I’ve declined to say much about the midterms until now because, honestly, I barely paid any attention, so I’m in no position to opine on the surprise or lack thereof of the result. But I can speak to my own mentality going into the election, how it affected my vote, and how the results have played with me since.
This is the first time I can recall going into the voting booth to vote my pique, and not much else.
Usually, I take a “lesser-of-two-evils” approach to elections. There’s almost always someone I prefer of two serious alternatives, and I vote for that person. Sometimes I vote in a partisan manner, paying little attention to the individual and more attention to party identification; sometimes I do the opposite. Occasionally, I’m actually excited to vote for a particular candidate.
This year, my motivations were quite different. I voted entirely out of civic obligation, and made my selections in an entirely negative manner.
I think Andrew Cuomo has been a decent governor. We’ve certainly had worse. I just can’t stand him. So I didn’t want to vote for him, or his party. I saw no reason to vote for the Republican alternative. In another year, I might have voted for the Democrat on the Working Families line, or for either the Republican or Democratic candidate on the Liberal line, as a way of lending support to their particular influences on the political process. This year, that wasn’t an option. I’m particularly annoyed at the Working Families Party for capitulating easily to the governor. So I voted Green, knowing nothing about that party’s candidate. It was a pure pique vote.
Then I voted Libertarian for a couple of other offices, just to make sure nobody thought I was some kind of pinko. And that’s how it went down the ballot. When I couldn’t find a hopeless third alternative, I wrote in my friend Sid, who I am confident would discharge the responsibilities of any office in a conscientious manner.
When it came to the ballot initiatives, I voted against the redistricting plan because I didn’t want to endorse any supposed reform supported by the powers that be. I voted against the bond issue for school technology because I have no confidence that this is a sensible use of funds. Basically, I voted “No” to everybody and on everything except distributing legislation by email. Functionally, I didn’t behave very differently from someone who didn’t vote.
This was not a strategic move. I wasn’t trying to “send a message.” It was an affiliational move. I didn’t want to be affiliated with anything or anyone on the ballot this year.
I’m not particularly proud of that. I do wonder whether I would have voted differently if there had been any meaningful contest at stake locally. I probably would have. But that affiliational element would have stuck in my craw, regardless.
From a systems perspective, I think of politics as a game in which elites compete to capture a portion of the electorate in order to secure office. The results of elections have no greater meaning than who now holds those offices. There is no “people’s will,” and no such thing as a “mandate” – it isn’t even possible to send a “message” because pragmatically the game is always about the next election. The premise of democracy, in this way of thinking, is that governance will be improved if those elites have to fear direct accountability to the voters – if they don’t do a job that voters approve of, they may get tossed out unceremoniously. If that’s basically what politics in a democracy is, then I shouldn’t feel bad at all about my mentality going into this election. Voting your pique is pretty much what you always should do.
But I am stubbornly attached to another vision of politics, according to which political life is paradigmatically where we decide on what terms we are going to live together. Voting my pique doesn’t feel so good if that’s what politics is. Who wants to live with someone that cranky, on any terms? And my distaste for political affiliation, which has been growing year by year, feels rather too much like a withdrawal from the polis as such.
I’m not saying, by the way, that a libertarian “leave me alone” politics constitutes withdrawal. “Give each other lots of space” is a perfectly reasonable answer to the question, “on what terms shall we live together?” But there’s a difference between agreeing that we’re each going to do our own dishes and throw out our own trash, and simply sitting on the couch, staring at the television, ignoring our infuriating roommate whenever he brings around the job wheel.
Anyway, hopefully I’m in a more familiar, less-alienated frame of mind by the next time two evils are competing for the title of which is lesser.