The American Voter’s Big Damn Choice: Principles vs. Power

Confess it now, I am registered as a Democratic voter in America. And if you’ve ever loved a sports team that consistently chokes in the playoffs, then you understand what it is like to support a party that struggles with its conscience so acutely. For every apology and resignation, for every political bean that wobbles on policies to meet poll-tested expectations, the party grows more and more flaccid.

However, disappointing as Democratic candidates and officials may be, they are not solely to blame for the party’s crushing losses. The voters are perhaps the most complicit. Yes, you. You with the protest votes. You with the disgruntled Facebook posts.

You, the voter, are the worst.

And this is probably because you have not yet recognized the empirical truth that there is a binary choice in American elections that never changes–no matter the politicians, the party, the year, or the economy:

You can vote for power, or you can let your principles vote against power.

I shouted this during Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House. Yeah, she never figured out an inspiring message and she sounded like a robot most of the time. Sure, she wanted it so badly that there was froth caked on the edges of her mouth for the better part of a year. That was gross.

But I sat back in horror, absolutely agog that so many of my friends and cohorts were willing to give away their power in favor of their principles by staying home on Election Day. Or voting for Jill Stein. Or writing in Bernie or Tyrion Lannister.

They bemoaned, Bernie “should have” won (except that he lost). Hillary isn’t progressive enough. The DNC played foul with the primaries. Hillary has dirt under her fingernails (as if most voters could actually describe the dirt in detail). She hasn’t spoken out on [fill in the blank] issue recently enough. She’s going to win anyway…

Yes, you and your principles did the nation dirty.

Your heart couldn’t help it. You were swayed by some kind of notion of honor or rebellion or fantasy. And so you commandeered a luxury you had no right to–the luxury of voting for your principles with no regard for the cold, hard reality of power. And, really, how dare you?

It’s good to have principles. They are fine and good for journals and diaries. They are moving at dinner parties.  It is a worthy fight to assert your heart’s courageous burnings when encouraging candidates to run, shoring up votes, raising funds, or (more importantly) advocating legislative electoral changes between election cycles.

But once the ballots are finalized, the time for principles has come and gone. If you want power, you choose between the Democratic nominee or the Republican. One of those two will win. One of those two will nominate judges. One of those two will impact climate change. One of those two will alter your health care choices.

If your principles ache in denial of reality, then I feel for you. Nothing about politics is fair. Damn straight, there should be a viable multi-party system. Damn straight, Iowa shouldn’t get to caucus first. Damn straight, the Electoral College shouldn’t supersede the popular vote. Damn straight, you liked that other primary candidate better.

It isn’t fair! It isn’t fair! It isn’t fair!

I know.

But now that we’ve gotten that whingeing out of our systems, we can touch back down to earth and accept the bleak truth that if you want power, you have to vote in the election that is real. Not the one in your fantasies.

Let’s put it this way: Suppose you sit down at a table with a Monopoly game laid out and begin shouting “But I want to play Scrabble!” You kick your feet and line up letter tiles along the edge of the board. The problem, of course, is that you’re going to lose. Because the game is Monopoly.

Play the game. Win the game. Take the power, as imperfect and compromised as it may be.

I truly hope that your principles may always intersect with the sober choice of handing someone power. But if they don’t, suck it up, stash your letter tiles away for another night, and start mortgaging your red properties before Aunt Griselda gets her sweaty racist mitts on both Park Place and Boardwalk.

Democrats, don’t you let me down again. Your principles aren’t high-minded and sexy when health, safety, and equality are on the line. Play the game in front of you. Play it for power.

 

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