Friday, November 02, 2012

High Responsibility

Voting has been made incredibly convenient, something you can do on your way to the grocery store, or to pick up a pair of pants you are having hemmed. In this way we have made voting almost an afterthought, an errand, something that takes only a few minutes to be done with for another two years.

Unfortunately, the act of voting is something that should take us much longer, and I don't mean the time we spend staring at the touch screen.

Every election it seems that the partisan rancor gets a little harsher, the shouting a little louder, the self-righteousness a little more shrill. We boil incredibly complex problems down to simple talking points, which means that nothing will ever change.

Some suggest term limits, but like the Founders, I agree that the best term limit is a well informed electorate. We should hold our politicians more accountable for the things they say or don't say, the things they do or don't do. As voters we often bemoan that politicians run to the right or left during a primary campaign, and then pivot to the middle during the general, but as voters we are guilty for letting them do it, guilty of rewarding such intellectual dishonesty.

As voters we are guilty, too, of letting politicians tell us what we want to hear, and cheering them on for saying it, but then we look the other way when the message changes in front of a different audience, or when the vagaries of campaign season compel it. The latest version of this was Mitt Romney's Hurricane Sandy-induced about-face on the issue of FEMA funding; several months ago FEMA was on Governor Romney's list of federal agencies he would privatize, but in a statement he said that as President FEMA would get the funding it required. It happens on both sides, and voters from both sides let their man (or woman) get away with it, while seeking to eviscerate the other side's man for doing the same thing.

The only way we will get more out of our elected leaders is by expecting more from them. By not wearing partisan blinders voters can hold politicians accountable, but when we dismiss even the most egregiously inconsistent message from politicians as "politics as usual", we are bound to get more politics as usual, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Reasonable voters can't let the screamers and the shouters determine who runs our country. When this happens, as it generally does, reasonable voters head to the polls with the now-cliched feeling of voting for the best of two evils. Issues become defined by black and white soundbites proclaiming something to be great or evil.

We struggle to find the real facts, to find the real numbers, to understand the legislative language. It is unfortunate that there is not one trusted source for all of us to at least begin our political soul searching on the same solid ground of information. The press used to perform that role, but because we have self-selected our media based on the fact that some stations and outlets tell us what we want to hear, we have largely lost a press that questions or investigates in any but the most partisan of tones.

It is too late for this election, another in which it seems many of the nation's moderate thinkers go to the polls with no enthusiasm. But for future elections, it is imperative that voters know more about the issues so as to avoid being used only as a means to an end by hopeful candidates. The voters are the boss, the elected officials are supposed to be the representatives. But as the popular saying goes around the office, when the cat is away, the mice will play. And for too long now, the voters have been away. Our national debate has suffered for it, and it's time to start paying attention.   

No comments: