It was seasonably overcast but mild and unthreatening when I set out for the two-block walk to my local polling place this morning. I vote in a senior-citizens center, and as a rule I go early enough (but not too early) to avoid standing in line. At 8:45 a.m. I had three people ahead of me in the line for the booth, where we were fortunate enough to have the same good old voting machines that have sufficed here for a century. In my district I was the 38th person to vote; there were four districts voting there, and mine supposedly had the lowest turnout so far.
It's nearly ten hours later now, and it looks like a long night at the office. Mr. Right, pessimistic by nature, is already griping about the outcome he expects. "It'll be a long four years," he laments, "and even longer to undo the damage." He tells us that Senator McCain would have won (if he isn't winning anyway) if the election had been two weeks later. He's still convinced that Senator Obama could have been exposed for the loathsome leftist Mr. Right knows him to be. Mr. Peepers is around to goad him, so, as I said, it's bound to be a long night no matter what the results are.
Luckily, I'll be heading home soon, but before I get there, and before there are real results on the record, I wanted to tell you how I voted. I was impressed a few weeks ago to read the John Stuart Mill, the great liberal political theorist of 19th century England, opposed the idea of a secret ballot. He did so because he considered voting to be a public trust rather than a right, and he believed that people should be accountable for their votes. That is, they should be able to explain why they voted the way they did. In that spirit, here's the choice I made.
In the end, my choice was between Obama and Ralph Nader. I was strongly tempted to vote for the Democrat in order to say that I participated in making history. I also liked the idea as a rebuke to the racism that Republicans want to deny but is all too real and still all too common in this country. Take a look at any Craigs List "rants and raves" page, or particularly the Albany page where Crhymethinc regularly debates the troglodytes of the Right, and it'll be right in your face. These are the people who despise blacks, who complain about all the blacks who are lazy, live off welfare, even walk slowly across the street, but probably couldn't name a single one of them. They're the people who seem to think that blacks have to prove themselves to them before they should be respected as equal citizens. Obama's election would only enrage these people, and that would be useful if only to expose the barbaric tribalism that still prevails among so many self-styled civilized people. These people need to learn that it's not up to them whether black people are their equals, but a larger problem with most so-called conservatives is their blatant pathological need to feel superior to someone. That, I suspect, is the hidden truth behind their hostility to alleged "elitists." It's not that they reject the idea of elites, or believe that all men are equal -- their attitude toward blacks disproves that idea. It's that they think that they are better than the elitists, and they resent anyone who dares suggest that they are the best people, the salt of the earth, the "real" Americans, etc.
But if their comeuppance is coming, it'll come whether I voted for Obama or not. I live in a deep blue state, though parts of it are red, and Obama's victory is certain here. That frees me to cast a protest vote against the American Bipolarchy, but I don't do so this time without some ambivalence. I criticized Nader for having almost nothing new to say when I reviewed his campaign website for my survey of candidates, but he came to life with the Bailout crisis and reclaimed much of his intellectual and moral stature. On the other hand, his choice of a running mate strikes me as even more frivolous than my vote for Nader might be. Senator McCain may not be even the second-best choice for President, but it's frankly indisputable that Governor Palin, for all her faults, is the second-best choice for Vice-President. That fact is a damning judgment on all the independent parties for their recruitment of nonentities to sit a heartbeat away from the White House. Nader was no better than the others in making some desperate play for a youth vote, as if young people would be impressed by a relatively young person whom virtually no one outside "activist" circles had heard of. His choice of Matt Gonzalez would probably be enough to disqualify Nader from consideration if he had a real rather than only theoretical chance to win the election.
Am I wasting my vote by casting it for a candidate who can't win and whom I wouldn't really want to win if he had half a chance? Practically speaking, no, since part of my objective would be to earn the Populist Party (Nader's line in New York) a guaranteed spot on the state ballot next time. That would be a victory for independent politics, and it's worth a vote. Also, someone has to cast a veto against the American Bipolarchy, and in the long run, the struggle against two-party hegemony is more important than electing a black man President. That, if it happens, will be worthy of celebration in its own right, but to the extent that Obama has endorsed the Bailout and has not renounced the country's interventionist posture in spite of his own conclusions about Iraq, putting a multicultural face on the Bipolarchy is little different from, to share a metaphor with the man himself, putting lipstick on a pig.
Still, if McCain pulls off the upset, I'll be upset. Obama is plainly preferable to the Republican, and since realism dictates that one of the two will be President, I can only hope, in spite of my own vote, that Obama does win. We'll know, I hope, in just a few hours' time.