“Republicans have been accused of abandoning the poor. It’s the other way around. They never vote for us.” — Dan Quayle
I admit it. I like the late Bono — Sonny, that is — better than the current one. The U2 front man is a certified rock god and globetrotting champion of great causes. Sonny Bono was a mildly talented ’60s pop star turned mediocre Republican politician who could also be a clever businessman and was pitch perfect as Cher’s poker-faced straight-man. But the few times I met him, Sonny was a super-nice guy with no airs, while Bono seems, well, kind of full of himself. Besides, for me the Sonny & Cher gem “I Got You Babe” and Sonny’s song “Needles and Pins” — as rendered by The Searchers — hold up better over time than more than a few of U2’s portentous “classics.”
But if I were running for governor of the largest state in the land, I would think twice before identifying Sonny as my role model. That’s what Republican former eBay CEO and gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman’s campaign — trying to explain why she didn’t even register to vote until she turned 50 — has done. They’ve trotted out Sonny’s widow, California congresswoman Mary Bono Mack, who says her late husband — who first registered when he ran for mayor of Palm Springs in 1988 — did so well as a politician that it must actually be a good thing Whitman took so long to exercise her basic right of citizenship.
Non-voting has been an issue from time to time on both sides of the aisle. Democrats Jon Corzine (now running for reelection as governor of New Jersey) and John Edwards (who won a North Carolina Senate seat in 1998) both had abysmal voting histories when they first ran for office.
This year, in addition to Whitman, U.S. senate hopeful Carly Fiorina (a Republican and former Hewlett Packard CEO) and Seattle mayoral candidate Jim Mallahan (a Democrat and T-Mobile exec) are among the pols who’ve had to account for their serial Election Day no-shows.
Failure to have voted in the past needn’t disqualify those seeking political office. Maybe you didn’t vote because you resented the Tweedle dee/Tweedle dum(b) choices in certain elections. Or perhaps you chose to opt out of the system on principle, like the Stoics in ancient Greece — forefathers of today’s libertarians — who expressed their disdain for voting via the redolent slogan, “Abstain from Beans.” (Voting machines back then were receptacles into which the electorate placed beans of various colors.) Or say you’ve come through the crucible of drug or alcohol addiction with a commitment to make the world a better place.
Bill Clinton was a terrific politician, but we don’t want all our leaders to have plotted their rise to power from a very early age. (Remember his “have it both ways” explanation of why he registered for the draft as a teenager even though he didn’t believe in it? “I decided to accept the draft in spite of my beliefs for one reason: to maintain my political viability within the system.”)
What we do want — and what most politicians are far too narcissistic to understand — is some truth. Candidates need to tell us when and why they didn’t vote. Cover-ups and dissembling aren’t just wrong, they’re downright stupid at a time when a Google search is all we need to get the facts.
In the absence of heartfelt explanations, we’re left with our common sense, which tells us that Corzine, Edwards, Whitman, Fiorina et al were probably too busy getting mega-rich to register and vote. Or maybe they believed their jobs were just too essential to leave for a half-hour – or even to take a few minutes with an absentee ballot — to cast one vote out of millions, a task better left to those of us with less important things to do.
If Bono were running for office against a resurrected Sonny Bono, I’d vote for the former over the latter because he’s so good on the issues. But I’d be tempted to change my mind if Sonny explained that when he was young he was just too stoned to find the registration booth…