Understand that my decision is based on the present situation. I am registered as a member of one of the two major parties, in part because changing one’s registration in New York is a little complicated (in other words, you can’t do it on-line; at least, when you get your driver’s license, you are registered to vote). But I remember something that George Wallace said when he ran for president in 1968.

It may seem strange that I would use a quote from Governor Wallace since those who read my blog know that my experiences with regards to him are not favorable by any means. I saw his 1968 and 1972 campaigns as a continuation of the policies and thoughts that brought him to prominence in the early 1960s. I still saw him as a segregationist and an avowed supporter of “states’ rights.” His 1968 campaign, though couched in populist terms, was one of the first campaigns in recent history to use ignorance, fear and hatred as integral parts of a campaign.

In one respect, if you did not know George Wallace, you might find it very, very easy to hate him. But if you understand that George Wallace was first and foremost a politician, then you have an understanding of how he thought.

When Wallace entered politics, he was probably a populist in the manner of Huey Long. But in the 1960s, simply being a populist wasn’t sufficient to get elected, especially if segregation and the life style that protected rich whites was being attacked. Wallace lost the 1960 governor’s election to an outright segregationist and he vowed that he would never let that happen again. When he won the governor’s election in 1962, he was more of a segregationist than any of the other candidates. This is the George Wallace that I encountered and it would be these memories that saw him in 1968 as the worst of the candidates and not a viable alternative to either Richard Nixon or Hubert Humphrey (not that it mattered, I couldn’t vote that year anyway).

To say that George Wallace had an epiphany would be an understatement but Arthur Bremer’s attempt to assassinate him in 1972 provided the impetus that would change his attitude. I think that he also saw that Alabama as a state was being harmed by the way people saw him and he began a slow but perceptible change. (For more on that change, read Peter Jenkin’s Walk Across America.)

But George Wallace’s characterization of the Republican and Democratic parties as “Tweedledee” and “Tweedledum” rings even more true today. I see two parties where the rhetoric may seem different but there are times when you cannot tell that there is a difference.

The following are my thoughts about the current political situation. I put them before you as a critique of the current situation and the basis for determining what I am looking for in a potential third party.

One party says that it is for the common person and the other isn’t but which one is and which one isn’t? Both parties chase rich and corporate donors and neither will ever seek any reform of campaign finances as long as they can get billions and billions of dollars from corporate donors. Both parties say that they are for the people yet neither party did anything when the Supreme Court ruled that corporations in effect had the same rights as individuals.

Poverty rates in this country have risen to their highest levels since 1965 – why is that? The gap between the rich and the rest of the world (forget the middle class; it is a group in name only) keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Can it be that neither major party really cares for the people, other than the rich and the powerful? Why have we not come to an understanding that the minimum wage does not lift the people out of poverty but merely insures that they will stay there? Where is the fight for the living wage?

Oh, I know that some will say that even raising the minimum wage hurts the small businessman or businesswoman but there has never been any definitive proof that it does. What we do know is that when people have the income, they will use it. In other words, they become consumers and can support small businesses. Tampa and Charlotte didn’t seek the national conventions because of the politics; they sought the conventions for the revenue that would come in.

Why is it that health care is discussed in terms of the health care business, a business run by insurance companies, and not in terms of the well-being of the people? Could it be, as I will suggest later, that we don’t understand and are unwilling to seek new solutions, especially if such solutions will take away from the rich and the powerful and give to the poor and needy?

We spend more in terms of destroying people and things than we do building things and helping people.

Neither party is particularly concerned about the loss of liberty and personal freedom in this country. We passed laws, supported by both parties, in 2011 which restrict the freedoms of individuals (interestingly enough, one of the provisions of these bills is that one is not to know that these freedoms have been restricted – can you say “Star Chamber”?).

The major political parties of this country have a very interesting concept of personal and individual liberty. Members of each party, no matter which side of the aisle they sit on or where they stand regarding political freedom will say that they are entitled to personal liberties and freedom but they have the right to tell you what to do, think, and say.

