I visited my friend Scott recently. As we were driving back from his place, he said, “I’ve never voted in any kind of election before, but I’m sure as hell going to vote in 2004.” Scott is fairly liberal, like me, and not happy with what he sees going on in Washington.
Scott is about thirty. He’s a young father. He and his wife bought a house in Evanston a little while ago. His daughter is two, and adorable. Scott is at that point where the bonds to the community become important; if you haven’t given up your youthful alienation and ignorance yet, you’re now forced to. It’s that moment in life when you wake up and realize “Hey, these are my problems.”
There is a distinction between legal voting age and effective voting age in American political culture. It’s the difference between when you could vote and when you actually bother to do so.
I remember growing up feeling politically alienated. I think my first political memory was Nixon’s resignation. And I really thought they were mostly crooks or irresponsible. Some were just ridiculous.
The first election I was old enough to vote in was 1988. I didn’t like either Bush or Dukakis. I was estranged by the bickering and negative campaigning. I didn’t respect the process enough to bother participating. I might have voted for Paul Simon had the Democrats had the sense to nominate him.
It’s funny the ways we find connection with society’s establishment. Maybe you buy a house, and now you worry about crime rates and property values. Maybe you have kids, and now you worry about schools. Maybe you fall into a community of people with certain political views, and a couple years later you find yourself passing out pamphlets on the street.
For me in part it was simple accomplishment, building something at work that mattered to some business, that helped them reduce costs or pursue opportunities they didn’t have before. Working inside “the system,” and actually seeing it work. And being heard and heeded by those around you, seeing your ideas and recommendations put into practice.
It makes you feel like you are a part of something, and even more that you are responsible for it. This is one experience I took away from the dot-com era. I wouldn’t call it a directly political experience. But it colored my experience of politics.
None or any of this this could be enough to get someone to pay attention to the campaigns, show up at the poll, and vote. I suppose that’s for the best: you want the people who choose to vote to take it seriously, whether or not you agree with their politics.