Before the rage trolls drop down into the comments to tell me what an awful person I am, let me get out in front of the controversy by acknowledging that (a) I am an awful person and (b) I am going to be touching on some hot button issues here. I don’t expect anyone to agree with me, but I am not trying to stir up shit (this time). This is an honest exploration of the issues, and I welcome thoughtful feedback. That being said…
In the wake of the recent Parkland school shooting, several ideas have been advanced to tighten gun safety in the United States. Among these is raising the minimum purchase age for firearms to 21, a move which Dick’s Sporting Goods has already voluntarily taken. While I am not necessarily opposed to such a measure, it does lend itself to a broader question: when is a person an adult? The reason I ask is because there are a number of activities, even a few that are considered rights or responsibilities, that are age-restricted in our society, and it seems that the ones a person might find desirable are being more restricted as time goes on, while the ones that are less desirable only expand. Consider the following examples (all examples sourced from Wikipedia):
Alcohol: This one has varied, but has been somewhere between “age of majority”, 18, and 21 when there has been an established limit at all (mostly from the late 19th century on).
Tobacco: Again, the trend of setting an age restriction on these products seems to have started in the late 19th century in a few states, mostly in the 15-16 year old range, picking up speed in the mid-20th century. This generally changed to 18 in the late 20th century, with some states now moving toward 21 in the early 21st century.
Driving: This has remained a bit more consistent (most likely due to the relative innovation of automobiles and lag time in legislation), with states generally allowing learner’s permits between 15-16, restricted licenses between 16-17, and unrestricted licenses between 17-18.
Selective Service: Originally established 1917-1920, all men aged 21-30 were required to register; this was later raised to 45. From 1940-1947 all men aged 21-35 were required to register; in 1941 this was raised to 37. Starting in 1948 all men 18 or older had to register with the Selective Service; men aged 19-26 were eligible to be drafted at this time. In 1951 this age was lowered to 18 ½. In 1967 this range was changed to men aged 18 to 35. In 1975, “President Gerald R. Ford, whose own son, Steven Ford, had earlier failed to register for the draft as required, signed Proclamation 4360 (Terminating Registration Procedures Under Military Selective Service Act), eliminating the registration requirement for all 18- to 25-year-old male citizens.” Unfortunately, in 1980 Jimmy Carter brought it back for all 18-26 year old citizens. (Note: various deferments and exemptions have applied to all versions of the Selective Service.)
Voting – Prior to 1970, the legal voting age was 21. IN 1970, Richard Nixon extended the Voting Rights Act to cover age discrimination, which was challenged in Oregon v. Mitchell. The result of this case was that some states had two sets of voter rolls, one for federal elections (so that 18-20 year olds could vote) and one for state and local elections. The situation was resolved with the ratification of the 26th amendment, which made it unconstitutional to deny voting to anyone over 18 on the basis of age.
There are other examples, but these suffice. My question then is “when is someone an adult?” Is it when they turn 15 and get a learner’s permit? Perhaps at 21 when they can purchase alcohol? Or should we use the Selective Service standard, and decide that only men who are at least 18 years old are adults? (Sorry ladies, but at least you can’t be drafted.)
That last example, while deliberately provocative, also serves to further illustrate my point. The very reason the voting age is 18 instead of 21 is because of the Selective Service. The rallying cry of being “old enough to fight, old enough to vote” is certainly appealing, but there’s an innate fallacy in this thinking. By presupposing that 18 IS a valid age for conscription, the argument works. But what if I were to suggest that 15 was a valid age for conscription, so long as we likewise reduce the voting age to 15? After all, “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” Clearly the idea is ridiculous on its face, which is exactly my point. Simply declaring someone capable of handling one responsibility because they have had another responsibility thrust upon them is not sufficient grounds to justify giving it to them.
Furthermore, why is someone sufficiently able to handle a car, a ballot, a cigarette (in some states), and sacrificing his life for his country, but not buying a drink or a gun? Again, I am not simply making an argument to lower the age of all of these to 18 or even lower; I am simply looking for a consistent and reasoned argument, either in favor of pegging them all at the same age or for keeping them all at different ages. If that one age should be 21, then why 21? What is special about that number instead of 18 or 25? If instead they should be spaced out, what is significant about each right that makes it less of a liberty available to a citizen of the United States (note that the last I checked I did see voting and the right to bear arms specifically covered in the Constitution; I did not see driving or tobacco. Alcohol was kind of a wash).
