“I like Bernie Sanders,” said my friend across the patio of his Winter Park condo, where we gathered with longtime friends. His soft, kind voice did little to cushion the rest of his opinion: “But he’s unelectable.”
Unelectable. The word shot into my ear, easily cutting through the still Florida-muggy September night air. Three beers in, there was the slight danger of my reaction landing disproportionate to the moment, but I managed, “The only way to change that is to vote for him.”
My friend nearly completed my sentence, easily acquiescing. It is as simple as that. Yet, I felt no power in saying the words, no satisfaction in his agreement. I had delivered a call-to-action as impotent as it was obvious. I slipped into my familiar pensiveness, considering the matter, while not for the first time that night wiping sweat from my forehead – were we really sitting in that humidity to test out his recently recovered outdoor furniture?
The word “unelectable” strikes me as terribly un-American; the ease with which it slides out of our mouths gives weight to the argument that we have moved away from our intended democracy and have accepted oligarchy or, as rapper Killer Mike recently tweeted, monarchy. True, in a strict definition of the word, Killer Mike isn’t accurate, but the essence of the word describes a government in which things are decided for you. By and large, that seems to accurately describe our collective apathetic surrender.
Take a look at the recent election in Orlando for which only 14.9 percent of registered voters bothered to make it to the polls, or vote in their underwear by absentee ballot. Mayor Buddy Dyer captured 62.5 percent of those voters, meaning 9.35 percent of registered voters voted him back in. If you scored 9.35 percent out of 100 on your performance review at work, you would more than likely be fired. While Dyer bragged during his acceptance speech that he had won by the largest margin of his political career, it’s hard to imagine the victory to be truly satisfying.
The reality is, of course, it doesn’t behoove an incumbent to encourage you to vote. In his memoir A Full Life, former President Jimmy Carter describes his efforts to bring out the vote while he was in office, including an inspired program deputizing school principals as voter registrars so they could register students turning 18. Carter was puzzled as to why he received continual opposition from congress on the subject, until House Speaker Tip O’Neill gave him a reality check when he explained, “few incumbent congressmen wanted the voters’ lists expanded because they were satisfied with those who had put them in office.”
Voter suppression may smack of conspiracy theory, but the evidence is all around and hard to dismiss. Alabama made the news when the state passed a law in 2014 requiring photo ID to vote, then this year closed 31 driver’s license offices in predominantly black neighborhoods under the familiar veil: budget cuts. In the same vein, stripping felons of voting privileges continues, but if the goal – as it should be – is to rehabilitate the criminal to upstanding citizen, this practice is contradictory. Fewer voters, particularly those who don’t look like you, means fewer people to sway.
Probably the biggest trend discouraging us to exercise our voting rights is: Money always seems to win. Here is an area where I derail into conspiracy. I mean, take our own state as an example. Do you know anyone who will admit voting for Rick Scott? I don’t. From what I can tell, he simply outspent his rival by millions and got to stay in Tallahassee and continue to rape our state. Clearly, somebody voted for him, but their silence makes me imagine Scott sliding envelopes full of Benjamins across a desk to unsavory poll workers.
The Koch Brothers will spend more on the 2016 Presidential election than the Republican and Democrat parties combined. If money does talk, this means two private citizens are having more say in the matter than the rest of us, and our government currently supports their right to do so. Good news if you’re Republican, I suppose, though it’s hard to understand why any rational person would be in this day and age.
Why doesn’t all of this piss us off? Why are we not fighting back in the voting booths? Public outcry in Alabama caused their governor to reopen DMVs (albeit only one day a week), one recent example of regular voices being heard. Theoretically big money spent should only work if we don’t think through misleading commercials and bought-and-paid-for media, so let’s think and discuss. Why are we beaten into inaction?
And why do we side with the candidate we’ve been told is the electable one? It’s worth mentioning that eight years ago we were being told that a black man was unelectable; as gay Americans, our world would look far less inclusive today if we had listened.