From "To Vote, or Not", 2004


I advise the reader to skip this introduction. It will become obvious soon enough that this book is self-explanatory and self-sustaining; that an introduction to the contents is only a balm to the editor’s ego and the printer’s bank-account. But I am also aware enough that a good contingent of the American reading public simply can’t set their mental foot in the door of a book without having someone clutch their hand and give them an introductory shove. And if you are still with me, count yourself among them.

In May of 2003, the Editors of the Philadelphia Independent - a high-minded, as-yet-unacquired, noble, civic-hearted broadsheet - printed an editorial in anticipation of a municipal election, urging the readership to vote. That editorial is the first entry in this book. In the next issue, there ran a rebuttal to this innocuous editorial from a reader by the name of Robert P. Helms, who is, among other things, a concerned member of society. Mr. Helms, as you shall read, disagreed with the Editors’ assertion that voting is a Good Thing to Do. And in so doing, he set off the sort of public debate within the paper’s letters pages that seemed to have gone out of style with Athens, or at least another, dandier incarnation of Philadelphia. By virtue of the Editors’ subsequent re-disagreement with Mr. Helms, and Mr. Helms’ persistent contrarianism to the Editors, the readers of the Independent were treated to an exchange on the merits of electoral participation over the course of the next several months that would inspire even the least civic recluse on the Schuylkill. It was a fine moment for American newspapering.

Now, in this rancorous polling year, where dear neighbors have come to blows over their political and moral disputes, and bitter enemies have simply resorted to the worst kinds of vexatious voo-doo against one another, it seemed merely appropriate to enter into the political debates at the most fundamental level. Any armchair philosopher knows that no problem can be solved, where the nature of the solution is yet to be understood. And so it is with democracy: how can we know what is the right choice if we are not even convinced that making a choice is right?

I have heard enough part-time pundits bemoan the apathy of the American electorate - and I have seen as many of them of them sleep through the first Tuesday in November - to know that such a dialogue as the one in this book needs to be had more often. And so the Philadelphia Independent makes theirs available to the public as a sort of academic model, a textbook Socratic exchange - without a resolution, without a conclusion, without a pat answer - so that the public may do with it what it thinks best, and come November either Vote or Not.

-Henry William Brownejohns

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