I did not vote today, and believe me, you should be thankful that I didn’t. I realized years ago that my vote is cursed!
At the age of 22, my heart overflowed with pride as I stood in line to cast my very first vote in a presidential election. To my parents’ horror, I voted for “that Catholic rabble-rouser” John F. Kennedy. I just knew that the youngish fellow from Massachusetts would usher in a new and wonderful era. And most everything did seem full of promise until that November day in 1963 when the president was murdered and the country changed forever.
In 1964, I joined the vast majority of Americans with my vote for Lyndon Johnson. He was the next best thing to Kennedy, we figured. Then we had that ugly war in Vietnam and the curse of those awful long-haired hippies!
Disgusted with the turn of events, I voted for Richard Nixon in 1968, but the problems of the country only seemed to grow roots. I voted for Nixon again in 1972, mostly out of dislike for that other fellow McGovern, but Nixon himself really didn’t seem so bad to me. Afterward we had the disgrace of Watergate, and no one could trust a president again.
I voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976, I’m now ashamed to say. (How could we vote for a grown man who called himself “Jimmy”?) At the time this decision seemed like a wise one. Governor Carter the peanut farmer came from outside the Washington quagmire, and I though he would bring in some fresh air. But Carter, for all his good intentions, proved to be a bumbling fool of a president.
As the 1980 election approached, I was shocked to realize that this decline was all my fault! Since I had begun to vote in 1960, the country was plagued with a terrible decline by just about every metric. Somehow my vote had a disproportionate and almost entirely pernicious influence on the outcome of the election and over the well-being of the entire country.
From the Cuban Missile Crisis to Mount Saint Helens, from the Mashed Potato and Watusi to Disco Fever, every terrible event in the country for the last twenty years had its source squarely on my naive and under-educated votes!
If the United States was to reverse its sharp decline, I realized that I must not vote that year—nor any other year—ever again!
This was no easy decision. My father had hammered into my brain the concept that every citizen had a civic duty to vote in each and every election. Men had fought and died to give me this right. My father had encouraged me to vote in 1960 even though he knew that my vote would cancel out his own.
It was like Heller’s old Catch-22. Vote and kill the country, or not vote and violate my civic duty.
In the end, for the sake of humanity, I decided to stay home that November, and Ronald Reagan won the election. Reagan actually turned out to be a very good president and the country seemed on its way to a recovery. I abstained from voting again in ’84, and the recovery continued. And with my uncomfortable absence in 1988, the country seemed in decent shape still with the presidency of Bush Sr.
Still, I began to dread every election day. While Millie and all my friends and family stood in those polling place lines, I worked extra-long hours at work for free. When I eventually came home, I took a shot of Canadian Club whisky for dinner and hurried straight to bed.
Everyone assured me that my individual vote had not caused the country to get worse. They said that it was impossible for a vote to be cursed. I told myself that my argument had no logic, that one man could not determine the entire election, but deep down I knew the terrible truth.
I might have continued to avoid the polling place forever, but an event took place on the evening of November 1, 1992 that jolted me to the core. I had just finished watching my favorite show Murder, She Wrote—the episode where Jessica started snooping around a murder scene, to the irritation of local police, then persuaded the killer to publicly confess, this time in Ireland!—when the strong aroma of Virginia pipe tobacco smoke filled the air. My father had smoked this tobacco every day of his life till he died, and the smell brought the old man right back to me as nothing else could. I called to Millie in the kitchen: was she smoking a pipe out there? “Whaaat?” No, the smell had to be in my head!
A few minutes later I happened to glance out the living room window, and I swear that I had seen my father standing in the driveway under the streetlight in his old brown fedora hat, the pipe to his lips. But when I looked again he was gone!
I rushed outside to see if anyone was there. Not a soul in sight. But on the sidewalk where I had seen my father, I picked up a torn little “I Voted Today” sticker, the type that poll workers still give to people after they vote. But the election wouldn’t take place for another two days. How could anyone have gotten an “I-Voted” sticker this early?
I knew the answer. It was my father come back from the grave to tell me that I must perform my civic duty. I must vote that in that Tuesday election!
But what about the dreadful curse?
With much trepidation, I cast my vote that cold Tuesday morning. I reasoned that I would choose only the safest candidates, people who I knew could not possibly win. I voted for losers in the Natural Law Party, and the US Taxpayers Party, for Libertarians and even a Green. And when it came to the president, I picked a man who seemed like a harmless little gnome. Ross Perot could never win the election. I voted for him.
How was I to know that the imp would spoil the election for Bush, Sr. and put Bill Clinton in office?
What’s that you say? The Clinton years were wonderful? With the streets overflowing with non-stop joy and dancing?
For those who have fond memories of the prosperous and well-governed Bill Clinton years, I do understand your point-of-view. Nowadays, after the twin double-term disasters of Bush, Jr. and Obama, I too look back on the Clinton years with great nostalgia. My purpose here is not to make political arguments, as they seem so especially distasteful and bitter these days, but it seemed to me during the time of Clinton’s first two years in office that the president was bent on a reckless and unnecessary transformation of the country.
And believe me, had I not developed a solution to the problem of my cursed vote, you yourself would now consider Bill Clinton’s presidency to be the notorious start of a series of disastrous and heart-wrenching catastrophes for the United States and probably the rest of the world. Of this I have no doubt!
I first tested my solution to the twin dilemmas in the election of 1994. I cast my vote to fulfill my civic duty, but I left the ballot entirely blank to spare the country!
And I have voted that way ever since.
One time a poll worker happened to notice that I had neglected to fill out my ballot. She whispered to me with grave and somewhat condescending concern, “Sir, you forgot to mark your ballot.” Like I was some demented old man or something. I told her that this was simply how I voted, and she didn’t understand. When I explained to her that my vote was cursed and would probably kill us all if I filled in the ballot, she grew quite upset. I had to change tack and say that it was none of her business how I voted and that I could easily get her in trouble for meddling with my vote. But she was not a happy woman!
Fortunately I have had no trouble since then.
Scoffers might suggest that, in spite of my lack of voting, the country is still in rough shape and getting worse all the time. It would be hard to argue against this. Nevertheless I believe that these problems are the recurring consequences of my 20 years of cursed voting.
And I can only point out that as bad as things may be today, I am absolutely certain that the country would be much, much worse had I cast my vote even once in the last twenty years.