Saturday, October 23, 2004

election or distraction?

Up front I should say I'm a cynic.

I was born to a father who had a career in politics. One could say it chewed him up and spat him out; he served as County Commissioner of Cuyahoga, Cleveland's county, for a number of years, back in the day. I can't say with certainty, but I believe he was an honest politician. In fact, that was probably his downfall. And if he ever did soil his hands with dirty dealings in his tenure, it was in matters far short of scandalous-- and by today's standards, hardly worth mentioning. He was something of an idealist and that much I can confidently say I inherited from him. So I look at this election with grave skepticism-- skepticism over its integrity and its meaning. After all, when so prominent and experienced a political figure as former President Jimmy Carter takes issue with elections' fairness, one should take heed. And I do.

He describes the general electoral process in the United States as subpar; his Carter Center commission, an organization that is called upon to monitor elections in nations all over the world, if it were asked to monitor elections in the U.S., would decline. In Carter's words, "The American political system wouldn't measure up to any sort of international standard." That's the reason he gave Terry Gross on the NPR show Fresh Air.

Further, Carter co-chaired (with former President Gerald Ford) a blue-ribbon, bi-partisan commission, created after the 2000 election debacle, that worked hard to create a series of recommendations for fair and transparent elections in the U.S. To date, few of their recommendations have been implemented.

Nevertheless I will vote in this election.

And I take issue with-- more than that, I take offense at-- those who decline to participate in this most fundamental civic duty. Yes, I agree: the power elite will be the ultimate arbiter of what happens on the national political scene, regardless of who "wins" the election. Yet I also believe that the less we exercise what rights we still have-- even if those rights appear to be increasingly compromised by powerful forces-- the more power will be ceded thereby to those same forces. We must keep a foot in the door if ever we hope to grace this world with a genuine government by, for, and of the People.

Vote this time around, commit yourself to a small investment in your civic duty as a member of this nation, and by the next election we'll have a stronger voice and the people will have a better chance of being heard. Don't vote-- shrug off your duty with a cavalier "they're gonna do what they want anyway so why bother?"-- and you will guarantee an incremental future reduction in the voice of the people-- and thereby enlarge the reach of the power elite into the heart of American politics. I view enfranchisment as the most fundamental and defining right of persons in democratic societies; that the people in those nations should have come to such a pass of cynical distrust, disengagement and apathy over the very core operational mechanism of their democracies is not only telling, but, to me, infuriating. Use it or lose it.

Get off your lazy, complacent, spreading ass and vote, America!

Ahem. Did I type that out loud?


At 11/05/2004 10:54 AM, Blogger tess said...

Algy ... I still agree with your post, 100% ... but in addition to participating in the system as it is, after the debacle of 2004, I wonder if we should look towards reforms in our political system that will make our elections truly fair and free ...

(1) eliminate the electoral college in favor of one person, one vote
(2) introduce instant runoff voting
(3) create a single, paper-trail backed voting system for use in all states
(4) eliminate ALL non-public financing of elections

My fear when I write the above is that the very people who turned out in droves to prevent gay people from legalizing their long-term partnerships (horrors!) and thereby elected Bush & co. for a second term, would take massive advantage of all these reforms, except perhaps for the last.

But that, at least, would be the power of individual voters at work, rather than the power of those who have chosen to manipulate the electoral college system by focusing on "swing states" and suppressing votes in certain areas in order to tip the balance in their direction.

I think of 2008 and I see in my mind's eye the many people, mostly people of color, standing in line for hours in the rain in Ohio to cast "provisional" ballots (the only option open to them because of the "shortage" of voting machines) - I'm still not clear on whether their votes will ever be counted.

I have to keep them in my mind for the next four years and continue to fight for their, and our, democratic rights.



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