Wednesday 6 February 2008

Reflections on Super Tuesday – Casting My Vote in the Electronic Primary

Well, yesterday I fulfilled my modest part in this political hysteria called Super Tuesday. Last week I registered to vote online in the Democratic primary. I’m registered in the great state of New Jersey, and since I couldn’t quite square the image of voting Democratic at the Athens Grande Bretagne, where the paper primary would be held, an online vote was the natural choice.

Those of you who might stumble across this blog or remember me in the real world know that I’m a numbers man, quietly enamoured by the harmonious interaction of forecasts and research. I have an abiding belief in the power of the scientific approach, of rational solutions to real-world problems. Indeed, my career is based on this: I’m paid to undertake analyses that lead to dispassionate decisions based on return-on-investment, discounted cash flow, debt-to-equity and the entire cabalistic code of finance and corporate management.

Politics – and its modern handmaiden, the media – is the polar opposite. It thrives on a sensationalist self-promotion of the most blatant sort, while simultaneously destroying every achievement of the previous administration, and of all political rivals regardless of affiliation.

Political contests in America are all about charisma, which we prefer to call “character” and it’s necessarily evil twin, “electability.” Our current crop of candidates is particularly messianic in both respects, playing on the conscious and sub-conscious fears and aspirations of an electorate which is increasingly divorced from reality, both within its own borders and within the wider world.

Ultimately, this is what the endlessly saccharine, narcissistic marketing machine that underpins and defines the contemporary American economy – and society – has brought us to. The willingness to suspend a healthy disbelief of the basic hubris and arrogance of the human spirit in a seat of power, in exchange for sound bites and slogans, banners and balloons and the promise of a better tomorrow. We clamour for a heroic saviour-candidate to defend us against that nefarious other whose evil legions will, if elected, surely lead us into the abyss.

Yet the day after the election we’ll forget about primaries and elections and statistics and trivia and goodness knows what else we have yet to see and dissect and parse in our wide-eyed search for the truth. The vanquished will be consigned to the oblivion of defeat; the triumphant will enter the new Jerusalem, there to pronounce and moralise until the next election. Slowly but surely, the country will sink back into its dazed idyll of Britney and Paris Hilton and the next reality show that flares like a firefly in the twilight of our national conscious.

And good riddance. This present circus will cost untold billions, eject millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and leave us more confused and addled and distrustful than we were before. And yet we gladly participate, blithely discovering new Prometheans every four years like hamsters on an endless wheel. One day, perhaps we will vote for avatars, electronic ciphers to replace Mitt and Mike and John and Barack and Hillary, who will make their ubiquitous appearance on MySpace or Second Life, where we will inhabit the greater part of our days, avoiding the toxins and unseen menace of our glorious future.

But I digress. This morning, I opened up my Party email, dutifully confirmed my date of birth, address and email, and found myself on a nearly blank web page with just a few sparse lines of text and boxes next to them.

And thus was my decision was made. Dazed by this hurly-burly, I paused, comforted by this blank page. After the surfeit of blaring CNN jingles and the cloying, earnest voices of the candidates and their pundits, the stark choice was upon me. It was now, not then. It was me, not them. It was an action, not an advertisement. It was a vote. It was our future.

Abandoning reason to the winds, I clicked the box by the name of the next big thing, the candidate of change and the future, the crusader with the white cowboy hat who would ride up to Washington and set that city – and the country – aright.

And so it was done. My civic duty was fulfilled, for this news cycle at least. For the first time this year I felt a surge of tranquillity, that it had all been worth it, that my choice would be respected, and that democracy and the Republic were alive and well.

And then it was time for lunch.

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