Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.
Our current quarterbacks:
You’re thinking, Sustain the metaphor, E.G.! If most of us are warming the bench, who are the players? Answer: I boil it down to two draft pools:
- Active and Aware. These are the engaged among us, the active and aware – at the moment, on defense and woefully outnumbered.
- “Agenders.” These are those who dominate the offense at the moment – manipulating the levers of governance and the emotions of sectors of the governed to serve their self-defined ends. The polite term today is “neoconservative,” I believe.
(Whoa, E. G.! Creeping toward paranoia, are we?)
Time for a distinction – between those of us who actually attempt to score when we get the nod and those who don’t.
Last month, the Public Policy Institute of California, a non-profit, non-partisan (critical distinction) polling outfit, measured political participation in California over 16 years (1990-2006). Their findings:
- Eight in 10 adults are eligible to vote but just 56% are registered, less than half (43%) belong to one of the major parties, and only 35% of adults can be expected to vote next month.
- Of California’s 27.7 million adults – the vast majority of whom are born or naturalized citizens and thus eligible – 12 million are not registered to vote.
- Those registered and most likely to vote are predominantly white, over 45, and upper middle class or better. Nonvoters are nonwhite, younger, and poorer. (By the way, we are the most racially diverse state in the Union; we Anglos are in the statistical minority. Nonetheless, though we’re projected to be about a third of the population by 2045, we’re estimated to constitute the voting majority until at least 2031.)
- Since 1990, only 35 percent of all adults have voted in the four non-Presidential statewide elections. (Turnout is higher in Presidential elections but it’s even lower for state primary elections.)
- The number of voters registered as either Democrats or Republicans is 12 million – the same number as 1990, despite a 25% increase in population. Major party registration is at 43% today and the greatest growth in registration is among “decline to state.”
- Likely voters are “deeply divided about the role of government, satisfied with initiatives that limit government, relatively positive about the state’s elected leaders, and ambivalent and divided along party lines on ballot measures that would spend more on the poor.”
- Nonvoters “want a more active government, are less satisfied with initiatives that limit government, are less positive about elected officials, and favor ballot measures that would spend more on programs to help the poor.”
“Because so many Californians are nonvoters, their attitudes most often reflect overall public opinions on issues. Yet, those who do vote have very different views and their preferences prevail at the ballot box.”
Simply put – minority rules. If you just show up for work and pay taxes to support the team and don’t vote at all, or vote only occasionally and blindly, you’re taking a pass on your responsibility to hire and supervise your own managers. It’s —
- That middle-aged guy you can’t see behind the tinted glass of the limo that’s taking him to his upper-management position, and
- That gray-haired lady ahead of you in the post office line who, fearfully clutching her pocketbook, takes 10 minutes to choose between the Ronald Reagan and John Wayne stamps,
who are electing your leaders for you. These are the folks, the reliable voters, who political and media consultants – a distinction getting blurrier every day – target with their polls and messages. The Golden State formula’s pretty simple: feed and care for your partisan base just enough to keep them happy; target the “DTSs” who vote as reliably; get them absentee ballots early or to the polls, if they still do that; stay on message; and – Presto! A “majority” victory of 45-plus percent in a low turnout election. That six-week orgy of TV, radio, and mailbox negativity, driven to a salacious crescendo the last 10 days, we all claim to dislike so much? It’s aimed squarely at the high-propensity voters, especially those who lack even a partisan platform as a political belief system, who will decide the outcome.
So, onward we slouch, we hoi polloi, growing more ignorant about how we came into being and how we’re intended to govern ourselves. Graduate students occasionally goad us into mistaking our own Bill of Rights for seditious Trilateral or black-helicopter propaganda. (They can probably retire soon; the Institute’s surveyed college seniors don’t recognize those amendments, either, and in growing numbers.) We’re too busy or too distracted to pay attention, so we leave it to the habit-formed to choose the bus drivers who can’t seem to keep it out of the ditch. Guess what? The world turns, and The Leader of the Free, who can’t construct a reasonable sentence on the fly, pounds us into dull embarrassment with the same buzzwords day after day, dutifully and uncritically reported.
How do we turn this ship around, E. G.? A few suggestions to make yourself politically smarter:
- Read. Put down People, US, Vogue, and all that other crap dedicated to making you buy impossible shoes, wear idiotic clothes, and acquire an eating disorder. Pick up a real newspaper, for God’s sake – regularly. Seek out those with actual political, governmental, or leadership credentials. Slick Willy and Jimmy Carter – Hell, even ol’ George H.W. I – have a lot more to say that the current occupant. (I believe my younger son, the “jock,” was heavily influenced in his career direction by sharing a stage with Madeleine Albright and subsequently reading her autobiography.)
- Listen. Turn off the Talkin’ Toilet Twins in the morning and evening, at home and in the car, and turn on National Public Radio. It’s the only outlet whose highest priority isn’t getting you to buy or believe stuff and profit from it.
- Watch. Stamp out “infotainment.” Blow off the bobbling bubbleheads who bring you “local news” that ignores serious governmental coverage for murders and abductions; fires; celebrity tripe; and commercial TV ratings tie-ins, delivered according to formulae dictated by distant conglomerates. Turn on Jim Lehrer and C-SPAN. Check out local government on cable once in a while. Self-rule in real time – what a concept!
- Talk. Discuss the affairs of the day around the dinner table with your children. Every day, as long as they can stand it. (Bullshit; we did it. Have you ever actually examined your life to determine how much of that urgency is self-imposed and false?)
- Think. Make up your own mind; ignore polls and punditry. We are in the tyrannical grip of the “statistically valid sample” – not because published polls are not valid analytical tools or useful snapshots of public opinion on issues, but because the media substitute poll results for issue coverage and turn election campaigns into horse races. What’s intended to be a public yardstick or private campaign tool has become a convenient substitute for real public discourse. Two or more ill-informed “media personalities” projectile-vomiting opinions is not “balanced coverage,” nor is a toothy TV reporter holding a microphone under some mouth-breather saying, “Wull, Tifny, ah feel lak ahr Prezdint iz dewn a gud jawb,” political coverage. (Those times I can’t ignore it always reminds me of Jonathan Winter’s “Elwood P. Suggs,” the rube on the radio after an alleged UFO sighting.)
- Demand answers. James Fallows nailed it 10 years ago with his book, Breaking the News: How the Media Undermines American Democracy. Read it and start exploring ways to take your First Amendment back. Since when do “major” campaigns get to decide between themselves whether – and, if so, when and where – there will be real debates? Show up; be loud and persistent.
- Register and vote. The cretins who speak in sacred and solemn tones about our Founding Fathers as an excuse to preserve wealth and retard social progress are depending on you to continue to let their sheep make your decisions for you.
Time for us to put the heavy pads back on and ask for the ball. Feels like the fourth quarter already.