Exhibit A: By a margin of one vote, it was decided in 1776 that English, not German, would be America's official language.
A single vote can bring about a great breakdown in law and order, or it can maintain the status quo. The possibilities expand with each election. Our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, saw a lesson in this: "Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost."
Just one thing: What happens when there are no clear principles to vote for? That's the unique position many Americans find themselves in during these times of prosperity. Absent from the upcoming election is the sort of economic and Cold War angst that Reagan tapped into during the '80's, or the wave of tin-pot dictators Nixon rode to victory in 1968, or the civil discord Kennedy combated in the '60's.
Presently, the economy hums along, no war is imminent, and the populace is generally content. In short, there are no genuine threats. And while there remains an abundance of undefined policy issues, it is difficult for the average American to envision how such vague policies will impact their day-to-day routine; let alone how such decisions--one way or the other--could possibly derail this great empire. In short, because we are not voting for the right to pursue happiness, we are hardly voting at all (50% of the electorate declined to cast a ballot in the last election).
By a certain line of reasoning, then, we should be relieved that voting rates are not high in America. The major implication is that the populace deems those basic freedoms that we associate with happiness not to be in endangered. The same cannot be said, for example, in Yugoslavia, where voters are turning out at an impressive 80% clip. There, along the crumbled cityscapes of Bosnia, the elderly wait in line for hours to cast the votes that will allow them the right to pursue happiness.
The current phase of our election presents us with no such choices. Therefore, there is more of a tendency to vote according to one's prejudices, rather than one's policy principles--who is more telegenic or trustworthy, rather than who will be more likely to further democracy at home and abroad.
I would suggest that such indifference is just as dangerous as the popular unrest that accompanies the collapse of a government. In both cases, people crave symbols. Consequently, the line between demagogue and politician becomes blurred, allowing a greater number of dim-minded people to enter government.
Come November 7, say "no" to indifference. Vote instead on the very practical things--from education reform to empowering local businesses--that might help improve the country.
Contrary to what voter-participation numbers would indicate, this empire is not yet complete.