Choice and consequences

By Shlomit Auciello | Oct 02, 2020

I've spent the last week trying to figure out the best way to say something about idealism. I'm a political idealist. I agree with the founders' statement that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed…” and that their purpose should be to “…provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

I believe that such providing, promoting and securing requires citizens to work together toward those common aims, even when we might not agree with every single goal or method.

Throughout my life, I've participated as much as possible — circulating petitions, registering voters, voting in primaries and running for office. There have been candidates to whom I gave my wholehearted support; few of them appeared on a general election ballot, and those few were mostly in local races. By the time we get to November, the choices are rarely optimal.

In 1980, I was 27 years old. During the primary, Democrats chose among incumbent President Jimmy Carter, Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy and Gov. Jerry Brown of California. There were 34 primaries between Carter and Kennedy; Brown dropped out in early April.

The Republican field comprised former CIA Director George H.W. Bush, Illinois Congressmen John Anderson and Phil Crane, Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker, former Treasury Secretary John Connally, former Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen (who ran for the nomination nine times over a 48-year period), Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, South Dakota Sen. Larry Pressler (who dropped out in January), and Connecticut Sen. Lowell Weicker (who withdrew in May).

By November, depending on what state you lived in, there were as many as seven choices on the presidential ballot.

After Anderson lost the Republican primaries, receiving only 12% of the party's votes, he got on the general election ballot as an independent candidate.

Libertarians nominated Ed Clark and David Koch (co-owner of Koch Industries). Socialists put forward David McReynolds (the first openly gay man to run for president) and Sister Diane Drufenbrock (the first nun to run for national office in the U.S).

Biologist Barry Commoner and native activist LaDonna Harris ran under the banner of The Citizens Party, Angela Davis and Gus Hall ran for the Communist Party and the American Party nominated Percy L. Greaves Jr. for president and Frank L. Varnum for vice president.

Finally, rock musician Joe Walsh was a write-in candidate, offering to update the National Anthem and provide us all with free gasoline. At the age of 33, Walsh was too young to hold the office, but said he was running to raise public awareness of the 1980 election.

I'm sure you're aware there's an election happening in 2020, but the sense of discouragement today is probably on a par with that of 40 years ago. Then, as now, there was strong disappointment in the choices available and an equal lack of motivation on the part of large segments of the electorate.

Then, as now, the politics of differentiation forced Democrats to the right, while Republicans ran on a platform of privatization, increasing personal wealth and refusing to finance the Social Contract outlined in 1789.

Idealists who have been watching this show for any length of time might see some futility in the failure of the political structure to provide candidates with any chance of bringing our widely diverging perspectives together. When so much time and policy go toward the preservation of party power structures, it is hard to imagine a role for anyone with a positive vision for the kind of government articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

In 1980, my personal idealism called on me to withhold my vote from any of those crowding the clown car of presidential politics. When I tell people this, they generally ask how I could object to voting for Jimmy Carter, and 67-year-old Shlomit can see their point.

In retrospect, my objections to the 39th president were all about style. Soft-spoken as he was, Carter wore his Christianity loud and proud and I thought he insulted foreign governments by failing to recognize the perspectives of other cultures.

It's no secret, to those who know me, that I support a single-payer national health care system, energy security through conservation, equal educational opportunity regardless of the property values where one lives, an end to corporate power use to influence elections and the freedom of all citizens from the religious dogma of others.

I think abortion is a terrible thing, but remember, all too well, a middle school friend who died because she had no safe and legal option to carrying the result of a family sexual assault. Looking back, I can't quite fathom the perfection I thought Carter lacked.

There have been candidates who agree with me on most of these matters; some of them may be running under the Green or Alliance Party banners this year.

But, in the 40 years since Reagan won election by claiming supply-side economics and drastic tax cuts would balance the budget, I've learned to recognize my choices for what they are, and if there's anything we've all seen in the past year, it's that actions (or inaction) can have results outside of our expectations.

It's painful to be an idealist in times like these, to look for the promise of Medicare for All only to be offered another rehash of the Clintons' public-private partnerships. To feel like we've struggled for so long and not been heard, and to be asked, once again, to vote for candidates who are tone deaf to the need for change.

In Maine, we have worked long and hard to institute a voting model that allows us to vote our ideals while we work toward a broader consensus.

In spite of efforts to portray Ranked Choice Voting as undemocratic, our Nov. 3 ballots will allow us to state our preferences in a transparent process. Because we never traded paper and pen for the risky business of electronic ballots, our wishes will be clearly documented.

In a little over a month, the voting will be over and the analysis will have begun. How will you have used your power as a citizen, and what will you do next to fulfill the contract that citizenship implies?

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992.

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