The Meaning of the Vote

I will vote Tuesday and so will most readers of this page because we love politics and history. We are interested, engaged, highly motivated. We not only care about our country but see the direct connection between the decisions made at the polls and the country’s literal future.

But not everyone votes, as we well know. This is considered a matter of grave concern in many quarters, but to me it is only partly a matter of concern. It is also to some extent a reason for gratitude.

Because we live in a democracy we are free to vote; because we have individual liberty, we are free not to. We each of us get to decide. We can go or not go, take part of not. This is good. In some countries in the past voting has been mandatory. Even if you didn’t care, even if you were drunk, even if you were completely unwilling, they made you vote. This is not good. It is a violation of rights in the name of “democracy.”

Today I would like to thank that portion of the nonvoting public that does not vote for good reasons.

If you have absolutely no interest in how our country runs and is run, and know that you have no interest, and feel that your disinterest should preclude your taking part in this great national decision—well then heck, thank you for not diluting my vote with your vote. Because I have a great deal of interest.

If you pay no attention to the great issues of the day, refuse to read or hear about politics and politicians, and know that you are utterly uninformed about political and current affairs, and feel that your relative ignorance should preclude your taking part in the vote—well heck, thank you for not watering down the vote of those who bother to be informed, and who put themselves out to learn, who feel it’s part of their responsibility as citizens. It’s good of you not to weaken their vote with yours. It’s good of you to be honest about it.

And if you have no real views on things—if you are in fact that amazing thing in America, a walking talking opinion-free zone, and don’t feel you should be out there voting with all the people who’ve formed views and pondered questions, well, great. Thank you for not voting too.

I’ve always had the hunch that some maybe-significant portion of the people who don’t vote may be acting on a kind of personal modesty or humility: “Why should I vote when I don’t really care, why should I dilute the vote of the neighbors who do, who have signs on their yard and show up at speeches and read the papers? I haven’t really earned the right by caring.” This strikes me as fair minded and just. Also generous.

So I thank principled and honest nonvoters, and hope that when we vote a lot of us think of you and say, “Thank you, modest people for not diluting my serious and thought-through vote. I will try to make the one I cast worthy of your generosity.”

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Most every adult I know will vote this year and not only because we live in New York, where politics is our religion. And not only because we have pro-Hillary and anti-Hillary on our ballot.

Turnout will probably be high pretty much across the board this year because two men are running for president who are very different, who stand for different things; because there is no incumbent; and because so many of us on both sides have been building up passion the past eight years. We’ve been passionately for what’s going on in Washington, and passionately against.

It feels like 1980. Either stay the course or change.

Al Gore is doing a great job this weekend getting out the vote among members of his base, and on Sunday he said something that a lot of us would agree with. He told a rally in Pennsylvania, “This is the kind of election you’ll tell your grandchildren about.” It will be “close” and “hard fought,” he said, and at the end we may be able to brag, “My vote changed the outcome.”

A lot of us feel that way—that our vote really counts this year. It’s almost as if we feel each vote this year has a special weight.

I believe Mr. Bush is going to win this year, that Republicans across the country will do well but that Mr. Bush in particular will win more handily than expected. One of the reasons is that I think the kind of people who poll Americans by phone—and the way they sound as they ask for your views—and the times and places they call—chronically turn off and ignore and so underreport Republican voters. (Also, so many Republicans are the kind of people who would hang up on pollsters. We don’t have time for interviews.) I think the Gore campaign is insisting the race is close because it’s not close, and I think the networks and broadsheet papers are trumpeting the Gore line because they want to whip up interest in their product, which is the news.

And this is all fine with me. First, maybe I’m wrong and they’re right: maybe it is close. Second, and more important, the closer people think it is the more people will feel their vote really counts, the more people will show up.

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The one group I know will show up is the group I expect will have the biggest impact on the election’s outcome.

And they are the Broken Glass Republicans. So named by Byron York of the American Spectator.

They’re called Broken Glass Republicans because that’s what they’d walk over to throw the Clinton-Gore administration out. That’s what they’d crawl over to remove them from power. That’s what they’d crawl over to remove this extraordinary corruption from our national life. That’s what we’d crawl over to give Clinton-Gore a rebuke, and remove them from our history.

