Tuesday, October 30, 2012

#303 / Voting


A blog recently published by the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College took exception to the idea that "voting" is the ultimate expression of individuality in a democratic society. 

The blog posting was written in reaction to an article by Buzz Bissinger. In his article, which is quoted immediately below, Mr. Bissinger revealed that he intends to vote for Mitt Romney for President.  Click this link if you would like know more about Mr. Bissinger. Here is the statement that drew the comment from the Hannah Arendt Center blog: 

The tipping point toward a candidate is perhaps the greatest act of individuality in our unique democracy, although in this day and age of unprecedented political divide, telling somebody who you are voting for has no upside: There is no respect for your right as a citizen, but outright hatred from those who do not agree with you. I fear that I will lose friends, some of whom I hold inside my heart. Of course, I will also lose friends I really don’t like anyway.

The point made by the blogger from the Hannah Arendt Center was not that a vote for Romney would be a "bad" vote, or the "wrong" vote. Not at all. The blogger professed that there was little difference between Mitt Romney and President Obama, and that to say that making a choice between them is the "greatest act of individuality in our democracy ... is a bit like saying that deciding which brand of potato chips to buy is the greatest act of individuality in our capitalist economy."

I don't much like Bissinger's choice for President, and  though I wish that President Obama had spent more time than he did, during the last four years, distinguishing himself  from the principles of the Republican Party, I don't think that the nation is facing a "potato chip selection" when we go to the polls in about two weeks. I think it is profoundly important that President Obama be reelected, and that the differences between him and Mitt Romney are of critical importance. 

That said, I do have to agree that "voting" is not what really defines democracy - at least not for me. Not for Hannah Arendt, either: 

Hannah Arendt also saw that voting was a deeply circumscribed approach to politics. She once wrote: “The voting box can hardly be called a public place.” What distinguished the United States at the time of its revolution was what Hannah Arendt called the experience of "Public Happiness." From town hall meetings in New England to citizen militias and civic organizations, Americans had the daily experience of self-government. In Arendt's words, "they knew that public freedom consisted in having a share in public business, and that the activities connected with this business by no means constituted a burden but gave those who discharged them in public a feeling of happiness they could acquire nowhere else. Public happiness was found neither in fighting for one's particular interests, nor in doing one's duty by voting or going to town-hall meetings. Rather, the seat of American democracy was the fact that Americans "enjoyed the discussions, the deliberations, and the making of decisions."

What makes democracy work, in other words, is not "voting." What defines a true democracy is the direct and personal engagement of ordinary people in determining what they will do, together, to change the world. 

Voting? It's necessary. But it's not sufficient.

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