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All Voting Got Me Was Jury Duty

by CHRIS CHECKMAN

Let’s begin here with a confession: I’ve only voted ONCE since 1988.

Okay, vent your spleens in any way you choose. You are right; but, only to a certain point, as I have had my reasons.

Get your venom out; but, after that, take a breath. Then, read on…

Going back to grade school (yes, elementary school, believe it or not) I was a pushy little political kid. In 5th grade, I used some of my small allowance money to buy a P.O.W. bracelet that bore the name of one Captain Darryl F. Pyle; and I wore it until I saw him come back, alive, on a newscast way back then.

My older cousin, Shelly, kind of got me into it; but, so did my Mom. Mom was a Kennedy volunteer for JFK back in ’60; and was also a supporter of RFK in ’68– even though Dad was a Nixon guy.

Perhaps my embryonic political view was shaped, at least in part, by the fact that my Dad used to regularly beat the shit out of me– and so I hated him. Seeing as Mom only slapped me on occasion, I kinda tended to cotton to her way of thinking.

By 1972, Dad was out of the picture; and I, as a pushy and precocious 10 year old had branched out. Not only was I wearing my P.O.W. bracelet rather proudly on my right wrist; I was also trying to get teachers and school office personnel to sign McGovern petitions my cousin had given me, without much success…

I watched with great interest the Watergate proceedings; and was most pleased when, on August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned his presidency on the 5th anniversary of the Manson killings, as my family was on vacation in San Diego.

The short Gerald Ford era carried almost no weight; though it was during that time that I immersed myself even further into studying and reading about politics and the history of the American political system. Like an acne-riddled sponge, I could not soak up enough of it; and when Jimmy Carter won the Presidential election in November, 1976, I was way more elated than any 14 year old should have been.

I was THRILLED; and could not wait until ’80, when I thought I’d be among those who would vote him into a second term in office.

In November of 1979, the Iran hostage crisis came. The Carter Presidency had already taken a number of hits; but this was the biggest one. When the failed attempt to rescue the hostages happened in Spring, 1980, it dealt a final death blow to Jimmy Carter’s shot at a second term.

I voted for my first time, knowing full well JC was fucked. Ronald Reagan swept in on a tide of resurgent conservatism.

And, it was there, at that point in time, when the term “liberal” became a dirty word– tainted and caked with politically motivated shit.

Thirty two years on, it has not recovered.

In 1984, I dutifully voted for the Mondale/Ferraro ticket, knowing full well they could not win. I say I knew they wouldn’t win; but, it was a blow to my psyche to see them get routed as badly as they did.

At 22, I’d become disillusioned by it all. What was the point? How could “we” liberals ever hope to compete against God, flags, balloon releases, and all the other trappings the conservatives had turned into a perfectly orchestrated, Broadway-styled show designed to illustrate how awful and fuzzy-headed America’s liberals were for, well, America?

By 1988, I was re-energized, and trying to be psyched for Michael Dukakis. He’s from Massachussetts, I told myself; so maybe he’s got a bit of Kennedy spirit in him. So, I bought in, wholeheartedly.

I went to the rallies. I ranted on about him on my radio shows. I tried to be as into it as I could; but, something troubled me, and I couldn’t quite identify it.

He seemed too buttoned up; too clipped in his ability to stem his emotions. I kept waiting for his watershed firebrand moment: That instance in time where a candidate goes from merely being a careerist politician, to where they step across that personal line and say “fuck you” to the political angle, and just go for it as a human being– without care or concern for their future career in politics.

Not only did Dukakis NOT do that, he rode in a tank. He also asked CNN’s Bernard Shaw how he (Shaw) might react if his wife were raped and murdered.

Uh oh.

Beyond that, he committed the biggest crime the 26 year old me in 1988 could have envisioned:

He avoided, stridently, any alignment with the word “liberal”.

FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!

When push came to shove; Michael Dukakis shoved all his grassroots supporters aside, as a way of not sullying himself, career-wise, with the word the Reagan movement had made so syphilitic: Liberal.

I voted for Dukakis in November of 1988; only because of the time I’d put in.

I did not vote again until GW/Kerry of 2004. Kerry was a similar letdown; and the only reason i voted was because my girlfriend pushed me into it.

Yes, i’m a fucking idiot. All it got me was jury duty.

So, if you’ve actually read this, I assume you wanna rake me on not voting for most of the past 24 years. I guess that’s your right; but, before you pass judgement, let me state my case here:

From the heavily influenced 10 year old who first came to sorta know politics in 1972, I have come a long way. My views, or ways of expressing them, may not be yours; but that doesn’t invalidate my experience.

Further, I know there a great many out there who feel, rather stridently, that an uncast vote is somehow a wasted vote.

I disagree; loudly.

When my girlfriend (Alex) pushed into voting for Kerry in ’04, I literally did so just so I wouldn’t have to hear a long bullshit talk about what a fuck I was/am for not voting. It didn’t matter that Kerry was a stick figure caricature of a democrat trying to bend over backward to try and satisfy the center and the right by oozing toward a “moderate” pose– all the while hop-steppin’ away from anything that might tie him to the word “liberal”…

As I stood in the voting booth at the old age home just outside Culver City, Calif., that day, I fucking hated myself.

To me, GW Bush was easily the worst President of my lifetime; and, if any number of political experts are to be believed, he is possibly the worst President this country has ever seen.

And, having said that, it sickened me to cast my vote for Kerry on that day; as I was not voting for someone I believed in– I was casting my vote against someone.

The barely discernible lesser of two evils.

And this is what it all boils down to for me: Where are MY candidates? Why has the word “liberal” become such a demonized thing in the modern political climate? Why, and how, have religion, guns, and tax cures for the wealthy become so much more important than taking care of our weakest, protecting our most vulnerable, and ensuring that the middle class does not die off like the dinosaurs the Bible thumpers seem to believe never existed?

WHEN DID “LIBERAL” BECOME AS BAD A WORD AS GONORRHEA?!

Will there ever be a candidate in our lifetimes, who has the courage to call him/herself a “liberal”, and use rational and cogent thought to beat back the fear-mongering that has tainted theterm for the past three plus decades?!

Must all our potential future leaders bow to the Bible, to the gun lobby, to the rich who seek to continue their hold on the puppet string that need not exist if just one voice in the wilderness will come screaming into the light, announcing a new level playing field on a brand new day?!

“Liberal” was never a bad word until the Reagan era. “Liberal” does not mean everyone is smoking weed and letting shit slide by while listening to folk music! Liberal means having an open mind; about both sides of an argument. Liberal is NOT just David Crosby singing about sharing berries with hitchhiking hippie chicks; it’s about not arriving at narrow-minded conclusions based upon fairy stories, our even now-outmoded ways of settling a new land some 236 years ago.

So, America; will there ever be liberals in our service again? Will there ever be one who breaks through the stigma who just doesn’t give a fuck about career aspects, and instead seeks to lead through his or her conscience?

Will we ever see such a stateman again; or are we doomed to the Bible/gun/money-worshipping robot paradigm that seems to have turned our alleged two party system into nothing more than two arms of the same monster?

Find us a voice who speaks to the rest of us; and I’ll vote and campaign the shit out of it for them until the day I die.

Jury duty would be a joy…

Chris Checkman writes at the Blues Hotel.

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CounterPunch Magazine

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