First time I voted for a president was 1960. I was stationed in northern Greenland near the North Pole. My “polling” place, as it were. So, registering, getting a ballot, marking it up and assuring it got to the proper counting place stateside on-time made for a bit of a job. But pride in the experience drove the process and we “got ‘er done.”
I remember how seriously I treated that first voting exercise. We had no Internet - no TV - no satellite phones - no phones of any kind. Best most of us could do to keep up with things at home was have folks send us newspapers that were generally two weeks old by the time we got ‘em.
Having been raised in a Central Oregon Republican household, I leaned a bit toward Nixon - to my later, everlasting shame. But Kennedy was new, younger, articulate - different. So, my “boning up” included reading all I could find on both, trying to be a informed as possible - given the circumstances.
That’s how you participated in the first rite of citizenship 56 years ago. You assumed the two national political parties had put forth their best, most qualified candidates. You studied. You talked with friends. You gathered as many facts as you could to be an “informed voter.” It was an important requirement of being a good citizen of this country.
Damn! Times have certainly changed.
If you assume Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the two “most qualified” candidates of their respective parties, you start with a flawed basis that’ll get no better no matter the winner. As the one casting the ballot, you can study till Hell freezes over and not end up picking the “most qualified” candidate either party could field. Those names - whoever they might be - aren’t on your official form.
We voters are failing the exercise, too, by not being as informed as we were six decades back. Most folks aren’t spending the required time and energy to get beyond headlines, sound bites, hate radio or phony “facts.”
I’m not a big “social” media believer - limiting myself to Facebook as a means to stay somewhat in touch with people I mostly enjoy. There are plenty of FB participants I don’t “enjoy” but their presence on my “page” is only because of their relationship to those I do.
If you pay attention to what shows up, you can learn a few things. For example, during some of the recent primaries in our Northwest neighborhood, it absolutely floored me how many people asked other folks who to vote for. Yep. People I had regarded as upstanding, wise, learned participants in our democracy were admitting they “hadn’t kept up” or “had been so busy” - or some other lame excuse - and were hitting up friends for names of the best candidates.
I recognized some of them - actually, far too many - and was greatly disappointed. I’d become accustomed to reading their posted complaints about government and certain politicians. I’d read many of their previous rants and figured they knew what they were talking about. Apparently they didn’t! And we’re not talking a couple of folks here. No, it was a good deal more than a few.
You can get a pretty good idea how many millions of Americans really have no idea how their country operates by starting with these who’ve shown their ignorance, then watching other interviews with people “on-the-street.” Jay Leno used to do that. Letterman and Fallon from time to time. Seemed like good clean fun then. But not now!
I’m constantly stunned - and extremely disappointed - by how many people have absolutely no idea how the U.S. of A. works. A year ago, a University of Oklahoma journalism grad student set up a camera on campus and interviewed passers by. One question was: “Who were the participants in the Civil War?” Another: “Who won the Civil War?” Again, those questioned were UofO students AND faculty.
I quit watching after about 10 responses. Ten wrong responses. Ten ignorant, unbelievable responses. This wasn’t a hoax. This wasn’t some kind of setup. This was part of her master’s work.
Lately, some media interviews with Trump supporters have turned up. Painful to watch. Unbelievable to watch. Disgusting to watch. Every bit as bad as those Oklahoma voices. Worse, in most cases, because the speakers were allegedly voters espousing their beliefs and support for Trump’s repeated lies, slander, racism, misogyny and his own ignorance.
But, possibly even worse, we’re now hearing daily of “important” Republican officeholders lining up behind this loud-mouth, civic embarrassment. Doing so, they say, to unite their party. Unite the party be damned! What the Hell about the country? When did doomed-to-fail efforts to unite a devastated political party take precedence over the national good? When, in the last 60 years, was responsible citizenship of being a more informed voter replaced by political hacks acting civically irresponsible to maintain their employment at the federal tit?
The GOP is NOT going to “reunited” any time soon. Humpty Dumpty had a far better chance of being “reunited” than today’s National Republican Party. Those along the Potomac, sacrificing their intelligence and trustworthiness to hold public office by pledging to support the worst thing that’s happened to this country’s politics in my lifetime, deserve no more than our scorn. Certainly not our vote.
Up in that frozen wasteland 60 years ago, I was proud to have my ballot counted on election day, 1960. No little sticker to wear. Not even able to see the returns that night. And 40-below outside.
But, I voted then with pride and a sense of “coming-of-age” that felt awfully good all those years back. That’s not how it’ll feel in November, 2016. We’ve passed the point of so many recent elections in which we voted for “the lesser of two evils.” Now, we have to be totally concerned with keeping this nation intact. And with saving millions of Americans from themselves. How’s that for a new responsibility of citizenship?