The American people are confused, frustrated, and angry. They should be! The American political party system has failed them miserably, and the candidates for the Presidency have given them little reason for hope. Many Americans are throwing up their hands in disgust and turning away, saying they will vote for neither side. Their loathing of what they see in the election campaigns is understandable, but walking away resolves nothing. My father once told me that voting is an important, although sometimes feeble attempt at democracy, that should not be cast aside lightly. He was a firm believer in the right to vote even though he believed a vote or non-vote always resulted in the same two chances. That may sound paradoxical, but I can assure you, he knew what he was talking about.
I remember when I turned eighteen and registered to vote. That was the first and last time, my father asked me who I was voting for in an upcoming election. I tried to play cool and shoot the question back to him, “Who are you voting for?” He was not amused, and pressed me for an answer. I tried my best, but I was so thoroughly uninformed and ignorant of the candidates and the issues that after about thirty seconds of incoherent rambling, he stopped me. “You don’t gave a clue do you?” he said. To him voting was a very serious matter, and for a voter, especially his son, not to take time to familiarize himself with the candidates and the issues severely pissed him off. Dropping my head, I affirmed his suspicions, and steadied myself for a severe scolding. To my surprise, he didn’t say a word, but turned and walked into the house. My heart sank; I knew I had really messed up. However, a moment later he returned with a copy of The Hattiesburg American, which had recently run a special section on the candidates and the issues. He handed me the newspaper.
In those days, there was no internet, CNN, Fox News, talk radio, or Facebook with its political hearsay and conspiracies to fuel a person’s knowledge about elections. Everything a person knew about an election was learned by reading the newspaper, listening to the black and white television broadcast of the evening news with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, listening in on barber shop conversations, and occasionally being pointed in the right direction by the preacher on Sunday morning. Although my father paid attention to the politics he heard at the barber shop and in Church, he placed very little value on any of it unless it could be confirmed in the newspaper. Other than an occasional Louis L’Amour novel, my father was not an avid reader, but if it was printed in the newspaper, he read it and committed the gist of the story to memory. So, when he handed the newspaper to me, I knew he meant for me to read it and be prepared to continue the conversation in a more knowledgeable fashion at a later time. I knew the next time he asked who I was voting for I had better know as well as why I was voting for that person. If I couldn’t do both, he would not be as calm and forgiving.
The next afternoon we were sitting in the den watching an old movie, which we often did when he came home from work, when he asked if I had read the newspaper. On the screen of our 1969 RCA black and white television, Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan was wrestling a lion as his chimpanzee sidekick, Cheetah, threw twigs and pebbles at the beast presumably to help, but more likely to slyly agitate the lion. More interested in watching the movie than listening to what I expected to be a stern lecture on my responsibilities as a new voter, I mumbled I had, and he nodded his approval. “I still don’t know who I want to vote for though,” I said honestly, knowing he expected me to pick up the conversation. He didn’t say a word. “But,” I added, “I am leaning toward . . . .”
“Who you vote for is your business,” he interrupted.
“I thought you wanted to know?”
“All that matters is that you know,” he said.
“But, I don’t really know,” I said truthfully.
“That’s why I gave you the paper to read, so you can make a decision.”
“Yeah, but I’m more confused now.” From the corner of my eye, I saw Tarzan embrace Jane. A flash of female flesh momentarily stopped my breathing as the thin animal skin wrapped around her waist rode up her thigh revealing a purity and whiteness that rivaled the snows of Kilimanjaro that stood at attention above the steaming jungle around them. I don’t know if I would have said it if I had not been so distracted, but I did. I said the unthinkable. “I may not vote.”
“That’s stupid,” he said with unbelievable calmness. Maybe, it was his own orectic thoughts about Jane that kept him unruffled, I don’t know. I expected him to explode from his seat, dig his claws into the ceiling, and hurl crumbling plaster down on my irreverent head. He didn’t move except to sit up slightly and pump his fist when Tarzan released Jane and let fly his famous, distinctive, ululating yell of the victorious bull ape. That yell and Andy Griffith whistling the fishing hole song were two of my father’s favorite TV moments that always solicited a nostalgic “atta boy” sigh or “ATTA BOY!” fist pump. “Why wouldn’t you vote?” he asked, never taking his eyes off Tarzan swinging triumphantly into the distance from tree to tree.
“Because . . . I don’t want to make a mistake,” I said.
“The only mistake you can make is not voting,” he said and sipped his coffee.
“I don’t know,” I began hesitatingly. “I just don’t want to waste my vote.”
“I’m glad to hear that, but the only wasted vote is not voting.”
“How’s that?” I asked.
“Son,” he said, “it’s like this. Take Tarzan for example. He has two chances. Either the vine he is swinging on is going to break, or it isn’t, but even if it breaks, he still has two chances. Either he breaks his neck, or he doesn’t. But, if he hangs on to the vine and yells loud enough, he increases his chances of making it to the next tree, but if he doesn’t do either, he doesn’t have a chance in hell of making it. He can even decide the vine is too risky, and that is okay because he still has two chances. Maybe, he can yell loud enough to make it to the next tree, and maybe, he can’t. Voting and politics are the same way. When it comes to politics and elections, you have two chances. You have two chances with your vote, and you have exactly the same two chances if you don’t vote. The only difference is by voting you slightly increase the odds things will turn out your way.”
“And, if they don’t,” I asked.
“You still have two chances,” he said. “I might vote for the right one and I might not. And, if I don’t vote right, I still have two chances. Things might turn out okay, and they might not. And, if things don’t turn out okay, I still have two chances. The country may go to hell in a hand basket, and it might not. And, if it does go to hell in a hand basket, I still have two chances. I might lose everything, and I might not. And, if I lose everything, I’ve still got two chances. I have my family and my friends. And, if I lose my family and friends, I still have two chances. I might die, and I might not. And, if I die, I still have two chances. So, what’s the big deal, vote for what you believe is right, and the odds are 50/50 you’ll get it right, and if you don’t, you still have two chances.”
“But, what if I’m wrong,” I asked.
“Then you have two chances,” he shrugged, and kicked back in his recliner as the movie end credits rolled over Johnny Weissmuller playing with Cheetah while Maureen O’Sullivan laughed happily at his side.
So, if there is anybody out there thinking about not voting because of all the political mess and shenanigans, please vote! As my father said, “The odds are 50/50 you’ll get it right, and if you don’t, you still have two chances.”
See you at the polls!
©Jack Linton, PhD March 12, 2016