ARLINGTON, MASS. — I cast my first presidential vote 20 years ago at Town Hall in Lexington, Mass. - a town that calls itself "The Birthplace of American Liberty." I was at that age where nothing was as hip as studied apathy. But walking into the quiet, cavernous room knocked loose my perpetual sarcasm. Voting was weighty, historic, and venerated. I felt part of something bigger than myself. I was, finally, a participant in my country's system of choices; I had a hand in my own future.
This week - on Super Tuesday - I struggled to muster the enthusiasm required to trudge four blocks and place a mark that would be tallied along with all the others.
The nation's deficit currently crests $477 billion, the unemployment rate is hovering at 5.6 percent, and all that people appear to be discussing is the FCC's fresh outrage and how to parse basic civil rights. Ambrose Bierce, in the "Devil's Dictionary," defined politics as a "strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles." It might be too cynical, but it sure sounds accurate.
Who out there is excited, eager, hopeful for what November might bring? None of us seems to be voting for a candidate; so many of us, apparently, are simply shoveling sand in preparation against the other fellow. I no longer think of my ballot in terms of economic growth and societal support, I only hope to block the election of the candidate I suspect may run our country even further into the ground.
I have neighbors, socially active and politically passionate, the kind who doggedly stand in the cold on busy traffic corners with peace signs, relentlessly hand out leaflets, repeatedly host roundtable discussions on policy. Even these active citizens are shaking their heads, discouraged, weary. How long has it been since it felt as if the system - our system - involved us?
Is this what has become of our noble democratic practice? I recently had a lengthy discussion with my 8-year-old in which I attempted to outline our political process. After a moment she asked me if "our guy" was going to win.
"Honey," I sighed, "We don't really have a guy."
Perhaps we're just going about it the wrong way. In this age of reality TV and pop Darwinism, I respectfully suggest "Castaway Candidates!" Why not place our eager politicians on an island without chilled, bottled water, slick speechwriters, or ever-present personal assistants? Think of it: Any mudslinging will be literal, while debates regarding vague semantics can easily be edited for primetime viewing. Bereft of sound bites and orchestrated photo ops, they will be forced to confront basic issues. Whoever balances the tribe's budget and stretches meager rations to feed, clothe, and house everyone equally wins. One never knows, it could do wonders for November sweeps.
OK, so it sounds a trifle ridiculous, but since the media have so involved themselves in the process, why not push it to the forefront of our system?
Regardless of the numerous stories churned out by the press, I have yet to stumble across any of my politically rabid neighbors wanting to discuss in detail a candidate's military experience or recent rumors regarding private indiscretions. We're all a great deal more concerned with jobs, quality education, healthcare, and basic rights for all. How did that get so complicated?
John Kenneth Galbraith once said, "Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable."
How do we know which is which? How do we go about deciding which we prefer?
• Barbara Card Atkinson is a writer and the mother of two small children.