At a recent family reunion of sorts, the first question asked of me by my relatives wasn’t the usual “Are you married yet?” (my relatives seem to have decided that it’s best to skip over the whole “dating” thing and jump right to marriage), but it was rather “Who do you like in the election?” It was also the second question I was asked that day.
And the question floored me.
One of my first memories of voting was when my mother and father took me to the polls at around age 5 or 6. After they pulled their lever, and I got my “I Voted” sticker, we headed back into the car where I begged the question, “So…who did you vote for Mom? Dad?” My parents were reluctant to say. This would have been the 1992 election I suppose, or maybe it was the Republican primaries – I honestly could not tell you – and probably my parents couldn’t settle on a candidate together and didn’t want to tell each other. But maybe it was because they didn’t want to instill in me the that idea that voting for one candidate is right, while voting for another is wrong. Or maybe they wanted to let me know that it’s simply not polite to ask.
Whenever I get this question, “Who are you voting for?”, I tend to shy away. I may end up giving an answer that consists of 2-3 candidates, or I may shift the conversation into the “electability” of current front runners, but deep down I hate this question. Up until yesterday I’ve been saying something like, “My guy hasn’t entered the race yet.” AKA Vice President Joe Biden. And while, yes, I tended to think he would have leveled the field a bit on the democratic side, ultimately it was a ruse to avoid the question.
My friends and family have a good time poking fun at my passion for political issues and pure politics, and it’s true that I’m growing into a political junkie of sorts, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking the question “Who are you voting for?” is inappropriate to ask until you ask yourself that question right before punching your ballot.
Don’t get me wrong, if you want to corner me at a bar and talk about the pure politics of someone’s campaign, I’m all game. We’ll have an honest conversation about polling numbers, demographics and electoral math and dig into performances in debates and voter trends…you know, the fun stuff that everyone hates.
But at this point in the political marathon that is a presidential campaign, it’s almost insane to pose the question “Who are you voting for?” With at least 15 people left that would need to drop out on just the Republican side alone, odds are your guy or gal will not be in the race, polling numbers aside, come next summer. But beyond the fact it’s a numbers game at this stage, we’re missing out on the one question that would re-focus our country and inspire real political discourse:
“What do you think we should do to improve __________?”
Talking about the issues is why we have a democracy. It’s not so that we can vote for some guy or gal who has the best comeback in a debate. It’s to allow we, the people, to have a voice on how we approach hard issues. And, let’s face it, the issues facing the 2016 campaigns are hard issues: deficit reduction, education, inequality on numerous fronts, immigration, and climate change.
So instead of talking about what Donald Trump proclaimed last Tuesday, what Jeb Bush didn’t say last Wednesday, or if Bernie Sanders bought a comb on Thursday, let’s talk about the issues. We don’t need the candidates to tell us how to think.
My parents were never ones to engage in hardcore political discussions with me. Only recently, and probably due to my incessant commenting on politics at every level, have we started these kinds of talks. For the first time I can remember, we’re talking about primary races. PRIMARY races. Heck, last November, my parents (both teachers) and my sister (studying to be a teacher) watched the SC Superintendent debate — yeah, read that one again – I’m rubbing off apparently. But what we’re talking about around the dinner table isn’t necessarily candidate profiles, we’re talking about the issues. We’re talking about what needs to happen to make education better, how we can protect our family’s values while also protecting the values of other families, and yes, there’s a little bit of Donald Trump humor because we just can’t resist.
But I think I’m starting to understand why my parents never talked to me about who they voted for. It never was about WHO they were voting for, it was about WHAT they were voting for. And that’s where our allegiance should lie, with our own beliefs and values, not with a candidate.