Must One Vote for President to Be Political?

I concluded yesterday’s post by saying:

There is a far more fundamental problem…it centers on my disillusionment with elections–especially in modern politics in this nation–and with my evolving understanding of my political responsibilities.

I should have been more specific above. I have acquired a profound dislike of presidential elections: the campaigning by candidates, the so-called ‘debates,’ the insincere campaign promises. I consider presidential elections the worst part of American democracy: for the opportunities for pandering and demagoguery they provide, for their choking off of reasoned discourse, and especially in the US, the inordinate amount of time, energy and money they consume. The Republican primaries began last year, or at least, it felt like they did. That’s a full year before the elections. Really, US polity, really? A year-long election season?

I dislike too, the elevation of the presidential election to the center-piece of American democracy–that somehow casting my vote for the president is the most important political act I can commit. This often results in guilt-mongering:  If you don’t vote for a presidential candidate, you’ve committed a grievous abdication of political responsibility. The propagandizing and resource consumption associated with presidential elections is especially insidious; their prioritization cripples a great deal of engagement with the political process; it denudes political activism of energy, purpose and resources by drawing too much attention to itself.

The privileging of these elections has meant all too many US citizens imagine that presidential elections are all there is to their democracy;’ that to participate in their polity, one need only show up once in four years to vote, followed by rapid disengagement. Presidential candidates, like Barack Obama, are guilty of the precise converse; they imagine that having won the election, there is no need anymore to engage with those that brought them to power. A fraction of the passion spent in engaging with the ‘base’ during the election season, had it been deployed during the last few years, might have earned Obama considerably more legislative victories, and not cost him the support of his ‘base.’ (It didn’t help, either, that the option chosen, instead, was denigration of the ‘base.’)

I’ve come to think of the presidential election as the deployment of a vast machinery of systematic obfuscation. The disappointed voter is a cliché now, precisely because he imagined that voting was all there was to it; better to ignore elections and do politics somewhere other than the presidential polling station. The real action lies elsewhere; in local elections where one might, for instance, vote for judges who can rule on important decisions affecting families and groups: divorce or bankruptcy proceedings for example.

A citizen can be political in many ways. I can be political by resisting the policies that my nation’s rulers seek to impose:  sometimes by writing here, sometimes by my daily utterances, sometimes in my teaching, sometimes in the lifestyle I adopt, and in those I encourage. My politics resides in my daily actions, in the many little decisions I make on a daily basis. The political process operates on many levels; it can be poked, prodded, and interacted with via a multiplicity of processes; voting for the president is but one of them.

2 thoughts on “Must One Vote for President to Be Political?

  1. Samir, I agree entirely with your desire to de-emphasize presidential elections in favor of other forms of political action, but I’d like to add two points:

    1. The focus on presidential elections is justified partially by the fact that the presidency has seen an enormous growth in power since the Second World War. This has been well-discussed by Robert Nisbett and others, and given the fact that both parties have decided to commit us to a Forever War (yes, I am invoking Joe Haldeman on purpose), which not only causes unimaginable death and destruction, but perpetually drains our coffers of desperately needed money, the focus seems a fair one.

    2. The other sorts of political action that you (and I) would prefer to focus on, is the sort that the American people simply aren’t interested in and especially young people. It requires too much work and effort and more importantly, it requires that people care more than they do.

    What many of us who care about these issues seem unwilling to confront is the fact that the public is largely happy to be “managed” in this way; that we are, literally, living in the world described by Huxley, in which we have come to “love our servitude.”

    –DK

    1. Dan,

      Fair enough; the extension of the executive branch means more attention must be paid to it. As for political action in general, there is, as you point out, a kind of narcotizing of the citizenry carried out by gradually increasing the control that a new super-class of financial and political power wields. This class’ ideology is dominant, and it has turned most folks into prime exhibits of ressentiment, unable to fight their way out of their agreed-upon servile position.

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