If there’s one good thing we can take away from this year’s election, it is this: More than 200 million people are registered to vote. That’s an incredible expansion of the voter base over the past eight years, with more than 50 million new voters registered since President Barack Obama was elected.
While I’m pleased to see this heightened civic engagement, I’m not part of it. I don’t vote.
My refusal to cast a ballot has nothing to do with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or the likelihood that the Russians are tinkering with the process.
Hey, Putin, if you really want to chip in, how about sending over a few cases of vodka? One way or the other, half the country’s going to need a drink after we crawl out of this national train wreck we’re calling an election.
But I haven’t experienced a political hangover since college, when, as president of my university’s Young Democrats group, I cast my first and only presidential ballot for a peanut farmer from Georgia. Some actor from California went on to win.
Me? I went on to a career in journalism, a once-noble profession whose practitioners are about as well-regarded as lawyers and bankers. At last count, we still ranked above used-car salesmen and telemarketers in terms of the public’s perception of our honest and ethical standards.
But trust me, we’re working hard to change that. A shoot-your-mouth-off-first-and-ask-questions-later approach by “news” outlets is redefining what it means to be a reporter or journalist.
Sadly, even before I became a columnist — someone who gets to mouth off about everything under the sun — my news sources would speculate about my politics. We’re all a bunch of bleeding-heart liberal hacks, you know.
It’s probably true that I’m a bleeding-heart liberal if you get right down to it. I’d like to think I’m more of a Colin Powell-type Republican, a fiscal conservative who grapples with the social ills of our society and doesn’t think that either party has all the answers.
But we see what’s happened to Powell. He’s a pariah with members of his own party for having the audacity to express support for the first black president of the U.S., not once but twice.
And now that he’s said he’s voting for Hillary Clinton, even I don’t know what label to put on him anymore. It doesn’t really matter, as long as he stands on a core set of principles about what’s right and good.
As for me, I’m neutral — an old-school holdout who still cherishes the …ideal of journalists as objective purveyors of truth. That objectivity is just as important to me today as it was when I first signed up for this gig nearly 32 years ago.
Can I live up to it now as much as I did when I was a beat reporter or assignment editor? No, I can’t, in large part because my role has changed.
And when I express an opinion, take a news maker to task or question a politician’s morals, policies or brain power, I am exposing myself to harsh reality. And really, no matter how objectively I may think I’m sifting through the facts, my readers can and often do interpret things differently.
They parse words and split hairs. They count how many Republicans or Democrats I’ve criticized or praised. They are quick to put a label on you.
And all of that is fair game, I suppose.
But I refuse to serve up red meat, the proof that I’m in the corner of any political party or, for that matter, any political candidate.
Like Powell, I was pulling for Obama back in 2008 and again in 2012. I have no problem being totally transparent about that. And yet, aside from shameless racial pride — my desire to see Obama succeed as the nation’s first black president — I harbor no vested interest in his political success.
What I care most about, as a journalist, is that you, reader, take a hold of our democracy and make it work the way it should. It saddens me that, despite the record number of registered voters we’re seeing in this election, the U.S. continues to lag behind most developed nations in voter participation, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.
Well, I’ve given you my excuse for not voting. What’s yours?