"First campaign I ever worked on. My idealism hasn't abated. As I learned of his death, my ballot arrived in the mail. Now I can do what I was too young to do then -- speak with a vote."
What a lovely thought. The man who wrote this is an acquaintance, someone only a few years older than me. And once upon a time I would have envied him his idealism.
When it came my turn to be interested in politics and I was old enough to almost taste the right to vote, it was November 1980 and I was seventeen. My father and I had followed the campaign all summer, hanging onto the speeches and arguing the issues with each other (he was voting for Reagan because he was a strong fiscal conservative, and still over a year away from coming out of the closet as a gay man). We studied the electoral maps when they were published in the newspaper to see where the biggest battles for "hearts and minds" might take place.
On election night I stayed up late with Dad to watch the returns, wishing that I was old enough to vote and make my own little difference. But my eighteenth birthday would not come for another three months, so I sat and stewed and waited and watched until my father finally insisted I turn in at midnight (after all, it was still a school night).
The next morning, the front page of the Oregonian bleated out the news in 60-point type: Ronald Reagan had won by a landslide. When I realized that, I instantly understood that if I had been old enough to cast a vote, it would not have mattered in the presidential election of 1980. And I also realized that, because we entrust the real presidential vote to a glorified committee known as the Electoral College, my father's vote hadn't mattered, either.
In that instant, my youthful idealism -- about electoral politics, at least -- packed up and lit out for parts unknown. I haven't seen it since.
Blame it on the year of my birth. Blame it on my having come of age during the excessive, corrupt eighties. Blame it on my learning perhaps a little too young that no matter what a player's best intentions might be, the house almost always wins -- especially in presidential politics. This was a lesson I would watch being played out again and again -- when Clinton courted the queer vote and then handed us "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and later on when George W. Bush basically
My acquaintance earned his sentiments the same way I earned mine, through personal experience and, in no small part, the filter of whatever effect those electoral outcomes have or haven't had on our respective families. I just don't share his idealism, that's all. And that's why, when I stare at the ballot which has arrived in the mail and now sits on my dining room table, I feel next to nothing. I'll cast my vote for president, but I know better than to stake very much on its meaning.