We are now getting more calls for you at our home than when you were both living here and dating. That’s because, for the first time, both of you will be voting for a president of the United States, and every pollster and campaign worker in the darn world seems to have your names on their call lists. Since you are now 21 and 24 years old, I cannot actually make any more rules for you, so just consider these voting “suggestions” from your father.
Vote as if lives depend on it, because they do. Laws that promote access to health insurance, clean air and water, and leaders who determine whether we go to war, can all be matters of life and death, and the paths to their success run through the voting booth. Civil rights legislation that gave blacks the right to vote also brought the rule of law to areas of the American South where the color if a person’s skin could mean a lynching. We are a country of change by ballot rather than bullet because we have some faith in the power of the vote.
Vote with reverence for the simple luxury of voting in safety. As you walk toward the voting booth, consider those who have died in your country and others for the right to vote, and feel the weight of their sacrifice in your step. As you put your ballot in the box, say a prayer for those in some far-off land whose lives will be in jeopardy simply because they support a candidate who opposes those in power.
Don’t vote as an idiot. That’s what you are doing if all you know about the candidates is derived from campaign ads, slogans and campaign speeches. An informed, activist electorate is all that stands between those who would shamelessly manipulate popular opinion for their own selfish benefit and the keys to power.
Smart voting takes work. In order to really know whom and what you are voting for, you have to dig through the fertilizer to the real stuff by watching debates and reading news stories about the candidates. You must read articles that review the facts behind the hype and hyperbole, and good analyses of candidates’ proposals. You have to read newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Oh, yeah, your generation does not read old-fashioned things such as newspapers — try Slate.com and Politico.com on the Web.
Related, never listen just to the words coming out of a politician’s mouth, because if you do they all sound just about the same. They all “love this great country, will lower your taxes, create jobs, rein in health care costs, and protect us in the war on terror.” Their opponents, on the other hand, “don’t love America as much, want to tax you to death or give tax breaks to the wealthy, have economic plans that amount to sand in the carburetor of the economy, will ruin our health care system and are somehow dangerous for America.”
Don’t vote as though it is shopping, where something that is not just right is something you are not going to buy. It is a good thing that every choice you make in the voting booth is a compromise between imperfect choices, because politics is the art of compromise and the possible. Politicians who sound as though they want all of the same things you do are blowing smoke up your ballot box, and do not respect you enough to tell you the truth you need to hear instead of the soothing platitudes you want to hear.
Never doubt the power of your single vote, for single votes can and have changed the world. Women such as you got the right to vote in this country when the state legislature of Tennessee approved the 19th amendment to the Constitution by one vote. The only useless vote is the one not cast.
And finally, vote because my generation is slowly turning responsibility for this great country over to yours. That gives your mother and me, and all your stuffed animals still here at home, great confidence in our futures, and great pride.
Erik Steele, D.O., a physician in Bangor, is chief medical officer of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems and is on the staff of several hospital emergency rooms in the region.