Can't complain if you don't vote, so I did

Can't complain if you don't vote, so I did

I had decided this was the year I wasn’t going to vote.

My mind was made up. I was sick of the vicious prevarication, tired of the tribal alienation and beyond convincing my little vote mattered, since the country seemed hell-bent on destruction.

I thought to myself, rather righteously, I had nothing to gain and little else to lose, so I’d just go underground for a while and let the whole thing swirl down the commode, safe in my isolation.

And then I remembered what happened on July 5, 1971.

The 26th Amendment became law, giving 18-year-olds the right to vote. This was at the height of the Vietnam War, a time when most of the dying was being done by kids who had no say in their fate.

I was 16 years old that summer, mowing lawns and playing baseball, about to begin my junior year in high school, and even though I wasn’t very good at math, I could figure out that when the presidential election of 1972 rolled around, I wouldn’t be old enough to qualify.

Still, I wanted to be involved, so I volunteered for the McGovern campaign, making cold calls from the basement of a ladies clothing store every Saturday morning, getting hung up on a lot.

My little town was nothing if not solidly white, solidly conservative, solidly Protestant and solidly behind Richard Nixon.

Working for McGovern was the first — but hardly my last — experience in futility when it came to supporting candidates who had no chance, but even I was startled when Tricky Dick won all but one state on his way to a comfortable Electoral College win.

None of that mattered, though, when he had to resign in disgrace.

Since then, though, I’ve been through the highs and lows any participant in experimental democracy has endured, savoring the rare victories even as the many, many defeats took their toll.

“Always be sure to vote for the best candidate,” Mom used to say, “just as long as he or she’s a Democrat.”

Dad was a bit more pragmatic, which is precisely what you’d expect from a man who was the chairman of the political science department at the small college in my hometown. Having earned his doctorate amid the chaos of helping to raise three young children, he was an expert at maintaining calm in any storm.

Which is why, I suppose, my father voted for Nixon in 1968 and why, four years later, he backed Sen. McGovern’s doomed bid.

Nothing says “professorial” better than that brief history lesson.

Politics was always discussed in our house, be it around the kitchen table or in the living room, where card tables were set up when Mom and Dad hosted their bridge club every now and again.

Opinions filled the air those nights, along with pipe tobacco and the smooth sounds emanating from the console stereo’s FM radio.

I used to walk through the convivial hubbub, refilling glasses and emptying ashtrays, listening as opposing views were expressed, fascinated by the civilized discourse and its keen academic sheen.

I tried the same tactic when it came to heading up the Democratic side of the ledger when my government class staged its mock election in fall 1972 but convinced hardly anyone to join me.

And that’s the way it's gone ever since, though I’ve always voted.

This time around, though, I’d convinced myself to wash my hands of the whole disgusting hyper-partisan mess, figuring if brainwashed zealots wanted to drive the nation off a cliff, I could do little to stop it. With the Supreme Court stacked with like-minded ideologues and the Congress soon to follow suit, people like me had no place to go, no shelter from the storm, no hope.

So what changed my mind, aside from a few memories drawn from a time when differences of opinion didn’t result in death threats?

It was the way my wife looked at me when I told her I was giving up, that I’d had enough with election deniers and their callous ilk, those who wouldn’t accept any voting results, save those they liked.

When we met, way back in fall 1987, she was happily apolitical, running her own business, raising her three sons, playing golf once a week with her friends, reading and watching television.

And then I came along with my big mouth and bigger opinions, railing about Iran Contra and the Bork nomination, calling Reagan all kinds of insulting names and — presto-change-o — she began voting her conscience and has been doing so ever since. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger Bernie Sanders supporter down here.

So that’s how I found myself walking with her to our polling place, a good 3-mile round trip, braving a stiff east wind and waiting for 45 minutes as the line moved slowly as it kept growing longer.

“Do you feel better?” she asked as we headed down the driveway.

“They didn’t have any ‘I Voted Today’ stickers,” I said. “I asked.”

“Oooh,” she said, pushing open the front door, “it’s nice and warm inside,” and all I could do was be thankful for her being in my life.

Mike Dewey can be reached at 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560, or He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page, where no photo ID is ever required.

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