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Cheapening Our Franchise

Julian Villarreal

Last Wednesday, at around noon, my heart broke. Having returned to my room after leaving work, I turned on the television and learned that Senator John Kerry had conceded the presidential election of 2004. While I, along with millions of Americans, had foreseen this eventuality, I had fallen asleep with my hopes dangling by a thread; this time that thread was not a hanging chad but a provisional ballot.

While I was at work, political science professor Harvey Sapolsky asked me, “So are you satisfied with the outcome of the elections?”

“Not terribly, but at least they’re not over,” I said, naively believing, as the national media also seemed to believe, that crucial votes had yet to be counted.

“Oh, they’re over... They’re over,” he replied, in a cryptic tone that I could distinguish as neither relieved nor disappointed.

Undeterred in my intrepid optimism, I knew that after the 2000 elections, anything, mind you, anything, could be possible. And, indeed, anything was possible, including concession. After learning the news, I did the first thing that always comes to mind when I’m in a distressed mood; I called my mother. We tried to console each other, both of us feeling the weight of eight, long, frustrating years, those behind us as well as those ahead of us. I felt hopeless. Although I felt optimistic after casting my absentee ballot in San Antonio, Texas, hoping that, at the least, my Democrat-leaning county would go to Kerry, I now felt that my vote stood for nothing, yielding to the electoral realities of the so-called swing states.

Hoping to overcome my feelings of helplessness, I resolved to do something. So, at the spur of the moment and while still on the phone with my mom, I put on my jacket, flew down the stairs, camcorder in hand, hopped on my bike and raced to the Kendall T stop. I was going to Faneuil Hall to hear my candidate give up the fight. I forgot about my half-finished p set, skipped my classes, and skipped lunch to be part of history. As I stepped out of the Government Center station onto City Hall plaza, I joined a steady stream of people who were heading where I was headed. I was able to maneuver my way right up to the police barricade and put on one of the “Kerry-Edwards” stickers that had been making their way through the crowd. After about an hour, the motorcade arrived. The crowd began cheering at the first sight of Kerry in the back seat of a black Suburban. Kerry entered the hall, and shortly thereafter, the crowd received his speech thanks to a loudspeaker that had been placed outside. As I looked around me, my eyes fell on the faces of my fellow supporters, some of whom had been moved to tears and rightly so. Would you not cry if your hopes and dreams for the next four years -- for the future of America -- had been squashed because 150,000 Ohioans had cast their vote based on the warm and fuzzy feeling they had inside instead of on the issues? The man standing next to me in the crowd wore a button that gave ample reason for tears: “When Clinton lied, nobody died.”

Indeed, two things make this loss so much more devastating than the bitter one of 2000. First, it appears that this election was decided fair and square. This election does not have an asterisk next to it. Second, exit poll surveys indicated that the number one issue of the mind of voters was not Iraq, not health care, not terrorism, not the economy, but moral values. Moral values. Or, at least the perception of them. In the midst of the greatest challenges facing our nation in a generation, millions of Americans cast their vote -- exercised the right that was won and has been protected by over 200 years of blood, sweat, and tears -- based not on the candidate whose ideas they felt had greater merit but on which candidate they perceived to be of greater moral fiber. Whether one cast a vote for Kerry or for Bush, moral values seemed to be the theme of election night 2004. I fear that in the final analysis, this method of deciding whom to vote for cheapens our franchise and makes our election nothing more than a glorified popularity contest.

I, for one, believe that both men have equally high moral, spiritual, and family values. I have no doubt that both men speak with God. I do have doubts about which of the two is listening better. But, when I filled out my absentee ballot, I thought not of which candidate I would trust to handle my personal finances or which I would rather go to church with on Sunday. I, like many Americans, voted for the man whom I thought would lead our country the best way that I see fit. From my perspective, the president has had four years to demonstrate his aptitude as a leader -- or lack thereof. However, it now seems that I am in the minority.

So, as the senator ended his campaign, making one last round of handshaking on the rope lines, I walked away dejected, hoping against all odds that the events of the last 18 hours had been but a bad dream. The next time Americans think about voting on moral values instead of on issues and leadership, they should remember the words of Abraham Lincoln that Kerry so cogently paraphrased when he accepted the Democratic nomination: “Don’t pray that God’s on our side; pray that we’re on God’s side.” That will be my prayer tonight. But for now, it seems as if it’s all over but the crying.

Julian Villarreal is a member of the class of 2007.