Shifting elections away from anniversary date is a mistake
The move is shortsighted and contrary to the public interest.
The decision in question: shifting the state primary from Tuesday, Sept. 11 to Thursday, Sept. 13. The governor and the state legislature have decided that Sept. 11 is, as the New York Times put it last week, “a day for reflection and not for politics.”
The mindless attack on anything deemed political really needs to stop—especially when it comes to this significant anniversary on the national calendar. There are political implications to almost everything, but especially to the most serious attack against Americans on their own soil.
The governor and the legislature have it exactly wrong. Sept. 11 is a perfect day to go out and vote. To exercise freedom. To express opinions. To take part in the democratic process. One of the terrible little realities of Sept. 11, 2001, a day of much bigger atrocities, was that voters were stopped in their tracks. It was, after all, a municipal primary day.
Granted, this year, New Yorkers statewide are being asked to vote in too many elections. The state needs a sensible, streamlined approach, voting machines that inspire confidence and an open-minded attitude about same-day registration, among other electoral innovations. Not needed: any more of this reflexive, silly and downright dangerous dislike of anything deemed “political.”
I use the quotation marks on purpose, since almost everything falls under the definition of politics, according to what they say in freshman year poli sci classes. Politics is about the struggle over limited resources and who gets what. Politics is sometimes, but not always, about partisan struggles, although that’s the way it’s usually viewed today. In truth, there’s nothing more political than a lively Board of Education meeting or a bad personal relationship, even if nobody is ever outwardly aligned with a political party.
Too bad the anti-politics crowd has got hold of the way we talk about public affairs. Cynicism increases and the people who love low turnout rates wind up being thrilled that they can keep running the nation. When you say you don’t like politics, you begin to opt out of self-government. When you don’t vote, you fulfill someone else’s agenda.
In reality, politics is a thrilling and all-encompassing business. In a new play about newspaper biggie Joseph Alsop by David Auburn called The Columnist, the famous scribe takes aim after hearing someone decry politics. “My boy,” Auburn’s Alsop says, “politics is life! Politics is human intercourse at its most sublimely ridiculous and intensely vital. You may as well say you don’t very much care for sex.”
These words are thrillingly on target. I recently finished—thanks be to God—a semester teaching college students in New Jersey. So many of the most conscientious students kept telling me that they don’t like politics. They refuse to read about it or follow it. I wanted to quote Auburn’s line about sex, but worried about winding up on the evening news.
It breaks my heart. We need our most nimble minds to embrace the public sphere, the ongoing fight over limited resources in a changing society. We need smart people of all ages to think and rethink about military misadventures and health care funding and library hours and marriage rights and class size. There’s nothing we need more than an informed, active citizenry.
Sept. 11 does not now—and never did—need to become another day for people to sit on their butts and eat hamburgers. Like many Martin Luther King Jr. Day advocates understand and insist, we need days on instead of days off. We need engagement. We need participation.
We need to vote.
When it comes to shifting the election date, the governor and the legislature are pandering, pure and simple. Is it too much to ask our politicians to stand up for politics?
I vote that we vote on Sept. 11. And every other chance we get.
Christopher Moore is a writer living in Manhattan. He can be reached by email
at firstname.lastname@example.org and is on Twitter
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