I got my absentee ballot in the mail, which reminded me: We have an election next Tuesday. The excitement is hard to bear. Oh, wait. There is no excitement. The ballot is still sitting in the pile on the kitchen table. I intend to fill it out because that’s what good citizens should do — not because I even remotely think it will matter.
“Freakonomics” authors Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt explain, in an article I assign my students every year, why it really doesn’t make sense for any individual to vote. They tell the popular joke of the two economists who are embarrassed to meet at the polling place. “My wife made me come,” one supposedly says to the other, who quickly agrees that his presence was also his wife’s fault. The chance of one vote deciding anything is basically zero.
Of course, that’s just one vote. If everyone took that perspective...
Still, if you’re holding your breath waiting for Tuesday’s results from California, I’d let out the air.
It doesn’t matter who wins or loses. It means nada. Nothing at all. Hillary Clinton will have “clinched” the nomination -- that is, she will have collected all the delegates she needs -- long before the polls close in California. I expect New Jersey will put her over the top, just a few decades late for me.
I know: Bernie Sanders could win, which is embarrassing, sort of. It’s also a sign that the only people paying any attention to this election are the ideologues. But it’s not an obstacle to the nomination, and not a sign of what’s to come in the general election.
Donald Trump is toast in California. Writing off Mexicans as rapists and criminals — especially when the person writing them off has gotten rich at the expense of others — does not go down well, and neither do Trump’s attacks on women and his overall vulgarity. Trump is not a California kind of Republican. Every time I hear someone compare him to Ronald Reagan, I get angry on behalf of the former president who I spent much of the ‘80s trying to defeat. Still, there is absolutely no comparison, as any Californian with a memory or a sense of history should know. Reagan was, by most measures, a successful two-term governor of the nation’s largest state, and during a difficult time. He often worked across party lines. As he proved in his one debate with then-President Jimmy Carter, Reagan was not a novice politician — and “novice politician” is probably the nicest thing I can say about Trump.
But who cares? I live in California, the state that never counts, even the one time they tried moving the primary up. The only reason candidates come here is to raise money: With very, very few exceptions, the terrible traffic jams caused by politicians’ visits are limited to the fancy parts of town, which tells you all you need to know. Why should we Californians fund elections when no one cares about our votes? I don’t know the answer to that, but then, I’m not in that league anyway.
What is truly wrong with this picture is that California does count -- just not for voters. It counts for money. The richer you are, the more times you get to “vote,” by way of campaign donations, for your favorite candidate. Those who can’t or choose not to participate in this corrupt system are, as the “Freakonomics” guys well understood, utterly powerless. And there is something very wrong with that. It’s enough to make you wonder whether it’s worth it to find the postage stamp. I’ll vote, but don’t ask me why. It’s a matter of habit, not influence.