Point/Counterpoint: Your vote does nothing toward effecting real change
Read the counterpoint to this argument here.
Imagine that this Election Day, you find yourself pressed for time. Let’s say that this results in a conflict we might describe by paraphrasing Albert Camus: “Should I vote, or have a cup of coffee?”
The average college student will probably shrug off their supposed “civic duty,” realizing how unlikely it is for their vote to actually matter, especially in Oklahoma. However, even if your vote did meaningfully impact the election, it still wouldn’t matter.
That’s because the only two candidates on the ballot in Oklahoma, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, have practically identical positions, with most differences boiling down to personality.
One might object that clearly this is not the case — after all, Obama is clearly pro-choice and Romney is clearly pro-life.
Yet, Obama seemed to not care too much about reproductive rights when he supported a bill that prevented certain kinds of birth control from being sold over the counter to women under the age of 17. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that a President Romney would be the first of many vocally pro-life presidents to actually do anything toward reversing Roe v. Wade.
Both candidates are also strong proponents of the Keystone Pipeline. This should sit well with neither environmentalists nor anyone who cares about property rights (given the massive amounts of eminent domain the project includes).
On economic policy, we find the same charade that’s been going on for many years. Romney pretends to be in favor of free markets against big government. Obama pretends to be in favor of helping the poor against big business. Meanwhile, both actually agree on supporting the use of big government to prop up big business and protect it from competition, with occasional scraps thrown to the poor (perhaps so they don’t revolt).
A good example of this is on health care. There’s a lot of debate about “Obamacare,” (literally the national version of “Romneycare”) but little if any discussion about the ways government makes healthcare artificially scarce and more expensive. The effects of medical licensure and drug patents, for instance, are not anywhere close to questioned by either candidate.
Even still, though, people see the candidates as radically different. This highlights one of the worst aspects of the dominant, voting-centric way of thinking about politics.
Seeing politics as centered on voting reduces it to team sports. Rather than basing one’s views on what’s just or unjust, people wrapped up in the culture of electoral politics tend to base their views around those of their favorite candidate or political party. This means that only one view is considered on those things the candidates agree on.
Hence why Romney was wrong when he said “when there are elections, people tend to vote for peace.”
In this election, it is impossible to vote for peace. The most we can do is vote for whether or not the person ordering drone strikes that kill children in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and wherever else also gives funding to a television program for American children.
Somehow, though, voting gives people a sense of having “done something.” This relief is toxic. When you feel that you’ve already “done something,” you are less likely to actually do something by engaging your community directly.
Both candidates have changed their official stances several times depending on what’s politically popular. This seems to show that if you educate the public, the ever-shifting beliefs of politicians will follow.
So, if it comes down to voting or coffee, snag the coffee. Your vote would do absolutely nothing toward effecting real change, whereas the coffee probably tastes good. Voting leaves you complacent, while the coffee might give you the energy boost to actually do something with your day.
And hey, as an added bonus: you probably won’t have to have meaningless discussions about irrelevant issues in your barista’s personal life with grown men and women acting like they’re in middle school.
Jason Byas is a philosophy senior.