Gen. David Petraeus’s reason for not voting in past presidential elections is not logical, patriotic or brave.
The issue was raised by the media in the days following Gen. Colin Powell’s endorsement of Sen. Barrack Obama. Petraeus was asked who he would endorse, and his answer was that he didn’t vote for presidential candidates because he would have to do the bidding of whomever became commander and chief.
On its very face, this is an illogical response—especially coming from a man named one of the world’s top public intellectuals by Foreign Policy magazine. The voting booth is a sanctuary for the anonymous expression of our conscience as citizens. Neither Gen. Petraeus’ vote nor Joe the Plumber’s vote is part of the public record, unless and until they wish to disclose how they voted. I can readily see why a top-ranked military official would not want to make his choice of candidate public. In that case, all that’s required is to tell the interrogator that the information they seek is private, and leave it at that.
While many may consider a man of Petraeus’ stature the pinnacle of a patriot, the abrogation of duty to vote is decidedly not the action of a patriot. It is our paramount civic responsibility to vote, just as serving in the military is a high service and often a supreme sacrifice to our country.
One might also assume that Gen. Petraeus’ rise through the ranks had something to do with bravery, since he wears the Bronze star. However, it seems the dodge of a coward to not vote because you may have to serve a president you personally wouldn’t have chosen to lead the country. But wait. Isn’t that what military training aims to achieve—serving a higher authority with which you may not be in total agreement? Soldiers are trained to say, “Yes, sir!” even when their hearts say, “No.”
In the corporate world, which so dominates our culture and politics, men and women carry out the orders of CEOs who donate large sums to candidates and often put their subordinates in a similar position as Gen. Petraeus. Yet, do these people choose not to vote because they have to work under a CEO whose politics don’t coincide with theirs? Perhaps some take Gen. Petraeus’ tact, but most vote their conscience and have the guts to speak their truth or give a no comment.