For myself, I don’t have a lot of great answers, but I would be most comfortable keeping the driving age as is due to the noted economic benefits it can engender, as well as the possibility of gradually introducing teenagers to expanded responsibility. Restricting the ownership of alcohol, tobacco and firearms to people over 21 would help reduce access to teenagers and others who are still developing both physically and mentally without being overly burdensome to adults. I would abolish the Selective Service and raise the voting age to 21; failing that I would expand the Selective Service to all US citizens and keep the voting age at 18, and anyone who is currently serving in the armed forces or who has received an honorable discharge from the armed forces would have all the rights and privileges accorded to a 21 year old citizen. It’s not a great solution, but it’s a little more logical, and it at least tries to deal with some of the issues.
Just because it will color everyone’s perception of everything I say on the subject, I’m going to get it out of the way right now: yes, I voted. No, I am not going to say how I voted or what I voted on. That’s none of your damn business, but if you’re a regular reader or do a dive through the archives there shouldn’t be much doubt.
Now that I have that out of the way, let me get something else off my chest: I really don’t care if you vote. If you choose not to vote, that only increases the value of my vote by some small, practically imperceptible amount. But I’ll take it. Pennies add up. The fewer people who vote, the more each vote is worth, and I want my vote to be worth as much as possible.
If I were going to encourage you to vote, I would point out that if you don’t vote, you can’t vote “no”. I am a big fan of “no”. It’s something our government doesn’t hear nearly often enough. Vote “no” on as many things as you want, even if you have to vote “yes” in order to vote “no” to government (D.C., I’m looking in your direction, and I’ve got two ounces in my hand as we speak.)
I would also like to call for a moratorium on the oft-used and completely fallacious “if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain.” You may as well say “if you don’t pay taxes you don’t get to complain about the debt,” or any number of equally irrelevant couplings. The sad fact is we all live under the same roof and obey the same laws made by the same government, and whether or not someone chooses to participate in the process of selecting that government does not remove their right to complain about it. Complaining is one of the few things we all get to enjoy equally, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or social standing. Putting a price on that is ridiculous.
Finally, I would like to thank everyone who has made it possible for us to have the chance to decide whether or not to participate in deciding the course of our democracy. Certainly that includes the soldiers that have defended our democracy throughout its history, but I want to also acknowledge the others who don’t usually get mentioned.
Thank you to the teachers who have explained the process for generations. Thank you to the philosophers and thinkers who created and sustained a system that has endured. Thank you to the businessmen who have helped our country continue to grow and prosper so that we can continue to have a democracy. Thank you to the artists who have broadened our minds and given us a culture worth exploring and defending. Thank you to the workers who participate every day, not just once every couple years. Thank you to everyone who makes America a place worth voting for.
The politicians? They should be thanking us.
Early voting has begun, and so I have decided it’s time to announce my candidacy for President of the United States. I was considering explaining my positions on various key issues, but after studying my opponents’ campaigns in depth I realized that was the wrong strategy. Instead I have decided to emulate their approach and connect with you, the voters. I’m going to explain why you should vote for me, because I’m one of you.
If you’re young, hey, I was young once. I get you. If you’re old, I plan to be old someday. And if you’re somewhere in between, that’s where I’m at right now.
If you’re a man, what a coincidence! So am I. And if you’re a woman, hey, let’s hear it for the X chromosome! You’ve got one, I’ve got one, you’ve got another one. It’s like we’re half-sisters!
If you’re poor, I’ve been there. I know what it’s like. If you’re rich, I want to know what it’s like. And if you’re in the middle class, I probably live next door to you.
For the white people out there, nothing to worry about, I’m as white as Mitt Romney. And if you’re a minority, I spent a whole half-hour in Southeast D.C. once, so I can relate.
If you’re a college graduate, I’ve been to college. If you’re not a college graduate, neither am I! I’m the middle of the road candidate America has been crying out for.
If there’s a cause you support, let me assure you that there’s twelve months and 365 days in a year. Depending on the number of votes you can deliver, I can hook you up with an Awareness Month or a federal holiday. Trust me, I’m good for it.
I have voted Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian. No matter what you are for or against, I am both for and against it.
I believe in the same God you do, which is to say I worship the Almighty Dollar.
