On the wards, we see a lot of patients recovering from insults to the brain. As their mental status improves, I sometimes like to ask them who was president in 1975. I like this question because even sharp people stumble over it. Ford, you see, was never elected, and people tend to remember who they voted for.

For contrast, most everyone of appropriate age remembers who they voted for in 1980, or 1992. And they probably remember why.

I'm not so sure that will be the case when people look back on 2004. I'm hearing all kinds of interesting reasons to vote for the major candidates Tuesday. Most involve the same kind of convoluted thought process that's gone in to interpreting the OBL video.

Here are actual things people have written or told me in recent days:

I'm voting for Bush to send a message to trial lawyers.
I'm voting for Kerry because if he wins, Hillary won't run in 2008.
I'm voting for Bush to hasten the demise of the conservative movement.
I'm voting for Kerry to send a conciliatory signal to our estranged European allies.
I'm voting for Bush to send a belligerent signal to the terrorists.
I'm voting for Kerry because, even though he's an uninspiring fence-straddler, we need to win before anything can change.

They all have a certain logic. But sadly, none of the reasons are "this is the person I want to lead America."

I'm still of the opinion that it's good to vote your conscience. Am I being hopelessly naive? Or have many voters started pretending that their decision carries hefty strategic importance?

If the message of 2000 was that "every vote counts," the undercurrent of 2004 is that "every vote sends a clear signal to certain groups across the world." And people have become intoxicated with the notion that their vote, their demographic group, their neighborhood, is sending a nuanced message worthy of scrutiny and future study.

I disagree. I think, in the long run, the meaning behind your vote is more important to you than it is to the trial lawyers or terrorists or anyone else looking at exit polls.

Just think of it this way: when you're in a hospital bed in 2033 and some smartass medical student asks "Who was president in 2005?" -- you might recall voting for Kerry or Bush. But will you remember the reason? Will you remember that you were sending a signal to the Europeans, or trying to block Hillary Clinton's aspirations? Wouldn't it be nice to recall your convictions, your beliefs, your values?

If you're voting for Bush or Kerry because you line up well with one of them, good for you. But I suspect a lot of these convoluted voting strategies are imagined because people aren't really satisfied with the candidates. If neither Bush nor Kerry inspire you, or match your values, maybe you should keep looking.

Just don't try telling me that voting for a third-party candidate is wasting a vote, or throwing it to the other team. That kind of over-strategizing has lead to nominees as bland and flawed as the ones we have. And if you're voting for someone you don't believe in, you're throwing a lot more than your vote away.