Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

Opt Out

Politics, campaigns, and elections have been one of my favorite things since I was a teenager in Michigan. I’ve read countless campaign books, told anyone who would listen of my love for The West Wing, studied political theory, arranged vacations around presidential libraries, and collected campaign memorabilia. I’ve read Politico’s Playbook each morning for years and voted for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.

This year, I’ve decided to opt out of the presidential election.

I don’t do so lightly. I’ve voted in every presidential election since I turned 18. The right to vote is something I hold dear.

I can’t support what politics has become, though, nor contribute to the status quo by participating in it.

We’re told that voting is our civic duty and to not vote is unpatriotic. We are told that the only reason someone doesn’t vote is apathy or ignorance.

What is the civic duty of those running for president and the people who run their campaigns? What is the civic duty of ad makers and speechwriters, reporters and commentators?

Regardless of how empty, divisive, untruthful, or demeaning the campaigns are, we’re told that it is our responsibility to step into the voting booth and choose between the options we’re given.

I reject that wholeheartedly.

I do not want to help perpetuate lowest-common-denominator politics. For me, that means doing things differently:

  • Not voting in this year’s presidential election
  • Donating money to non-profits and Kickstarter projects instead of candidates or parties
  • Investing my time in a project dedicated to what we have in common
  • Seeking out individuals, organizations and publications that don’t believe that politics has to be this way and helping in any way I can

Because professional politics operates differently than most industries, I freely admit that these efforts are irrelevant, even if millions of people did them (and some would say millions of people already do). First, the political class thrives regardless of the outcome of an election. Winning has obvious benefits, but being out of power is one of the best things that can happen to political party fundraising.

Second, the political industry has little incentive to increase participation. They want to win, certainly, and would prefer to win by a lot, but the total number of votes cast doesn’t matter. And as a higher percentage of campaign cash is given by a lower percentage of donors, participation matters even less.

Television networks want to win every time slot, but their biggest fear is that you stop watching television altogether. That’s not the case in the political world. If the percentage of voters drops, the parties overcompensate by desperately pursuing their base and the undecided few. The comically low approval rating of Congress has had no effect because the parties are disliked equally.

I’m not claiming that there’s no difference between the candidates and parties, or that it’s irrelevant who wins. If you believe in your candidate and his party, I hope you campaign for the cause, invest your money, persuade your friends, and cast your vote proudly. I hope you’re right and that our country and politics are better for his victory and leadership. I didn’t write this to convince you otherwise.

I wrote this for those who see the link between our irresponsible campaigns and our dysfunctional government as inextricable. For those who refuse to accept that political campaigns that coarsen our culture and demonize our neighbors are a necessary evil, a means to an end. I wrote it for the people who are tired of politics as sport, debates as dueling soundbites, and campaigns that begin the day after the last one ended.

Politics can change for the better. It has to change for the better. I believe I have a responsibility to help that happen. For me, in this election, it starts by opting out.