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Back Talk: Who gets your vote?

TribLocal and The Mash, the Chicago Tribune’s weekly newspaper and website for teenagers in the city and suburbs, have been checking in with area high school students to find the most pressing questions they have for members of their parents’ generation. As part of the regular Back Talk column, we’ll pose these questions to TribLocal’s parent bloggers, who are able to draw on their own experiences coming of age and raising kids.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: This year’s political candidates don’t seem to have much of a political center. If you feel that none of the candidates truly represents you or your views, then what?

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My teenage son recently asked me, “Who do you want to be President, Dad?”

“I’m not sure,” I replied. He didn’t like that answer.

But, honestly, I’m not sure right now. Some elections I know early on who I’m going to cast my vote in favor of. Other years, I debate back and forth with myself as to whom I think will best lead our country during the ensuing four years. And some years, I’m just befuddled.

It’s kind of like looking at a restaurant menu. There are times I sit down and can zero in on the perfect meal to order. Like Tuscany pasta with some grilled chicken, a light sauce with steamed vegetables. Those are the times I can see something and—with total conviction—know what sounds right. Other times, I look at that menu and everything looks tasty. The turkey burger smothered with mushrooms? Yum! But then there’s the grilled salmon. Wait, maybe I should get their world famous salad. Ah, it can be so confusing!

And the worst times are when I look at a menu and think to myself, “Hmmm, nothing looks good.”

Those different scenarios in choosing a dinner entree pretty much describe my personal experiences in picking through the smorgasbord of candidates I’ve looked at over the years. Sometimes, one of them looks perfectly delicious. Sometimes, I want to make a salad out of the best of each of them. And sometimes, the menu of candidates just makes me lose my appetite.

And when I lose my appetite, I usually just skip the meal.

But “skipping a meal” doesn’t make a lot of sense to me when you’re talking about elections. I’m still a big believer that it’s my obligation to exercise my right to vote. No matter what.

Voting forces me to think about issues. It makes me have a conversation with myself – and others – about what I think is important for our country. Truth be told, I don’t think of myself as a super politically aware person. I often wish I knew more about topics. I sometimes feel like I don’t understand the core issues. Sometimes I get confused about the implications of one candidates positions. I’m guessing if I made a stronger effort to understand – the “menu” wouldn’t look so confusing at times!

There have been a couple elections in the past where I didn’t see that perfect “Tuscany pasta” staring at me from the menu. And, I recall thinking to myself back then that a) my vote didn’t matter; b) we were doomed as a country if a certain candidate was elected, and c) things would never be good again.

But what I’ve come to understand is the following:

a) My vote matters. No matter what. And just because the menu doesn’t have something that makes my mouth salivate, it’s imperative that I exercise my right to vote. I believe it’s not only our right but our duty as citizens of the United States. I exercise my right to vote even when I believe deep in my heart that the candidate I am supporting likely will not win. That’s okay. My vote is my obligation to my community and my nation. I matter. My voice matters. And even if I am in the minority, I want to be counted.

b) While history certainly has the ability to measure the success and shortcomings of every elected official, I’ve come to believe that no one election (or elected official) will totally drive our world into a total state of despair. There have been presidents elected that I did not support. At all. And with one or two of them, I probably had a moment of feeling, “Oh boy, we’re in trouble!” But I can look back now and understand that the successes and failures of our country are influenced by more than one person. Or one election.

c) We will only be doomed as a country when citizens become complacent. Any potential “doom” doesn’t rest in the outcome of an election. It rests in the hands of you and me. And that guy next door. The woman you see driving the car of kids. The smiling face at the post office. Your teacher. The store clerk. It’s all of us that collectively hold the key to our future and destiny.

So sure, sometimes, the menu may not be delectable. That’s a fact. I wish it wasn’t so. But it’s never a reason to push away from the table.

Because the truth is, those are the times we all need to dig in just a little more. And keep our place at the table.

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Do you have a burning question for our teen writers? Maybe something you don’t want to ask your own teen? Email us at with subject line “Back Talk”!

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