When April 7 rolled around, I found myself wondering if I should vote in the New York presidential primary. I have heard that it is not rational for any given individual to vote in a national election. Since the odds of his single vote influencing the outcome are so small, his time would be better spent in other pursuits. Human life is finite, after all, and I could be using the time to read a newspaper, stare at the wall, or look for a job.
Then again, there is the thrill, irrational or not, of participating in the political process. Too, the 1992 presidential race seems to me an important one: In the Democrats, George Bush, and Pat Buchanan, we have a clear choice among destructive Big Government, blundering welfare-statism, and counterproductive isolationism. How can I afford to sit idly by? (As Woody Allen once said, one road leads to despair, the other to annihilation—let us hope we have the wisdom to make the right choice.)
I am a recent immigrant to the big concrete and steel apple, and I registered as a Republican here, figuring it's the only major party with a vague commitment to free markets. More important, it would present me with the valuable mental challenge of trying to choose between Bush and Buchanan.
So I decided I would vote in the primary, if only as a personal growth thing. Besides, if that argument about it being irrational to vote ever became so widely known that all rational people stayed away from the polls, it would presumably have a noticeably negative effect on American politics.
In any case, the polling place was next door to my apartment building anyway, so why not? The first duty of a voting Republican in 1992 is to examine Pat Buchanan, so I took a look at him. The first thought to cross the mind of a voting Republican in 1992 is that perhaps anyone would be preferable to George Bush. In fact, I decided that either Pat Buchanan or his liberal Crossfire opponent, Michael Kinsley, might be better than Bush. Kinsley isn't running for office, though, so I was left with Buchanan.
Then a scary thing happened. I found myself being chastised for liking a "fascist" Republican by, of all people, abdicated drug czar William Bennett, who, in a TV interview, urged Republicans to vote for Bush's "inclusive" conservatism instead of Buchanan's chauvinistic variety. How could I have fallen so low that William Bennett was lecturing me on open-mindedness?
That was when I decided I could vote for neither Bush nor Buchanan. Buchanan, after all, had been growing increasingly protectionist and isolationist, so I was worried about how strange a candidate he would mutate into by the time I got around to voting for him in the primary.
Buchanan is a lot like a parody of a conservative created by a leftist satirist. Leftists unjustly accuse conservatives of being just another interest group—one representing native-born, white Christian men. But Buchanan actually sees himself this way. And he defends this political outlook by pointing to the self-interested partisanship of the other political factions in the world, from feminists to Japanese lobbyists. For him, the 20th century is not so much the story of the rise and fall of socialism as it is the story of competing nations and tribes, a story beginning and ending with tensions in Serbia.
But even in this fragmented, postmodern era, someone's got to stick up for the idea of universal, global human rights. So I abandoned my thoughts of voting for Buchanan in the primary in favor of a write-in for humorist Dave Barry, who claims to be running for president. Unfortunately, a friend of mine informed me, New York doesn't count write-ins.
So with a heavy heart, I began to contemplate going to the polls and voting for George Bush (though I'll vote Libertarian in the general election). The only thing that could have gotten me to vote for Buchanan at that point was a guarantee from the Democrats to nominate Jerry Brown. The entertainment value of those two running against each other might be great enough to justify the danger to the country's general welfare.
When the old woman in charge of the list of registered voters at my local poll looked up my name on April 7—as I glumly eyed the nearby voting booth—she raised her head in alarm and said: "He's a Republican! He can't vote! He's a Republican!"
I looked around nervously, suddenly feeling lost behind enemy lines, then fled back to my apartment, where I called my local board of elections. The man on the phone explained that there was no Republican primary in New York, since Buchanan was not officially registered as a challenger. Or as he put it: "The Republicans, only one of them is President, and the other one, he don't count for much."
Todd Seavey is a writer in New York City.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "A Crazy Man's Utopia: Poll-Axed".