I could describe the current political season as a numbers game. It’s too close to call. It doesn’t add up. Some states’ efforts to “purge” voter rolls to reduce certain categories of voters make me wonder just how much corruption has invaded our election process.
Candidates say things that sound good to at least part of their constituencies, whether or not the position will lead to effective or pragmatic policy. I’m old enough to remember when Ronald Reagan said, “If you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all,” or did he really say that? Fact checkers weren’t around then; without them, we’d have no clear idea of whether what we’re told is accurate, a half-truth or an outright lie.
Much later, Oregon Senator Bob Packwood, having been accused of sexual harassment, said, “I will not resign,” a sure indication to me that he indeed would. The Oregonian helped him to another aborted term by not publishing its investigation of the issue until after the election. I’ve started to believe that if a politician says he won’t do something, he probably will.
There’s unfairness built into our elections. The Electoral College gives proportionally more weight to states with small populations, given that every state gets two extra Electoral College votes regardless of the votes determined by population.
Then there’s the manipulation of state tax codes via initiatives. The ploy was “It’ll be great to reduce property taxes for small woodlot owners,” for example, without mentioning that gigantic corporate-held timberlands would also benefit from reduced property taxes. Down south, property tax limitation measures in California and Oregon have led to sometimes-draconian reductions in services. Those are only a couple unforeseen consequences from the election process and the way the “body politic” makes decisions.
I can’t tell if it’s worse now than in the past, or if we just know more. It’s easy to cite the yellow journalism of a century ago and know that there was corruption and collusion between politicians and the media…but now? First, our world has become very complex; it isn’t easy to write clearly and accurately about complex issues, regardless of whether the writer is going in with a bias. It’s a challenge to make a technical topic understandable to an audience that has become accustomed to the quickie messages of TV commercials and “news” sound bites.
About a month ago, I picked up a little book at a friend’s home: “How Do You Kill 11 Million People,” subtitled “Why the truth matters more than you think.” The point of the book is that when Hitler and other German leaders lied, over time that allowed them to exterminate Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and even people who merely failed to have documents proving residency. The author, Andy Andrews, laid out a progression of social and political development that I have read in other contexts:
“Why do the ages of our world’s greatest civilizations average around 200 years? Why do these civilizations all seem to follow the same identifiable sequence — from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence and finally from dependence back into bondage.”
We Americans certainly have experienced abundance, but are we now complacent? Are we apathetic? When only roughly half the people registered bother to vote, we’re somewhere on that spectrum. Complacency is defined as “smug satisfaction with an existing situation.” A more nuanced definition is “a feeling of security, often while unaware of a potential danger.” People on either side of the political spectrum could embrace that definition. On the right, the potential danger is an over-reaching national government. On the left it could be the threat of a return to the corporate feudalism of the 19th century.
A chance encounter with a young woman bicycling from the Northwest to Baja exemplified apathy, a “loss of interest, enthusiasm or concern.” I asked her, “Are you going to vote?”
“No, Illinois doesn’t have absentee balloting,” she said, inaccurately. “It doesn’t matter anyway; it’s either a puppet on the left or the puppet on the right.”
Change comes very slowly, especially when a substantial, and powerful, portion of society likes things just the way they are. Washington and Oregon are the only two states that have vote by mail, a system that, along with the Voter’s Pamphlet, allows people to study and vote easily. Vote by mail could be the first wave of real change.
Victoria Stoppiello is a freelance writer. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.