It’s election day. Well, kind of. Here in Washington State, we receive our ballots in the mail a few weeks before the election. I love this as it gives me the ability to look at an initiative or candidate on the ballot, read through the voter’s pamphlet, and do some research online all at the same time, and all in my underwear with a bottle of home brew in my hand if I so choose.
I’ve really been struggling this election. Usually I refuse to succumb to the “lesser of two evils” approach to voting. Thankfully in my state there were 8-10 candidates running for President that made it onto our ballot in ’08, so I didn’t have to choose between 2 candidates I felt would have been bad for the job. However now that the primaries are over, I don’t really have that choice in the current election. It’s either red/blue democrat/republican (and all establishment) on pretty much all of the races. In the past I’ve voted as a way to endorse a candidate I felt would represent my and my districts/states interests well, and if neither candidate was worthy, I would abstain in that particular category.
But I don’t have that luxury this time around. To not consider the ramifications of my actions is irresponsible and naïve. The Senate race between Senator Murray and challenger Dino Rossi is a close one, and could sway the majority in the Senate one way or the other. The race in my Congressional district is also a fairly close one. My choices in these two races are actually pretty easy as I like both Rick Larsen and Patty Murray, and feel like they do a good job most of the time. Some of the state races I’ve yet to decide about though. It’s an important decision as it is a census year. The congress that we elect will have the power to draw up new district maps, which will influence politics, elections, and federal money destinations for the next 10 years.
We also have several ballot initiatives here. 2 concerning the state liquor laws, one that proposes a state income tax on those making over 200,000/year (or 400,000 combined family) and one that deals with taxes on junk food and bottled water.
The reason I’m posting about this here is because in Buddhism we can’t leave our ethics and morality on the proverbial cushion. If we are to truly engage the precepts and teachings, then we must strive to apply them in all aspects of our lives. And at the core of those teachings is the process of examination. There isn’t a blanket list of “do’s” and “don’ts” (except for some directed at the monastics) in Buddhism. Instead we’re asked to examine each moment and situation as it is, fully and use the precepts and teachings to help guide our actions. We must contemplate the possible effects of our actions, as well as our intentions and the motivations behind those intentions. I don’t think there is a Buddhist Way to vote, nor do I advocate any such premise. But I do believe that we should bring our process of examination into those political actions that we undertake. Buddhist practice isn’t something to turn on and off like a light switch (though it is a stubborn switch to leave on, isn’t it?) when we please. It is something that we bring into the marketplace, into the dust and dirt of life.
The moral and ethical teachings are relative for a reason. There are no one-size-fits all answers to the questions and situations that arise in this vast world. Instead what we have are guideposts, and tiny bodhisattvas that sit on our shoulders and ask us “why?” “where does this volition come from?” And so it should be when it comes time to make a decision that will effect not only my life, but my children’s, my neighbors, and this whole world.
Take for instance the liquor law initiative. Right now in this state, if you want liquor, you have to go to a state-run liquor store to buy it. It’s kind of a pain in the ass, and the prices are pretty high. When I first moved here I was blown away at this draconian system. However if this initiative rolls through, the liquor stores will be gone and grocery stores can begin selling liquor on their shelves. With this comes the end of a government monopoly (something I usually oppose depending on the issue) increased access, and lower prices on booze. But this also comes with increased access for teens to obtain alcohol, a loss of revenue for the state (which we currently CANNOT afford) and a loss of jobs for all of those employees. Here, sticking to an ideal (government = bad, private sector = always better) would have potentially fatal consequences, and have ramifications that will stretch out far and wide. If this doesn’t pass, we still have booze, albeit an ineffectual system for distributing it. Personally I’d like to see some modifications of the current laws (more stores, open more hours, lower prices) that kept revenue flowing to the state and liquor out of the hands of kids as much as possible.
I hate broad brushes. I’ve never once voted straight-party. Liberal or Conservative, neither has all the right answers. The lines between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are blurry at times. Life is relative. And I think this is why the Democratic party consistently fails. They embrace the relative while the Republicans stick to their ideals and policy of absolutes. They always have 1 message. 1 platform. The Democrats have more messages and more platforms than The Flying Spaghetti Monster has noodly appendages. It’s a tough sell when your party slogan makes for a better .PDF than a placard. But this is a more accurate description of America, isn’t it? Do we have one voice about anything? I digress…
I have no interest in thinking about how The Buddha would vote, or voting in a “Buddhist” way. The Christian Right has been doing this for years in our country. Groupthink and religious politics largely disgusts me. However I am interested applying the dharma to my decision-making process in and of itself. Not in choosing who to vote for, but in examining the process I’ll use in making my decisions.