The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Commentary February 8, 2008

Informed Voting Essential to Democracy

To the Editors:

One evening over break, four friends and I were deciding what to do. We had narrowed it to two choices. M conservatively wanted to play board games at her house, where we were already situated. K concurred. P and L, adventurous as always, wanted to attend a shindig at another friend’s house. The caucuses looked to me for decision.

I weighed each argument while they tempestuously debated, trying to sway an opponent or lure me into their camp. As I struggled with my apathy, the third option popped into my head. I abstained.

Suddenly our democratic system faltered. Without the fifth vote neither side could attain the necessary majority. P and L rebelled and traipsed off. M, K and I were left sitting where debate had terminated.

Though I’ve draped this anecdote in electoral rhetoric, it retains its moral: instead of enjoying the evening with four close friends, indecisiveness divided our company. Of course, had I moved to either side, the same end might have transpired: by concurring with P and L, M and K might have insisted on staying behind, or, conversely…well, you get where this is going. In any case, by abstaining I affected the outcome just as I might have otherwise.

Moving on: October 2, 2002, Illinois state senator Barack Obama describes the Iraq Resolution as “a dumb war” before a crowd at Chicago’s Federal Plaza. Though not an effectual vote, his impugnment was tantamount to a one against.

Moreover, it exemplifies what distinguishes Obama from other candidates. Not particularly the speech’s topicality; more its epitomization of Obama’s critical knack. His prognosis has been realized in the Iraq Quagmire.

Hillary Clinton has attempted to downplay her vote for that resolution by either imputing blame to false intelligence, or debating Obama’s constancy.

That still begs the question: how did Obama perspicaciously forecast the consequences of the invasion, despite faulty intelligence? To foresee the reality of the war, one needed to penetrate beyond the administration’s terror-jargon to identify Saddam Hussein as “no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors,” and able to “be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history,” as Obama did (You can find the speech at I’d guess that Clinton didn’t grasp this because she only superficially scrutinized the issue before voting.

Still, I’m unsure. I don’t know enough about the Democratic candidates to decide (The GOPs’ are another story). True — I lean towards Obama; but my goal isn’t to pull you in my direction. I’m not anxious about whether or for whom you vote. If you’re too lazy, that’s your decision; however, you retain responsibility for your choice.

No candidate is perfect. You’ll most likely disagree with each candidate on this or that issue. Voting requires a compromise. If you’re unwilling to do so, you can choose not to vote; I’d rather not vote than compromise too many of my beliefs for a substandard candidate.

One last point about the candidates: as much as Clinton endeavors to discredit Obama, her integrity is tainted. That one vote reveals more about her politics than she intended.

You can, like Clinton, take the vote lightly but you cannot take its consequences as such; nor can you shirk responsibility by remaining uninformed or oblivious.

So if you’re going to throw your ballot at the polls, or if you’re going to throw it in the trash, at least throw it responsibly. Know the candidates, know your options and know that ignorantly abstaining is tantamount to ignorantly voting.

–Ben Bergstein
College sophomore


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