Don’t Be an Idiotes

June 7, 2016

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t take issue with an editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal, for a couple of reasons:
1. I almost always agree with them, and
2. Editorial writers are most likely better informed than I am.

Nonetheless I have an issue with the editorial in today’s Journal. Not a big issue, just a little issue with the headline and the last line in the editorial: One vote could determine today’s races. That’s the headline. Granted, it is the normal obligatory headline when you’re trying to encourage voter turnout and of course any reasonably intelligent person intuitively understands that it is not entirely true. (I could find only one Congressional election decided by one vote: a 1910 election in Buffalo, NY.)

The other issue is with the final sentence: “What’s crucial is that you just vote, period.” Hard to argue with the first seven words. A democracy doesn’t work unless you vote. My issue is with the word “period.” That implies that voting is all you need to do. I tend to agree with the ancient Athenians that participation in civic affairs is mandatory. They made it difficult to become an “idiotes” (idiot). Slaves who were members of the ancient police used to dip long ropes in red paint and then enter the agora and round up citizens by stretching the rope out between the limits of the agora and start herding them toward the high point (the Pnyx), where they would hear fellow citizens debate a burning issue and then vote. Seems efficient. Anyone with a red mark on his tunic still wandering around Athens while the debate was going on was an outcast and subject to being hauled up the Pnyx. (To be fair, not everyone rounded up was a citizen. Ancient Athens was not an absolute democracy.) ((The pedant in me insists that I point out that the Greek word “idiotes” can mean many different things, from “someone who cannot be governed,” thus giving one an insight into the collectivized nature of the ancient Greek society to even “individual.”))

Asking whether your single vote counts or not is a lot like asking if one extra point is important in a football game. It adds to the ultimate score. It can be discouraging to cast a vote when you know, demographically, that it isn’t going to make much difference in the immediate outcome. But political futures are not built on one election. They are built on the level of engagement of the body politic in the political process and they are cumulative. In our nation, thankfully, revolution takes place in the voting booth over a period of time. And that’s what’s happening today. The “revolutions” of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have been building for years, even decades and rather than despair at the seemingly paucity of the choices or the time a revolution in America takes, perhaps we should consider whether the alternative is preferable. When it is, then we as a nation have failed.

My point in this diversion is that the citizen’s responsibility in a democracy is not just to vote period, but to become involved in the political discourse, otherwise your vote won’t count as much as it could. If all you do is vote on Election Day, your vote really counts the most only if those for whom you voted WIN! However, even if your choice loses, your vote probably counts for more than you think. Keep in mind that the more narrow the gap between winner and loser, the less the winner can claim a “mandate.” Politics really is a case when winning, with apologies to Coach Lombardi, isn’t everything. Politics is a game without a clock.

As one of the web sites I checked before embarking on this diatribe claims, voting is just one of ways of participating in the “life of the nation.” So, to keep the nation lively in the right sort of way, vote.

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