Thursday, November 27, 2014

222. The nation's lazy unrest continues

Seriously, why did we bother?

I am referring of course to the 2014 mid-term elections, in which Democrats and a disinterested public barely showed up.  Voter turnout was a mere 36 percent.

For a country that prides, even obsesses, about its freedoms and democratic system, it was an embarrassing performance.  We’re so quick to fight or criticize those who have been portrayed as threatening our freedoms, but then we’re too lazy or apathetic to take ten minutes to exercise our most precious right.  

From voter apathy and education to the voting process itself— our elections are obviously broken.

We heard a lot about voter laws, and the fight to make it easier or more difficult to vote.  While I am disgusted by any effort to make voting more difficult, knowing that it purposely affects particular strategic demographics, it’s also a matter of personal responsibility. People need to make an effort and simply “try harder” to vote. Those that don’t vote are not coincidentally those who need their voices heard the most. It’s in their best interest to vote.

Voters also need to be educated about those running for office and the issues on the ballot. Several have noted that an uneducated population is the greatest threat to our democracy.

The nation’s lazy unrest continues to elect a high percentage of incumbents. We saw the re-election of such candidates as Josh Mandel, Sam Brownback and Michael Grimm. Brownback is the Governor of Kansas whose economic policies have been disastrous for the state. Republican Grimm won despite a federal indictment.  Newly elected Joni Ernst of Iowa is a Sarah Palin wanna-be, won voters over by the proclamation that she used to castrate pigs when she was young as a metaphor to cut “pork” out of the system.

Even the so-called referendum on President Obama was mystifying. By the most important measures—unemployment, killing terrorists, stock market, gas prices, the wealthy getting wealthier—the country is significantly in a better position than it was six years ago. It seems the referendum was really only a result of the small percentage of voters who have despised the president from the beginning. If there really was a rebuke of Obama, voter turnout would have been much higher. It’s the confusing mantra, if gas prices are high, blame Obama; if gas prices are low, vote for Republicans.

Many have seen now the editorial from Canada in which Richard Brunt writes, “So, Americans vote for the party that got you into the mess that Obama just dug you out of? This defies reason. When you are done with Obama, could you send him our way?”

However, the voters don’t get all the blame. As a country, we’ve allowed political money and self-interest to hijack our election process. Through a combination of legislative procedures and court rulings we’ve opened up the door for wealthy corporations and individuals to control the election process.

Voter apathy, while not excused, certainly is understood. They are tired of the two parties fighting with each other—each using over-the-top sound bites used to insult the electorate. Many voters are also tired of having only significant two political parties in this country—they want real choice. Political advertisements are paid for by invisible and wealthy donors, corporations and special interest groups and continue to be negative and misleading. Election campaigns are built on stretching the truth to promote the best thing you have ever done and the worst thing your opponent has ever done.  Every candidate claims to fight for the middle class, but few ever do. They fight for those who financially support them.

We have had ridiculous gerrymandering, such as that in Ohio, it’s almost guaranteed that the Republicans will have a significant advantage in the House of Representatives. Marcy Kaptur’s district is conceded and loops from Toledo to downtown Cleveland to ensure that Democratic votes are spent in one place. Republican Jim Jordan’s district goes from Lorain County to Columbus and then heads east to Lima. Representation is clearly not the objective (surely the interest of Lorain County is different from those near Columbus or in Lima) and it’s not surprising that most races are not well contested. It’s a statistically calculated process to keep the ruling party in place.

Do we really have a democracy if we cannot control the process—if money and influence leaves very little to chance? Who among those who have won election under the current process is going to suggest meaningful campaign reform? We need more political parties, less money (publically financed campaigns), and independently created districts.  Most of all, we need people to care again. We need our best and brightest to run for office as a measure of public service, not as a prologue to power and wealth. And we need a participatory and educated electorate, who will invest in the democracy they so proudly defend.