I’ve been crushed by student debt, I’ve been crushed by credit card debt, and I was crushed when Bella chose Edward over Jacob.
I will never pander for your vote unless you want me to.
I promise to cut taxes, cut the deficit, save Social Security, and save you a bunch of money on your car insurance.
I vow I will not bail out Wall Street, I will bail out Main Street, and I always buy American.
I am The Boy Who Lived.
I believe in climate change, and I’m all for it.
I support the right for any loving couple, no matter their gender, to get a divorce.
I believe America needs to get back to work, and America works best when we all pull together towards a common goal. That’s why I’m asking you, my fellow Americans, to work to support me in my campaign to be President of the United States.
Thank you, and Almighty Dollar bless.
It’s that time again. Once every four years we see millions, nay, billions of dollars wasted on pageantry, spectacle, and foolishness. It’s not just the direct participants who throw their money away either, as every big corporation in the world wants in on this gravy train, even though the truth is most of them will never make their money back. But what the heck, the people do love their bread and circuses.
Oh wait, they made the Olympics every two years, didn’t they?
Well that’s okay, the people still get their Leap Year frivolity in the form of our presidential elections. Once again I am hard pressed to find much if any difference in the offerings on the left and the right, and I am astounded by the fervor with which others are approaching the coming election. I could sooner see for getting worked up over a table tennis match (that is still an Olympic event, isn’t it?) But that’s not what bothers me the most. What bothers me is when people find out I have no intention of voting and then they say something offensive like “if you don’t vote you can’t complain about the way things turn out.” Yeah, I said that’s offensive. Not just idiotic, but actually offensive, and I’ll explain why.
Consider what the average voter turnout is in our country these days, or even over the last twenty years (about as long as I’ve been voting.) Does it still hover in the mid-thirty percentile range? So roughly one-third of eligible voters are actually ready, willing, and motivated enough to go to the polls and let their voices be heard. And is it the responsibility of our civic leaders to inspire us to want to vote? Is it the duty of our elected officials and candidates to office to give us reasons to invest the time and effort, as little as it might seem to some? Is it perhaps the obligation of those who hold the power in the land to find a way to cut through the malaise and disillusionment and reach to the best part of each of us?
No. It seems that the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our politicians but in ourselves. If we don’t pull the switch and vote for either A or B, we don’t get to complain there was no option C. And even if there was an option C, if we aren’t satisfied with that one, we don’t get to complain about that unless we pull the handle for one of the above. And that’s the problem with the whole system and those who give that simplistic response. There is no option for “none of the above” (a la Brewster’s Millions). In this “damned if you do/damned if you don’t” scenario, you’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the problem.
The message that these people, and our Most Beloved Leaders in both parties, aren’t getting is that there’s a lot of people who are dissatisfied with the entire system. I don’t mean to say they’re dissatisfied in the same way I am (that would be its own brand of hubris); rather they are, each and every one of them, dissatisfied in their own unique way. The only thing we all have in common is that we don’t like any of the options we’re being presented with well enough to vote for them, nor do we dislike them significantly less than the other options. Given a choice between a shit sandwich and shit soufflé, I’ll just go hungry, thanks.
But the system is rigged. There’s no way to step in the booth and say “a plague on both your houses.” The only options available both suck. The first is the one that is hinted at ever so obliquely by the people above, who don’t want to come out and say what they really mean because even they realize how terrible the truth sounds: “If you don’t vote you’re powerless. You don’t have a voice of any kind. Nobody in power takes you seriously. You may only get crumbs of what you want when you vote for the guys they offer, but if you don’t vote at all you get nothing.”
Option number two is to be out in the cold, ignored except as part of a statistic that is used by the nightly news and each party to bash each other over the head, when they’re not busy trying to shame all of America one generation at a time. “Why aren’t Americans voting? It’s a travesty! It’s a tragedy! It’s somebody’s fault who isn’t me!” “The young aren’t voting! The old aren’t voting! The [insert group that is more likely to vote for politician who is currently speaking] vote is being suppressed!”
Here’s a crazy idea. How about next time we decide to elect anyone for anything, we just have one election. One person, one vote. And we have it open for a week, twenty-four hours a day, so there’s plenty of time for voting. Only here’s the catch: there’s no pre-filled voting cards. No letters next to names. You step up and write down the name of the person you want to vote for. Get rid of the parties and see what happens.