Voting 101
The Issues Are What Matter
02.18.2004 8:52 PM EST

I wasn't always an idealist — I'll admit it. But in the last presidential election, I finally asked myself why I was willing to compromise.

I remember staring at my absentee ballot past midnight on the day before the deadline, unable to cast a vote for the major-party candidate that I'd decided on a week earlier. After hours of research, I realized that I couldn't bring myself to side with either of the two parties. I could, however, identify with Green Party candidate Ralph Nader.

The stumbling block was pragmatism. There was no way Nader was going to win. Was I wasting my vote? The question led me to a new philosophy: I would be lying to myself if I voted against what I believed.

In the end, my candidate lost. He never received the 5 percent he needed to receive extra government funding, and I was teased by friends for my vote. But I never regretted my choice.

If our nation continues to vote pragmatically, there will never be change. Had one congressman not voted for woman's suffrage, for example, the Nineteenth Amendment may never have become law.

The story of how that one vote was cast is one filled with idealism. Originally, the congressman was not going to vote in favor of giving women the right to vote. He deliberated until he received a note from his mother urging him to support women. It was then that he changed his mind — and lost numerous legislative favors.

I owe this man and his idealism. When women became equal to men under the law, we were able to obtain full freedom — socially, politically and economically.

Voting pragmatically spawns a political wave that no citizen wants to surf. There are currently two parties. One is commonly said to stand for the left, the other for the right. There is no "moderate" party to represent moderates, who make up 50 percent of the voting population. To limit a voter to two parties is to drive moderation to extinction.

And there is certainly no party that truly reflects or takes into account the issues of my generation.

There are some signs that idealism can beat pragmatism in American politics. In the recent Democratic primaries, Howard Dean got the most publicity from the media and was anointed unstoppable. But voters opted for John Kerry, a candidate who hadn't received as much attention.

In order to make progress, we need to progress ourselves. If we begin voting for our ideals, we can gradually form a more ideal place to live. We can finally stop voting for the preservation of ideas that do not apply to our generation. We will be free.

— Genevieve Wong, Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism

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