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Rant #13
(published Late in the Year, 2000)
Voting Is For Suckers
by Gordon Smith

The election is over, long live the election. On the 7th, the nation engaged in the orgy of the first Presidential election since the last one, now lost in the mists of time. As I write, the greatest anti-climax since Y2K is playing out all around us. Or not playing out, as the case may be, since even Ralph Nader was able to notice that the differences between two Southern, Ivy League-educated men from political families are, really, negligible. It's kind of the difference between, say, Backstreet Boys and N*Sync: there may be a difference to the trained or deluded eye, but it's a difference that just makes no difference.

But, as we all know, the important thing is not who wins, but that we vote. For it is an honor. It is a priviledge. It is a right, and a duty. My only question is why anyone would BOTHER? Don't people have better things to do with their time, like...masturbate, or...eat peanut butter...or virtually anything—anything at all—else?

As I write, here in the decaying heart of our Republic, Washington D.C., I have no idea who will win this election, and I couldn't care less. I voted this election for the decay of the system: that is, I didn't. And I am glad that I am decidedly not alone. Even in an election "as close as this one" only slightly more than half of the people of voting age turned out to vote. Some, because they're just too stupid (Overheard on a bus: BUSDRIVER: Man, both dese knuckle-hades ain' got da brains to be Pres'dent. Dey both the same, man! PASSENGER: Yeah. When IS th' election innyhow? BUSDRIVER: Wednesday, I think. When's the 6th?) Some because of they believe their vote doesn't matter (true enough, but what exactly DOES?) And a mass of us just couldn't care less. The slackers, the losers, the people who really are doing more important things. Don't believe the hype: there are more important things than politics.

What disgusts me most about the American political process is not the candidates. They are sincere, if empty. When G.W. says he trusts Americans, not Washington, he means it, and can be forgiven if the utter meaninglessness of the statement escapes him. He simply can't be expected to know better. But when the crowds cheer! And Smile! And so thrillingly willingly lower themselves to the level of a shit-throwing monkey, all stimulus and response, this is where the whole thing becomes inexcusable. Gore supporters are no better, even if all the shriveled hippies and Gen-Xers and Union Workers think they are smarter because they recognize the "irony" of the rhetoric of the spectacle. Even as Democratic supporters watch horrified as the results turn to Florida—home of the old and infirm, the Hispanic and swamp-dwelling, the hicks and hurricane prone—and denounce Nader's showing at the polls, calling him "spoiler" (which I had assumed was the fin that one puts on the trunk of a car to make it look badass). The poor, feared fringe candidates, as reviled as a queen at a Christian Coalition prayer meeting: barred from debating, speaking, or making any sort of coherent sense at all. If the Dems and GOP faithful become the pure function of rhetoric divorced from thought, then the fringe candidates, in their zeal, show the utter degradation of all communication, of polemicizing without a contrary pole to balance your foolishness. Oh, when we all should lower our aspirations to be a 'watchdog' to the great...But the very presence of third parties is a threat because it's a "close" election.

And never mind what happens in Florida: this has been "too close to call" for weeks. Says who? We've been eager to believe in how close the race is, because it means somehow that our interest is justified. We are so willing to accept that all skepticism disappears, all resistance, in the face of the election rhetoric, the most insidious of which is "Vote, or else everything will go to Hell!" It erases things, and ideas, absorbs all will leaving only zombies (Must...vote...for...more brains!! BRAINS!!!) Obviously it is in the interests of everyone involved in the election industry to claim the race is close. Watch any sports contest, any one at all: every announcer will tell you that the team/person trailing has a shot at coming back, or emphasizes how it's "anybody's ballgame," because it KEEPS PEOPLE WATCHING. Politics in America is simply the natural outgrowth of the fan culture. A fan has no involvement with the game, except in that they believe in their team. If their team wins, well then, they out-believed the other team's fans. Here, they can out believe the other team with a vote! It's almost like being a jock yourself! It's truly appalling how close the rhetorics become. I have heard many a pundit claim that whoever wins the election "just wanted it more."

The cheering, the boosterism, all of it, frankly, sickens me. People have tried to describe to me the pleasures of being a mob at a giant football stadium rooting mindlessly for a ball to move another few feet. I'll never get it, no matter how elegant a metaphor Don Delillo can make of it. (Or rather, I get it, I see the pleasure there, just as I see the beauty in the Nurenberg rallies captured by Leni Riefenstahl, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.) If you remain unconvinced, look also at the smooth, polished practitioners of politics...the number of aging, failed jocks shouldn't surprise. The number that use sports metaphors shouldn't even register on a country that went out and won one for the Gipper.

And, of course there is the vote: it doesn't matter who wins it's how you play the game. True enough, but the game is stacked toward mediocrity and mob rule. And that's fine: let the bland middle take care of the interests of business and commerce and family and all the other quotidian issues out there. There are more important things than sports. I am proud of our nation's low voter turn out and apathy, because it is a sign of a resistance, even if only from sheer laziness, to the slick glib folks who want to rule. (Is there nothing more infuriating to a ruler than a subject who doesn't notice or care that he or she is ruled?) It is a sign that some people are more committed to a higher ideal than the rhetoric of freedom, they are committed to freedom itself, since something that is a 'duty' and a right 'granted' comes at the cost of liberty, not in its defense.

So let Florida do as it may. Let those who will desperately scramble toward the center. And let me go eat a big fat stick of celery slathered with Skippy, because dammit, I've earned it.

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