Written, and scheduled, after polls had closed but before the outcome of the presidential election had been determined.
On Election Evening four years ago, I was working in a newsroom at a large metropolitan newspaper in Chicago. We watched, and worked, as Barack Obama gained the electoral votes needed for the presidency, then accepted his victory in Grant Park, not far from where we were. There was no celebration (outwardly) by anyone in the newsroom; there was simply too much to do.
At about 1 a.m. or so, I had finished work and stepped out onto Michigan Avenue. The street was still impassable to cars; revelers continued to scream and yell and hoot and holler and rejoice. It wasn’t easy to get to public transit, and any buses or “L” trains were stuffed anyway. It was a relatively warm, clear night, even though it was in early November, so I decided started to walk home. At the time, I lived on the North Side of Chicago; the walk was four miles and about an hour and a quarter. I think there was loud cheering from those exiting downtown for maybe three of those four miles.
And though I hadn’t voted for Obama (and never would), I understood, and in some sense, shared his fans’ enthusiasm. It was historic that an African-American had won the presidency. He had provided the fresh face, the brighter perspective, the optimism that things would get better. Yes, I disagreed, significantly, with the president-elect on many issues. But maybe, just maybe, he would serve to better the common good.
And, in many ways, he has. I know this myself, as someone who lost my job at that major metropolitan newspaper not long after Obama took office. Without the stimulus package, I wouldn’t have been able to get back on my parents’ insurance. I still had to move from Chicago and back in with my parents, but I had an extra safety net while I tried to find a new job. (It took four months for me to have any work, nine months to have enough freelance and organisting work to effectively have a full-time job, and 14 months until I actually had a full-time job.)
So I, perhaps as much as anyone else, understand why people vote for Obama. He has accomplished a great deal of good. (A good example: immigration, where he is working toward a much fairer policy dealing with illegal immigrants.) A large chunk of Obamacare actually does line up with Church teaching. (Sorry, but it does.) And he did it with a Republican caucus that decided to put their own good ahead of the common good.
But I did not vote for him when I voted early last week. I couldn’t.
He has, for reasons I will never understand, tried to tell the Catholic Church that its beliefs are invalid via the HHS contraception mandate. (Determining whether churches have right beliefs is still not the government’s job, Mr. Obama.) And this doesn’t just happen with Catholics; it happened with the Lutherans, too. That might be why my next door neighbors, who attend a Lutheran church, put up a Stand Up for Religious Freedom sign in their front yard. And don’t get me started on his promotion (not tolerance) of abortion over the last four years. Yes, that’s very bad. But it’s also kind of a given.
So, for whom could I vote? Let’s stipulate, first of all, that my vote doesn’t matter. Obama would win Illinois, because it’s his home state. So, because my vote had no practical value for the presidential race, I had the opportunity to freely vote my conscience for whomever I wanted.
But Mitt Romney is loathsome, barely right on major issues, and largely wrong on less important issues. I don’t trust him, and I don’t like him, and I didn’t want to reward Republicans for putting party ahead of people. Gary Johnson is too weird, and his positions aren’t coherent. Jill Stein is really pro-choice. (And those were the only four on my ballot.) Then there were the right-wing candidates, largely scoundrels and birthers. Oh, and the loathsome Roseanne Barr was running for president. Yeah, great.
Knowing I really should vote for someone, I studied and read and thought and prayed for days. Finally, on All Saints’ Day, I trudged into the village hall to vote.
Most of the election choices were easy. Yes on this referendum. No on this other one. These races were unopposed. These other races were opposed, but didn’t have serious opposition.
Then, I stared at the presidential slot again. I stared at it, angrily. Why did the choices suck so badly this year? Why can’t we have a candidate that would actually try to put people above party and politics? It can’t be that hard, can it? We can’t have these scoundrels every time, can we?
I filled out a circle. I put my ballot into the counter thingy. Then I slunk out of the village hall. I’d voted my conscience, but I didn’t like it.
The Church and its adherents can issue guidelines and recommendations as much as they wish. And they should. But then it’s left up to us to figure out how in the world to live it out. And that’s much, much easier said than done.
More on that in a future post.