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Barbara's Bi-Weekly Column


The Salem Evening Hews
Thursday, October 29, 1998

If You Don't Care, Then Don't Vote
By Barbara Anderson



The pumpkin is on the porch next to the pot of bronze mums. The bittersweet berries are turning gold, the maple tree is tipped with rust. I'd almost think it was autumn, but something is missing ... what is it?

There's a knock on the door; it's my friend Ben with a sign. Put it there, between the mailbox and the pine tree: "Elect Gatchell state representative." The red letters match a nearby burning bush. Now my yard is ready for election-year fall.

In the driveway, on my car: bumper stickers for Ben Gatchell, for Brad Bailey, for Cellucci/Swift, for Peter Torkildsen. There'd be more candidates, but I have a very small car and my issues take up a lot of space: "Every Tax is A Pay Cut," "Preserve and Protect Prop 2," "Annoy the IRS, Support the Flat Tax." Inside, on the passenger seat, a petition for parental choice in education, in case I see a local voter on my way to a campaign event.

Sure it's crazy to be so involved in politics, but I figure I have to balance some of those people who are ignoring the election altogether. Not that I'm asking them to vote; this isn't the League of Women Voters here. If you can't tell Cellucci from Cook from Harshbarger; if you don't even know there are four ballot questions never mind what they ask; if you recycled the Secretary of State's voter information booklet unread, then do me, yourself, and the world a favor: don't vote.

Admit your ignorance of the issues, revel in your distaste for politics, take pride in your indifference: leave the decisions to those of us from all sides of the political spectrum who keep trying, no matter how disillusioned or cynical we get. Stay out of the arena, and let us have its dust to ourselves.

Tell yourself that whoever gets elected, whichever questions pass, it has no relationship to you, your families, your lives. Keep repeating that mantra, as your taxes get increased or cut, your rights get protected or assaulted, your children get taught or used, your economy/environment/future improves or worsens. Nothing you can do about it. Policy happens.

Excuse me! I was neglecting my readers while pretend-talking to people who don't read my column, this newspaper, or anything else about the election either. Back to you, Fellow Voters: let's celebrate our common understanding that we can't ignore politics, because politics won't ignore us.

We're the ones who have to make the tough decisions. Knowing that no candidate is perfect, do we vote for the one who agrees with us usually, or punish him for lack of perfection hoping that someone better will be nominated next time? Do we pick the third-party candidate who does reflect our values, knowing she won't win in '98, to help that party retain its status so that someday it will have a chance to win?

Even though I know many of the players personally, issues about which I feel more strongly battle them for allegiance in my political soul. I weigh candidates' positions on tax limitation, the right to bear arms, parental choice in education, freedom for Cheryl and Gerry Amirault, but fail to find anyone viable who wants all these things as much as I do.

Ballot questions are usually easier. Question One is a clear "No" to prevent legislators from getting constitutionally-guaranteed pay-raises. Questions Two and Three are obvious for a taxpayer activist: "No" on public financing of elections, "Yes" for the rate cut on savings and investment income. But Question Four poses a dilemma: a "Yes" vote keeps the electric deregulation law that should have done more for average consumers, and a "No" sends it back to the legislature where it may or may not improve.

Some of us are fortunate to also have a choice for state senate and representative, though democracy is dead in many legislative districts where incumbents run unopposed. It's hard for challengers who work full-time to compete with legislators who have August through October free to campaign.

Some days, I wake up understanding why some people tune out politics, elections, and even me; sometimes I want to join them in their blissful cluelessness or fantasy of untouchability by government. But after I've had my orange juice I begin looking forward to someone planting a campaign sign in my yard, letting my neighbors know that I haven't given up on democracy, political involvement, and the American way.


Barbara Anderson is co-director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government. Her bi-weekly column is syndicated and appears in the (Quincy) Patriot Ledger, (Salem) Evening News, (Attleboro) Sun-Chronicle and the (Worcester) Telegram-Gazette.

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