a funny thing happened on the way to my life….

Election Reflection (I Got My Sticker, How ‘Bout You?)

Did you vote? Or did you “rock” the vote?

I votedEither way on this post-election Wednesday I am enjoying the quiet.  As I sip coffee I am mindful of the fact that my phone is eerily and peacefully quiet (yes, we still have a landline!)  No longer am I the recipient of ten thousand political robocalls…none of which I ever listened to from start to finish…that is if I even picked up!  It was so bad that my children would even groan when the phone rang.  The Caller ID (yeah, I still have that, too) flashed phone numbers from around the country.  Some robocalls even left messages for me…I didn’t know that they could do that?  When an actual “live” person was on the line, they only wanted to know which way I was voting.  Sounded like a trap to me.  I politely told the fella that I hadn’t decided and that must have put me on another list, because the calls really amped up from there.  Vying for your vote is serious business!  Outreach that could have boosted my ego and made me feel super popular, actually made me a little sad and not to mention overall annoyed.  I makes me wonder how effective this strategy really is and whether or not it even matters any more (the incessant campaigning, not the vote.)

Listen, I’m not apolitical.  In fact, I might be a little too political.  That being said, I really want to see an end to all of this insane campaign saturation.  I understand that the candidates have a job to do, but I also think that the American people have a job to do, too.  And in some ways, the candidates are letting us off the hook with their quick 5 point mailers, flashy slogans and negative campaigning.  I remember being a student in junior high (man, I am dating myself all over the place…that would be “middle school” for some of you) taking government class and absolutely LOVING it.  I enjoyed learning about the history of our country and the hows and whys in which the government was set up.  Somewhere along the way I thought it was my responsibility as a citizen to participate and understand politics.  I thought the onus was on me to take the time to research the candidates and issues on the ballot.  In some ways, I feel really let down to know that this isn’t necessarily the case.

We all know that the negative campaigning has increased year after year, election after election.  At times it feels like the political process is more about mudslinging and name calling…bringing to mind childhood playground antics and bullying mentality.  Most people who I talk to agree that this is irritating, mean-spirited and in some cases, off-putting enough to cause them to bow out of the process altogether.    As an adult, I should no longer be surprised to see how politics causes rifts in families and friendships…yet I am consistently amazed at how divisive it all can be.  I try not to be discouraged…and as a result this election season I set out to be more observant of the whole process as it relates to the current political culture in America.  I’m taking in the mailers, radio and TV ads, the intense campaign presence on the internet and especially all the attention focused on our newest voters, not to mention future voters.  It’s been interesting….

As a parent, I’m particularly invested in how my kiddos see the election process.  One moment in particular comes to mind:  the Presidential Election in 2008.  At the time, my youngest was three and my oldest was seven.  Nickelodeon was doing a gangbusters job of involving the kids in the election with the Kids Pick the President campaign.  So much so, that my kids were lobbying for opposing candidates.  Casey was crazy about “Rock Bobama” (yes, that’s what she called him 🙂 ) She ran around the house mumbling “Rock Bobama” for weeks.  She recognized him whenever he came on TV (whether it was Nickelodeon or not.)  You would have thought he was a member of the family.  She would be mesmerized by the Kids Pick the President promos and would ask us if we were voting for her candidate!  It was incredibly cute and sort of disturbing at the same time.  She had no idea what voting was, but when the promo showed up during “Dora the Explorer” she knew enough to know this was serious business.  We laugh about it now, but it goes to show how well some campaigns work.

On the other side of the ballot was Sean’s candidate:  Senator John McCain.  Sean was particularly moved by the fact that Senator McCain served in the military and had been a prisoner of war.  At the time, my son was a student in Wichita public schools.  His class was following the election process and he had a zillion questions for me.  We spent a lot of time (clarification…a lot of time for a seven-year old) looking up both candidates and their platforms.  Sean felt very confident and ready to cast his ballot at school.  When his candidate lost, he was sad and surprised.  I was taken aback at his reaction.  He explained to me that it wasn’t fair…Senator McCain had given up so much for this country.  He was certain that he would be a great leader.  He sulked a bit, but if you know Sean…he bounced out of it rather quickly–although I did see him shoot his sister an occasional evil glare whenever she mumbled about the house chanting “Rock Bobama.”  The campaign may have been over, but it’s hard to undo a phrase that has been hardwired into a three-year old’s brain.  Thanks, Nickelodeon.

As a family, we spent a lot of time talking about the election this year.  The kids shared their thoughts, ideas and especially their observations.  Casey still has several “new” political catchphrases rolling around in her brain and off her tongue (she knows quite a few negative ads verbatim. Thank you, YouTube!)  Living in Kansas, the campaign was particularly mean-spirited at times …especially where the U.S. Senate was concerned.  We went over and over what it means to be a “liberal” and a “conservative.”  I don’t know about you, but I found it all rather amusing that we spent the whole 20 minute ride to the orthodontist’s office talking about Senator Harry Reid and why he was mentioned in so many political ads.  On a more solemn note, never did I imagine that I would have to explain “gay marriage’ to a nine-year old or drudge up the terrible crimes committed by the Carr brothers and why that was a relevant part of this election’s campaign to my thirteen-year old.  But this is the real world–good and bad, and politics is certainly no exception.

Overall, I’m glad that we have made time to discuss the importance of voting and the election process.  It made my day to see a long line at my polling site and to discover via Facebook that a number of my friends and family voted as well.  It is an incredible responsibility–one I don’t take lightly and I hope to instill that value in the hearts and minds of my kiddos.  Last night while listening to a local pundit recap the election results, the radio host asked him this question, “What wins elections?  What do you think the anti-tax group did that the pro-tax campaign didn’t do?”  He simply answered that there are so many factors…money of course, but also repetition of message.  He said, “Repetition wins.”  I took those two words to heart.  I love this country and we have plenty of room for improvement.  And if “repetition wins,” then we have some important ideals that we need to repeat…freedom, responsibility, and honesty to name a few.  At the same time, we have to keep in mind that repetition can work against us as well.  If you hear enough that your vote doesn’t count, nothing ever changes, or that voting isn’t important…well eventually that will sink in, too.

So keep voting, America.  Over and over.  Repeat.

Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.—Franklin D. Roosevelt