The power in your right hand.

I am not a sentimental person. But this poem about voting gets me a little choked up every time.

“The Poor Voter on Election Day”
By John Greenleaf Whittier


The proudest now is but my peer,
The highest not more high;
Today, of all the weary year,
A king of men am I.

Today, alike the great and small,
The nameless and the known;
My palace is the people’s hall,
The ballot-box my throne!

Who serves today upon the list
Beside the served shall stand;
Alike the brown and wrinkled fist,
The gloved and dainty hand!

The rich is level with the poor,
The weak is strong today;
And sleekest broadcloth counts no more
Than homespun frock of gray.

Today let pomp and vain pretense
My stubborn right abide;
I set a plain man’s common sense
Against the pedant’s pride.

Today shall simple manhood try
The strength of gold and land;
The wide world has not wealth to buy
The power in my right hand!

While there’s grief to set redress,
Or balance to adjust,
Where weighs our living manhood less
Than Mammon’s vilest dust—

While there’s a right to need my vote,
A wrong to sweep away,
Up! clouted knee and ragged coat!
A man’s a man today!

I’m not a sentimentalist. In fact, I’m a skeptic. But I try to read this poem to my classes every election year—it sounds much better when spoken, slowly—and my voice breaks a little every time I do.

Please vote.

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.

8 thoughts on “The power in your right hand.”

  1. I am proud to have voted against Ken Buck. As a bonus, I also got to vote against Tom Tancredo, a pleasure I thought I would never get since I didn't live in his House district when he was in Congress.

  2. For the alternative view (a hyper-sophisticated defence of the legitimacy of the option of not voting as a protest), see Daniel Davies today at Crooked Timber – a blog that gets footnotes in comments. There are 243 comments already so I'm not going to waste time adding one there (the Paradox of Commenting).

    My useless pennyworth as a non-voter. DD is assuming in a fuddy-duddy way that what matters is your vote. No, what matters most consequentially is how your vote is perceived. So the correct voting strategy for a Wobbly is, consequentially speaking:

    – to go to the Wobbly demo with a "Hang the bankstas!" sign

    – tell pollsters and blogs, before and after voting, that you are casting a write-in vote for Che Guevara

    (I believe there is Druze and Jesuit moral theology on the legitimacy of concealment of your true position)

    – in the privacy of the voting booth, vote for the weak-kneed apology for a Democrat on the ballot, on the off chance that your vote makes a difference and you would feel very stupid if Sharron Angle say won by 1 vote.

    of course, the Golden Rule would just say, non-consequentially, that you should vote if at least one candidate is an acceptable representative, and you should choose the least bad acceptable candidate.

  3. If you really want a 'none of the above' vote, spoil your ballot – and press for a system that counts and reports spoiled ballots! But I am more for James's Golden Rule than that – it's irresponsible in almost every election to choose none of the above.

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