One of the most gratifying things about writing this column is that people often respond, either on the Daily Pilot’s website or to me personally by e-mail.
I always respond privately to the e-mails, but after my column about my having attended the April 15 Tea Party rally in Santa Ana (“We have to rally for beliefs”), I received an e-mail from David Pearse of Costa Mesa that I wanted to share with you, because the beliefs he expressed are not limited to him.
Mr. Pearse’s message focused on my frequent reminders that “if our government isn’t working, we have no one to blame but ourselves.” His point was that what I say isn’t true.
“Our government is basically a mobocracy now,” he wrote. “The poor steal from the rich, and the politicians facilitate the process. The Constitutional Republic we started out with, with its checks and balances and its protections of life and property, no longer apply, as the government has, for the past 200 years, whittled away at these protections until they are now largely nonexistent. I mean, the government can now confiscate private homes in order to build shopping malls.”
Mr. Pearse finishes by saying “Jim, I’m proud to say I’ve never voted in my life. I have not bought into the system, as I know my vote is meaningless, just as your vote has always been meaningless. I am powerless to change the downward spiral in this country, as are you. It amazes me that you still seem to think we can turn things around in this country, when in fact we are doomed to become just another stagnant European type country with perennially high unemployment and perennially low growth.”
With regret, to some degree I believe he is right. But only to some degree. Even though I do not often vote for winning candidates or issues, I am deeply proud to say that I have voted in every election since I became eligible. I often brag about that fact when I speak to young people, and tell them that I hope they can make the same claim when they are my age.
But is all of this naïve — or simply an exercise to make myself feel better? I acknowledge that my pessimism on this subject has been growing over time, particularly with the thorough gerrymandering that both the Republicans and Democrats do jointly to keep elections from being competitive. Nevertheless, I persist.
It is worse for me because I resigned from the Republican party in 2003. I could no longer be a part of any organization that condoned, much less actively supported, the so-called Patriot Act, which I see as a direct attack on our civil liberties — and one that is not necessary to keep us safe.
I am now a Libertarian, and am trying to grow that party’s strength and influence in an effort to promote more liberty and responsibility in our country. But that means that, as a third-party voter, my vote often is diluted below the many votes of those who are still members of the majority parties. (And by the way, if Proposition 14 passes it will destroy third parties in California, so please vote “No.”) Nevertheless, even considering all of these circumstances, I am not where Mr. Pearse is, and hope I never will be.
And then there is the fact that every vote has mattered. What about the votes in Florida in the Bush vs. Gore presidential election of 2000? And what about large numbers of more local elections for political offices and issues, which are sometimes really close? How can anyone justify cynicism in those elections, even if that cynicism may apply elsewhere?
We must also discuss the alternatives. Speaking for myself, I simply will not abandon what is great in our country so that we can become socialistic like France and Greece, or capitalistic police states like Singapore and Saudi Arabia.
Simply stated, we can either do our literal best and continue to affect what we can, or we can withdraw from the process and “go to the beach.” Our great country is still the beacon of hope to most of the world. Its soul is our freedoms, and its strength is derived from free markets and free choice. How can we so easily abandon what has made our country great?
Mr. Pearse raises many valid points, but so what? His withdrawal will never be the correct thing to do as long as I and millions of other Americans continue to be an active part of the political system. What is your opinion about this? If you still hold onto these hopes for our country and posterity, what are you doing to move us back toward liberty and responsibility? As Frank Sinatra sang, are you a ram that keeps butting that dam? In the song, the ram was eventually successful — and sometimes we are too.
Yes, sometimes our heads hurt from continually butting the dam, but in several places we are making progress. As just one example, we Californians can vote this November on the critically important initiative to repeal marijuana prohibition by treating cannabis like alcohol for adults: taxing it, and holding people accountable for their actions instead of what they put into their bodies. Will your vote make any difference? Yes, it will! That vote will probably be close.
So I publicly ask Mr. Pearse to reassess his position, and I ask the same of anyone else who has similar thoughts. Register to vote, educate yourself about the candidates and the issues, support those who are important to you, and join us sometimes idealistic and maybe even naïve people and do what lots of veterans have given their lives to give us the sacred opportunity to do: vote. Sometimes your vote will matter a great deal, and, besides, at least you will know that you tried.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of “Wearing the Robe — the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts.” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.judgejimgray.com .