Elections aren’t very exciting. Dorky lawyers dance awkwardly on red, white, and blue stages. TV news networks blast triumphant stock music with swirling graphics – also, red, white, and blue. People stand around in line at churches and school gyms for their opportunity to fill out a scantron. A former president or two says “this is the most important election of our lifetimes” and then exits to an inoffensive 1980s rock song. Joe Scarborough will gel his Jimmy Neutron hair until it reaches the ceiling, and CNN will bring on its all-star crew of beautiful poreless automatons. All this pomp and dorkumstance obscures what an election actually is: a revolution.
You Say You Want a Revolution, Well… Y’know
According to Merriam-Webster, a revolution is a “sudden, radical, or complete change” or a “fundamental change in political organization.” In the 18th century, there was no voting King George out of office, so the colonists had to use muskets. In the middle of the 20th century, Black Southerners mostly couldn’t vote, so we had to march and protest. Now, however, revolutions have never been easier.
So, why do only 65% of eligible voters actually show up? Why are rates even lower for voters under 40 and for midterms? Well, in short, elections don’t feel like revolutions. On Monday, November 7th, the average US legislator will be a 60-year old man with a law degree. On Wednesday, November 9th, the average US legislator will be a 60-year old man with a law degree. How could that possibly be a revolution?
The Green Lantern Isn’t on the Ballot
Explosions can be used to extinguish fires, which is pretty counterintuitive. Explosions burn so fast and so violently that they blast the flames off their fuel source. The fire has no fuel, and it goes out. That’s essentially what a presidential election does to American politics. During the midterms, potential candidates visit early primary states such as Iowa to campaign for the Dubuque County dogcatcher and pretend they’re not there for presidential caucus reasons.
Immediately after a midterm election, politicians begin to position themselves for presidential campaigns. Media outlets speculate on who will and will not run. In January of the year before the election year (January 2023 for the next presidential election), candidates begin announcing their primary bids. The next two years are essentially consumed entirely by presidential campaigning.
That means any meaningful analysis of the state of governance is practically impossible. The first two years of a president’s term are focused on the opposition party positioning itself to win the midterms. The final two years are focused on the next presidential election. So, it’s no wonder people don’t vote downballot or in midterms. By virtue of being a singular figure, and the only politician voted on in every state, the president serves as a focal point of American politics.
To justify their focus, media outlets engage in years and years of performative dumbassery (that’s a technical term). Presidential candidates are pestered to produce their plans. What is your budget plan? What is your healthcare plan? What is your agricultural plan? Why is this idiocy, Christian? We need to know what he/she will do as president.
It’s dumbassery because the president won’t do any of it. He or she (please, can we finally have a “she”?) won’t pass a single word of legislation. The president doesn’t have the power to so much as rename a post office. The budget, the farm bill, the education bill, civil rights, women’s healthcare, voting rights, etc. That’s all solely Congress’s responsibility. The president has the power to veto but with the extinction of the line-item veto, even that is a seriously limited power. He/she can accept or reject a bill exactly as written. Can’t even correct the grammar; it’s all or nothing. The focus on whoever is president inevitably leads to the Green Lantern Theory of the presidency.
To those unfamiliar, Green Lantern is a DC Comics superhero with a ring powered by his/her willpower. Green Lantern can accomplish anything she has the willpower to envision. If she’s unable to do something, she’s either too afraid or she simply lacks the willpower. That’s how Americans envision the president. Who can blame them? It’s basically all journalists talk about.
Why didn’t Biden save Roe v Wade? Why didn’t Biden pass voting rights protections? Why didn’t Trump end undocumented immigration? Why didn’t Obama include a public option in Obamacare? Why didn’t Dubya privatize Social Security? Did they lack the will? No! They really really wanted to do these things. They simply didn’t have the power. Presidents don’t enact their campaign plans for the same reason I don’t play linebacker for the New Orleans Saints. Just don’t have what it takes.
Just Vote Harder
There has been a considerable amount of criticism, especially among younger folks, that Democrats’ only advice is to “vote harder.” These critics feel Democrats are ineffectual at achieving their policy goals and “voting harder” will produce more ineffectiveness. But that’s a fundamental misreading of the American political systems (local, state, and federal). The system envisioned by the Founders and adopted all or in part by most states renders significant change significantly challenging. That weakness makes us strong. Bad ideas have just as difficult a time getting passed as good ideas. So, should you just vote harder? Yep.
We’ve established the president doesn’t have the power to do the things you want, regardless of what Jake Tapper’s scrunchy face would indicate. So, who does? Your legislator. Kind of.
The legislators you will vote for on November 8th have no individual power. They can introduce bills, amend bills, and vote on them. So, when your legislator says he/she “will make you five pounds thinner” and “will make you run a 6:00 minute mile” and “will outlaw sitting in your car checking your phone while someone waits for your parking spot”, they’re not telling you the truth. The Alabama House of Representatives has 105 members. A bill requires 53 votes to pass the chamber. So, that person you vote for on Tuesday will be one of 53 necessary votes. Then, the bill goes to the Senate, where a bill needs 18 people to pass. That senator will be one of 18. The numbers are even more daunting in the US Congress.
So, when you go to vote for President, US Senator, State Representative, or City Councilmember, just keep in mind you’re not voting for a policy outcome. You’re voting for a vote. If you like the way that person votes while in office, keep voting for him/her. Even if that thing you wanted doesn’t come to pass, you have to keep voting. Eventually, that one vote in the House can be ten, then twenty, then fifty, then one hundred, then 218.
But if you throw up your hands and say that person isn’t getting you the things you voted for, well then that’s just one fewer vote for the things you want.
Remember, November 8th is a revolution; it’s not a coup d’etat. It’s not one and done. An electoral revolution wins when the good guys have sufficient numbers. Your job as a revolutionary is to hold your position. Your city council seat, your state House seat, your US House seat, your Senator, your Electoral College votes. Those are your hills to defend.
Don’t retreat. Don’t surrender. We’re gaining on em.