In Ireland, 2008, when the infamous Bertie Aherne stood down, only a year after re-election, we were given our proverbial white knight, Brian Cowen. A man of superior intellect, yet lacking experience and know how, his fate was already sealed as he assumed the highest office in this land. While dealing in hypothetcials is often trite, it’s fascinating to cogitate on the following: what if the Fianna Gael/Labour coalition had won that day in 2007? Let’s face it, that election was a poisoned chalice that could just as easily have had Enda’s lips pressed against the rim. If that was the case, what would have happened in 2011? Would the Irish people have re-elected the current government in a back to the future style election? We honestly don’t think so. There was something rotten in the state of Ireland and this was met with a prevailing current of mistrust towards government officials. But let’s not get bogged down in hypothetical situations because they can be as unrealistic as the person who posits them wants them to be such as, what if Donald Trump became POTUS? Shudder!
Still, all around the world, the question remains: Does voting make a difference? Are we actually participating in a democratic system? They all look the same! Indeed, one might nod along just to give the impression of comprehension but with the US election in full swing and an Irish one right around the corner, it’s important to actually take some time to consider this question. Done? The answer is yes – it makes a difference. You might not change the colour of the sky, you may have to wait a little while for a bill to pass but that doesn’t mean you should just give up, shake your head and turn on The Big Bang Theory. Allow us to explain…
Without voting, democracy would crumble and fail. Without it, the margin between public interest and political rhetoric simply widens; oligarchies develop, corruption thrives, and the people lose. Yes, we may feel this if often the case when taxes are raised and any worthwhile bills get frozen in deadlock. What we need to understand and ultimately appreciate however is that any worthwhile change requires this time and care. It’s frustrating but necessary if we mean to be part of a reasoned society and believe me, every last vote can count.
Take for example the U.S. Presidential Election of 1960, the closest race for the White House in history. Kennedy eeked out a .1% victory over Ticky Dicky, and became the youngest ever American president. Fueling the embers of the much anticipated election were the inaugural televised presidential debates, which presented a new platform that the American population embraced, well, those who owned a television set. So, it simply doesn’t matter if the margin of victory is .1% or 60%. What does matter, however, is that the vessel of democracy is kept afloat through its virtuous axiom, and that as members of the electorate we recognise the importance of the responsibility and indeed power that we wield.
Our responsibility extends further than merely casting a vote for the sake of a vote, however. By that we mean that people should know what they’re talking about. In his seminal body of work, Democracy in America, the French scholar Alexis de Tocqueville commented that any true democracy requires the ‘enlightenment’ of its people. In short, people who vote need to be smart about it. On the radio a couple of weeks an average Joe called in to rant against the ‘waffling’ of People Before Profit, whilst claiming he would support Michael Martin because he seems like a ‘nice’ guy. Well, that’s all very good if you’re choosing someone to go drinking with but is that what elections are really about? This should be obvious, but elections should be treated more like job interviews. So don’t be an idiot and vote for someone only because you like them. Don’t vote for someone you know, your friends recommend or who has an amiable poster face. Vote for the person who actually knows what they’re talking about and has the nation’s interest at heart.
This brings us to a crucial point; personal bias. So you might know someone who seems fairly tuned in to the whole political process but who also puts their own interests forward as the most important. We all have a point to make about how our own class or family or club has been affected by government cuts, e.g. a middle class earner may gripe about having to pay higher taxes, while lower earners may feel just as hard done by paying what they pay. Yet sometimes, you need to put the country before yourself; vote for what you think is right rather than what is beneficial for you.
When the campaign trails start, make an effort to absorb all the information you can. Ask the important questions. Challenge your own pre-conceived notions and make a smart decision because when smart decisions are made, the game is raised. When you test these politicians, it follows that they naturally have to become a bit smarter, themselves; a bit more accountable even. Then you get the changes you want. When you sit at home and don’t make the effort but spout out vague nonsense about revolutions, well, you might get a few Facebook likes but you won’t be taken seriously. Remember, a government is only as good as its people. Don’t be so naïve as to think all politicians are naturally bad.
Andrew Carolan & Matthew O’Brien