I would add at this point that faith, religion, and matters pertaining to and about God are not matters of political discussion. Yes, the word politics comes from the same root word that gives us people and politics are the people’s business, right, and choice. But such a right, such a choice does not give a national organization such as a political party the right to dictate what one believes or to say that one belief is better than another belief. Let’s face it, when you make a statement that your belief is better than mine, you are operating out of either sheer ignorance or sheer arrogance. Similarly, if you ridicule or belittle the faith of another, calling it superstition or magic, you are also operating out of either sheer ignorance or sheer arrogance. And when you use your faith or belief system to dictate what occurs in the public classroom, you are overstepping the boundaries of both faith and education.

There should be a priority on education in this country but neither major party wants to do that, unless it meets some other goal. We sent ten missions to the moon in the 60s and 70s and twelve men walked on the moon. Even though each of the Apollo missions that successfully landed on the moon did some scientific work, only the last Apollo mission (Apollo 17) could be considered a truly scientific expedition. The ulterior motive was not science but politics; when we beat the Soviet Union to the moon, our desire to go beyond earth’s atmosphere began to dwindle and when the cost of the Viet Nam war became too great, funding for NASA and scientific research in general began to get cut. That’s the way it has been in this country; we will fund destruction but not construction.

When we do fund construction, it is still in the form of traditional work, work which can and should be characterized as “pork barrel politics”. I am not saying that we should not maintain our roads and infra-structure though it is too often clear that we haven’t. But we only think in terms of the usual and not the new. There is very little funding in new means of communications or safe power transmission (how many times do we have to rebuild blown down power lines after a thunderstorm, tornado, or hurricane before we decide there are better ways of transmitting power?)

Neither party is truly willing to seek alternative energy systems. While they both say they want to end our dependence on foreign oil, their answer is utilize fossil fuels in this hemisphere. It really doesn’t matter whether we are looking at foreign or domestic sources of oil, the use of fossil fuels still generates CO2 and potentially SO2 and NOx, which means that we haven’t faced the issue of global climate change and acid rain. And we still use our military as a de facto police force overseas to insure the continuation of oil supplies. There is something drastically wrong with that picture.

And how much of what is spent on the military is actually spent for military personnel? I would make the argument that monies spent on the military-industrial complex do not actually go to the military but to contractors and individuals who support the elected officials who put the factories in their congressional districts. And that puts us back where this all started – the only people who elected officials think about are those who give them money.

And finally we come to the issue of taxes. I always love to hear those who say that their taxes are too high and we need to cut spending. But they will never cut all of the spending, only that which is spent on things that they, the speaker, find distasteful. They will not cut military or security spending, yet the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security are the two biggest parts of the Federal government budget. Those who argue for cuts in spending want to take it out of social spending and that means that it only hurts one group of people, the poor.

And we dare not raise the taxes on the rich, for they are the ones who create the jobs that will make this country great. We have been hearing that mantra for how many years now? When is that going to start working? It hasn’t worked so far.

So, I look at the two major parties and I wonder what can I do? As soon as I can easily do it (it still requires a paper form to change your party affliation in the state of New York), I am changing my party affliation. If nothing else, that will stop the phone calls and mailings from my present chosen party asking me for money; I guess they think it is possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. In voting for a third party candidate and encouraging others to vote for a third party candidate, perhaps we can send a message to the major parties that their politics don’t work any more. But to effect change in this country will take more than voting in protest; it will take organization at the grass roots level and that will take years. But it has to be done.

If I understand history and what transpired in the 1960s when it came to politics, I know that such a change can be done, though it will take between eight and ten years to accomplish. In 1964, Barry Goldwater ran one of the most conservative presidential campaigns in the history of this country. His defeat in that contest was widely touted as the death of the Republican Party in this country. Obviously, that didn’t occur. But what it did was force those who saw themselves as the “true believers” to reorganize themselves at the grass root levels with the avowed goal of never letting that happen again. We see today the efforts of that grass roots organization; interestingly enough, those who are the beneficiaries of that work do not feel that Barry Goldwater is conservative enough. My, how times have changed.

And the Democratic Party, in light of all that has happened over the past forty years or so, has never seemed to grasp what they have to do, hoping and praying that the Republican Pary will do something to itself that will allow the Democrats to survive to live another year. So, any third party that wants to make a go of things must make a serious effort at grass roots organizing, not simply running an alternative candidate every four years.

At the beginning I asked what a vote is worth. My vote is worth my freedom and I shall vote to exercise my right and freedom. But to insure that others may have the same rights and same freedoms, I must also work to insure that those same rights and freedoms are maintained. My vote is worth nothing unless I follow through before and after each election.

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