To me, the most patriotic day of the year is not the Fourth of July. It’s not Veteran’s Day. Nor is it Thanksgiving. It’s Election Day. That’s when I feel most American.
I love to vote. I find it thrilling.
I once wrote a column about the last time I voted against Richard Nixon (I loathed Nixon, but I suppose you’ve already inferred that):
“Yesterday I gave Richard Nixon his last schlunk and it was good.
“I went to the polls reconciled to the fact that, barring the biggest upset since Birnam Wood went to Dunsinane, Mr. Nixon was going to win re-election. The polls couldn’t be that wrong. It was like coming to the end of a Charles Dickens novel and finding out that Uriah Heep gets the girl.
“But say what you will of us, we Nixon-haters are not bad sports. We accept the will of the majority without a whimper. And if God in His Divine Sense of Humor, wishes us to have four more years of what we’ve just had four years of, then so be it.
“All we ever asked for is the chance to cast our schlunk against the darkness and have it counted on the side of goodness and that’s what we got.
“The schlunk as I pulled the handle to record my vote was especially reassuring for it marked the last time I shall ever be faced with Richard Nixon the candidate.”
The “schlunk,” of course, refers to the sound made by those old-fashioned, marvelous, massive voting machines of yesteryear, when voting meant stepping behind a curtain and pulling a lever.
They are no more, replaced by computers and glorified punchboards. Even worse, I voted by absentee ballot this year. Admittedly, it was easy. I sat at my kitchen table with research materials around me, studied the candidates and the issues, filled in the proper ovals, and mailed off the ballot.
Had it been raining on Election Day, I wouldn’t have gotten wet. Had I business that took me out of town, I wouldn’t have lost my vote. Had I fallen down stairs and hurt myself, I wouldn’t have had to take heroic measures to cast my ballot.
Easy, convenient, virtually foolproof.
I hated it.
There’s no juice in voting by mail. No zip. No passion. There’s no schlunk.
Absent the catharsis of a schlunk, it took me a full week to get over the horror, rage, and disgust inspired by this year’s perfectly dreadful election. I’m OK now, even if I do burst into tears when I hear the words “Speaker John Boehner.” Americans voted for change–from bad to worse. So be it.
What I really don’t understand are the people who didn’t vote.
I don’t care if you didn’t like the candidates. It’s a two-party system. It’s rare to find a candidate you completely agree with.
Pick the lesser of two evils; hold your nose, and vote. You can even pick a third party and throw your vote away. I wouldn’t recommend it but at least you’re voting.
My brother-in-law tells this voting story:
He was a Marine in the Pacific during World War II. Germany had fallen, and he and his buddies were being fitted with new uniforms for the invasion of Japan.
Estimates of the casualties expected in that invasion ranged up to one million dead.
Then news of the atom bomb being dropped on Hiroshima arrived. My brother-in-law said he’d never known such elation before or since. A few days later a second bomb was dropped and the war was over.
Three years later, President Truman was up for reelection and his prospects seemed dark. Thomas Dewey was going to win; everybody said so.
On Election Day, my brother-in-law got up before dawn so he could be first in line to vote for the man who saved his life. It was raining. And when he got there, there was a long line of young men wearing combat jackets, waiting to vote. They weren’t waiting for Dewey.
Now that’s voting.
Licking a stamp is not.
OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. www.otherwords.org