Election day in the United States is less than a week away. Nate Silver, of the fabulous 538 blog, pegs President Obama at a 77% chance of winning the election, and the democrats at a 90% chance of retaining majority in the Senate, but that doesn’t mean Democrats can afford to be complacent. Those numbers are based on looking at multiple polls conducted by different firms, and change every day. Just about four years ago, I stood in Grant Park on election night, with hundreds of thousands of others, to watch Obama deliver his victory speech. From a post I wrote at 3AM, November 5, 2008:
His [Obama's] ability to go through history and call out moments without being overbearing was poetry. (He mentioned the New Deal, a “generation’s greatness,” a “preacher from Alabama who took us to the mountain top,” and more.) His refrains of (of course) “Yes we can,” and the call-and-response effect on the audience. Talking about building bridges and forging alliances and working together.
It made me glad to have donated money and made almost 100 phone calls over the past week. (And even better that the two states I called the most, Indiana and Colorado, both went for Obama.) That I have a Obama bumper sticker on my car, and a button on my jacket. I feel really hokey and more than a little silly saying it, but it made me proud to be an American.
This year, I question whether or not I’m going to vote at all.
What a difference four years makes.
I’ve voted for the last ten years, since I turned 18. (I may have missed a midterm election, but I tried to vote every time I was afforded the opportunity.) I’ve considered myself at least somewhat politically aware for a few years before that. And, for all of that time, I’ve believed in voting. I believed in the power of individuals to make a difference on a national scale. I believed that – for all its flaws – the US voting system grants the American people to change the course of their nation. Sure, I watched, flabbergasted, as the Supreme Court decided the 2000 election instead of the American people. I watched, disappointed, as the American people selected Bush for a second term over an (admittedly mediocre) Kerry. But then, in 2008, I watched, elated, as almost 70 million Americans elected the nation’s first black president.
And I’m not blind to Obama’s successes. I acknowledge Obama has done some amazing things over the past four years. While I don’t think the Affordable Care Act goes far enough, it’s a huge step in providing insurance to more people. While I don’t think Obama has pushed hard enough on gay rights, he (and Joe Biden) helped change the Democratic Party’s official party platform, repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and is (hopefully!) helping push equal marriage rights (slooowwwwwly) forward. While I don’t think the stimulus package went far enough (are you noticing a pattern?), it helped tip the scales back towards economic growth. Here’s a list of 200 things Obama has done, the vast majority of which I support.
So why am I doing the unthinkable, and considering not voting at all in 2012? I know the arguments as to why one should vote. I’ve made them myself, when debating elections with friends. I realize how different Romney and Obama are, and how important this election is.
My first issue is Obama and his policies. For all those things I support, they’re primarily domestic issues. On abortion, gay rights, health care, the economy, and just about every issue directly happening on American soil, I’m (generally) with Obama. But on security and foreign policy, he’s almost as bad as Romney: drone strikes, blind support of Israel, increased warrantless wiretapping, and doing little to reduce US forces in the Middle East. I’m not nearly as happy with President Obama as I was excited about Candidate Obama.
“But Rebecca,” you might say, “that happens with every politician. And if you dislike Obama so much, you could still vote for a third party candidate. Didn’t you recently say you really liked Green Party candidate Jill Stein? Since Illinois is going for Obama no matter how you vote, you have the freedom to vote however you want.”
That’s true. If I were in a swing state, I would almost certainly grit my teeth and vote for Obama, hesitancies and al. But I’m not. I’m in Illinois, which has Obama up 16+ points over Romney. I was at my mom’s the other day and the Chicago Tribune had the front-page headline “Polls: Illinois Strongly Favors Obama.” Really, Trib? That’s front page news? Excellent reporting over there, gang. But, yes, even without voting for Obama, I could (maybe even should) vote. As a civic duty. As a message, on a national scale, about my beliefs. Maybe even, if I vote for Stein, as a way of sticking it to the two party system I dislike so much.
And yet, I’m still considering not voting. Why?
Because only 50% of the country support my right to marry who I choose, and that’s if they assume I’m cis. Who knows how low that number would be if it specifically asked about support for trans people?
Because my right to use a bathroom gets people all up in arms.
Because the East Aurora school district thinks trans children aren’t entitled to a safe school environment.
Because all of those slings and arrows – on the national stage and in my own life – add up.
Because sometimes the psychic energy of 150 million Americans (probably more!) not liking me makes it difficult to get out of bed, let alone muster the energy to participate in a national pissing match in which my rights and my humanity have become a political plaything.
Because my throat is dry and my voice is drained and – for one single, solitary day – I would like the personal to not be so damned political.
I’d like to just sleep in next Tuesday; hit the alarm, roll back over, and return to slumber.
I can dream, can’t I?