The BG Republicans want to do something else. They want to prove that we’re still a good people—that we’re still a good people in a good country, that the Clinton-Gore reality is not representative of who we are.

Someone somewhere along the way will try to capture the sheer propulsive force of the BG’s, the size and drive of their emotional and philosophical commitment.

Let me give you two examples that I think speak of or to how we feel, and I say “we” because though normally I see myself as a conservative, these days I’m rooting so much for the BG’s that I know I must be one.

Bear with me on the cliché, but my examples are movie images.

The first is from “The Verdict,” with Paul Newman. It’s near the end of the movie and the gifted actress, Lindsay Crouse is on the stand. She’s the working class nurse who knows the secret the hospital is trying to hide: The doctors made a mistake in administering an anesthetic, and that’s why the patient was mortally injured. The nurse doesn’t want to testify but she does. And she says of the doctors who did the deed and the establishment that protected them, “Who are these people? Who are these people that they could do this thing?”

It’s a great heartfelt cry. A decent person looking at organized malevolence and saying: These people are not us.

And that’s part of what the BG’s think when they look at the long trail of corruption that has been Clintonism: Who are these people?

Another scene, from the movie “Rudy.” A popular but not fully appreciated movie of about a dozen years ago about “Rudy” Rutiger, the kid who wanted nothing in life but to play for the Irish of Notre Dame. (It has a wonderful, rousing musical score that they use in a lot of movie commercials. It also has beautiful, tight editing, and first rate acting in the star role by Sean Astin.)

It’s the last game of Rudy’s senior year, his last chance to be chosen to play. He’s suited up, the team is in the field house, they’re waiting to go on. It’s a home game there in South Bend, and it’s a big game, and the coach does the speech.

And he looks at the boys and he says, “No one comes into our house and pushes us around.” And the kids begin to clap, and they take to the field, and they win. And Rudy gets in the game.

That’s how the BG’s feel: No self appointed elite comes into our country and pushes us around, not forever, not without answering. The answer comes Tuesday. And we’ll all be in the game.

It is because of the BG’s that Clinton-Gore are about to be rebuked. They are about to be chastised. They are about to be rejected. They are about to be ejected.

And this is good. A new beginning, a fresh start, the stables swept clean. New history begins.

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A final word for those who will vote, and who even look forward to it and, corny as it is, feel a spring in their step as they go to the polls.

The other night I was dining with another family and I turned to a mother and said, “I actually get choked up when I vote. Do you?” I said it because it’s true but also because kids were there and I wanted us to do a little spontaneous commercial for democracy.

And she said, “Oh yes,” and I was surprised. She told me she takes her kids to vote with her, so they’ll remember.

I do that too, I told her, I take my son. I let him press the lever with his finger over my finger.

When I vote I get kissing sickness, and have to stop myself from embarrassing my son. But I want to kiss the curtains of the voting machine, I want to put my lips to them quickly in gratitude. I would like to kiss the metal knobs and paper with the candidate’s names.

My heart beats quickly when I’m in the booth, and my hands tremble a little. I get choked up as I wait on line. I go and sign in at the big registration desk and I am so proud to write my name, it gives me satisfaction, and I make a joke with the ladies who hold the book, and I look at the people on line and smile and I notice a lot of people are kind of—there’s a heightened feeling.

I know I should be thinking things like, “Good men died so I could do this,” and “God bless the Founders,” and in a way I guess I do, but really I’m thinking, Thank you God that I’m so lucky I can vote, isn’t it wonderful this country has been voting for more than two centuries, aren’t we the luckiest people on earth that we have this gift. And we all do it together and we’re all equal and Bill Gates has a bigger boat and a bigger house and a bigger pool than the girl at the counter at the deli next door but his vote is no bigger and has no more weight.

She is his equal.

We are all equal. In the eyes of God, in the eyes of the law, and in the voting booth. It’s really wonderful. It leaves me choked up. Maybe it does you, too.

And so to those who chose this year not to vote: Ladies and gents, I still respect your choice but please start to pay attention so that next year you’ll let yourself vote. It feels great. It’s very moving. So earn yourself the right.