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Entries in voter apathy (3)


We have only ourselves to blame: a voter's manifesto

As a citizen of this nation, chances are that you assume you bear no responsibility for the corrupt and dysfunctional condition of our government.

And, unless you’ve organized with plurality of voters to blunt the outsized influence of elite, wealthy interests, you would be unaccountably wrong.

The assumption especially rings true for do-nothing pundits and hand-sitting voters who habitually blame government for the myriad difficulties we face as a nation. It is, at best, a myopic view. It never accounts for plutocrats who have paid handsomely for access to politicians; nor for well-connected lobbyists and captains of industry who continually co-opt government policy decisions.

The authority of what was once known—and exercised—as the will of the people, wields no such influence. There is no will of the people, only their quiescence.

Where were we, the people, as legal bribery became a frog-boiling reality?

Through passivity and a shameful neglect of civics, voters gave up whatever public policy torque they may have wielded in decades past. In matters like national elections, their participation amounts to nothing more than a rubber stamp of candidates selected by party bosses and large dollar funders.

Somehow the idea that the only viable candidates for public office are those who can raise boatloads of cash, has prevailed over all else—even qualities like vision and character (although we must credit the GOP for fielding a memorable roster of "characters" serving in Congress).

Given the massive amount of funding needed for media buys, political consultants and other campaign “essentials” crucial to winning election, one must see the imprint of a disengaged electorate; a supremely inert body of voters requiring the shock and awe of hyperbolic attack ads to jolt them to a decision between the lesser of two evils. There is a perverse inverse relationship between the meager involvement of voters in electoral politics and how much time and effort incumbents and candidates for public office must devote to fundraising.

It is unmistakable: voters suffer from an influence gap that privileges campaign donors with deep pockets.

However, we have no one else to blame but ourselves.

(By the way, you’ll never hear the politics of campaign finance being discussed in such frank terms by any politician or pontificating pundit who must pretend that legal bribery emits no moral stench.)

Since taxes are such a sensitive, ire-provoking subject, wouldn't it be useful for voters to acknowledge one area where the influence gap puts them at a disadvantage?

The current U.S. tax code maintains the constant churning of legal bribes for members of Congress. To keep de juris tax scoffers like Verizon, Apple and Bristol-Meyers Squibb returning as clients, special exemptions are written into law for their benefit. Such ad hoc statutes come with expiration dates that give a member of Congress reason enough to call his or her corporate client with an urgent request for support in the effort to renew said tax break.

What's the twisted irony of it all? It's how many voters went along with the tax revolts of the 1970s—a time when the middle class failed to notice that wages no longer kept up with productivity, much less with the rising cost of government. While tax bills increased, their representation in government began to wane because of the money flowing from special interests into the pockets of politicians. Voters latched on to protests against “big government” spending, yet failed to understand what actually makes government “big”. It’s not the federal budget or how much assistance a social program provides, but whether or not citizens are engaged in the struggle to hold elected officials accountable. On that effort, our failure has been stunning.

Again, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Avant garde record producer, Brian Eno, summed up electoral politics best when he said that "...we don’t do politics. We expect other people to do it for us, and grumble when they get it wrong. We feel that our responsibility stops at the ballot box, if we even get that far. After that we’re as laissez-faire as we can get away with.

"What worries me is that while we’re laissez-ing, someone else is faire-ing."

For far too long voters have been permissive while an entrenched financial principality has taken over our country’s domestic and foreign policies for private gain—always at the expense of the common good.

So, what is a manifesto without a call to action? Less harm than doing nothing (we’ve tried that, haven’t we?) would be to take about ten minutes of your time to contact your senators and member of congress. What’s the message? Simply say that your vote in the next election will go to the candidate who limits all campaign donations to $250 per contributor (including PACs, super PACs and every other money-churning syndicate that can be imagined).

Everyone knows elected officials are on the take; that the wealthy buy their favorable representation in government. Why not talk about it with your friends, family and social media contacts? Not as a problem we are too helpless to solve, but as a solution waiting for participants to put it into action?



Electoral sabotage--by default

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. --quote attributed to Plato

The results of a USA Today/Suffolk University voter participation survey reveals no surprising details about the state of today's eligible voters; except that two thirds confirm they are currently registered.

Judging from a few of their primary reasons for not showing up at the polls on election day, apathetic voters illustrate how deeply uninformed they are about the inner workings of Washington, DC. They cannot fathom the degree by which lobbyists are organized, connected and relentless in the effort to influence elected representives.

For an example of the initiative that drives lobbyists, consider the 'day-in-the-life-of-a-lobbyist' guide offered by the California chapter of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. It encourages the effort to persuade elected office holders, by stating, "You have to be persistent... [which] means continuing to press your issue and recognizing that 'no' is only for now. There is no last vote. There's always going to be a next vote."

Now have a look at three of the various excuses eligible voters give in the survey for not going to the polls on election day:

"They aren't excited about either candidate."

"Their vote doesn't really matter."

"[N]othing ever gets done, anyway."

Is it little wonder that the lobbyist industry--which numbers only in the tens of thousands--out-maneuvers tens of millions of voters day-in and day-out in matters of public policy?

Call it electoral sabotage, by default--on the part of vote-eligible citizens too apathetic to participate. 

To remedy this state of affairs would require an immense messaging effort by elected representatives and participating voters. The message to non-participating voters should spell out what the cost is for not being politically engaged, for refusing to pay attention. An incumbent running for re-election must remind voters how much time is spent on fundraising when it could be devoted to legislating and problem solving--all because a plurality of voters haven't tuned in.

Given that wide margin of unengaged citizens, it means a candidate running for public office must raise mounds of cash for the cost of media buys that reach voters who aren't paying attention.  Money doesn't grow on trees, but it certainly finds its way from the wallets of the  wealthy elite and into the coffers of a political campaign.

This defines the influence gap between voters and high dollar campaign contributors, who always come out on top over matters of public policy.

So, who can deny that we the people no longer call the shots? And who among us is ready to accept responsibility for that reality?


Suddenly Santorum (now hoping the money comes in)

Rick Santorum's surprise showing at the Republican Iowa caucus and his prospects for competing in New Hampshire, switches focus to the dollar figure his campaign has spent; finance folks like to bandy about those ROI (return on investment) numbers factoring the investment value of each vote.

This kind of talk illustrates what fundamentally afflicts this country's decision making when choosing its decision makers. Now that Santorum's campaign is suddenly competitive the question becomes, will he or won't he raise the cash to remain viable beyond this Iowa surge?

Why couldn't the good citizens of New Hampshire, or of any other state, muster a broad enough voting presence that forces the millions in big dollar donations into political irrelevance?

What the 'free speech' of wealthy campaign donors ultimately represents is a built-in voter apathy that tilts electoral politics into the 1%'s favor. Voters should view Rick Santorum's unlikely success as what is possible when a plurality of citizens casts aside prevailing thought to cast their vote.