I woke up in the United States this morning. Other people woke up in other countries. I'm up in the wee hours so I can vote before heading in to the office. Other people in other countries might awaken early, too, to begin their workday. But not every country encourages people to vote. And some don't allow it at all.
My mother and father pounded one message about voting when I was a child: Vote!
Both lifelong Republicans, I don't remember either of them saying much about whether I should belong to any particular party. What they did say, over and over again, was that I lived in a country that had paid a high price for freedom. That freedom only was deserved for a people who would be responsible for and to that freedom. That each individual citizen would and should accept individual responsibility.
In 1964, my parents put me, age 7, and my two sisters in the car. We drove to Sky Harbor airport. We stood behind a chain-link fence with thousands of Phoenicians as presidential candidate Barry Goldwater stepped off his parked plane and spoke at a makeshift microphone during a campaign stop. I don't remember much content. But I do remember that parents were doing something important. I remember the "energy" of the event like yesterday.
My father would stick his tongue in his cheek and call it "earning your right to complain." He was adamant that, if you were too lazy to get out and vote, then you should be obliged to keep quiet. That your opinions and passions, politically speaking, had no credibility without responsible participation in civic duty.
My parents' message stuck. Took root. Grew. I vote. It matters to me. I would feel embarrassed and ashamed not to vote. If I'm too busy for citizenship, then I'd have to conclude I'm insufferably shallow and lazy. Oblivious and self-absorbed. Yes, citizenship. My parents did a stellar job at teaching the value of good citizenship - its duties, responsibilities and required faithfulness.
Today I'm a Republicrat. Oh, officially, there's no such party. But, like a lot of my generation, I tend to think like a Republican when it comes to dollars and cents and to think like a Democrat when it comes to the environment and social issues. I have little but contempt for the Republican pandering to the "religious right," and equal loathing for the Democrats' penchant for "sleeping" with any and every "special interest."
Both parties spend buckets of money they don't have out of their nether-regions like drunken sailors, just on different things. I turn to my metaphorical left, and I see labor unions. Originally an inspired and powerful force of justice for injured or exploited workers, labor unions seem near vestigial now, if not often unwittingly in the way of the American Dream, which is individuals reaching for excellence, not groups digging in to defend mediocrity. Then I turn to my metaphorical right and I see the doctrine of pre-emptive war and "let them eat cake."
And I think, "Yikes."
The two-party system in America reminds me of the San Andreas fault line. It moves just about as slowly. It contains just about that much energy and tension. And, like a huge tug-of-war at an office picnic, if either side lets go of the rope, a lot of things are going to fall down.
But, as frustrating, as contradicting, as often hypocritical and power-mongering and just plain mean as the whole thing is, maybe that's the miserable counterbalance that makes it work. Maybe this maddening system kinda guarantees that we must and do float back to the middle. And maybe the middle is where we usually need to be.
I'm going to vote now. At Wasden Elementary School. I'll see my neighbors there. Six months ago I was sure that Barack Obama would win this election walking away. I was dead wrong. It seems to me a dead heat. I have no idea, not one intuitive clue who will be my president come January.
But, amongst other images, I always think of voting as me hitting the "off" switch to campaign ads. Ahhh. How do you spell relief?
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of "Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing" (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.