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Election 2012

Jonathan Moore: There have long been concerns about voter apathy, low levels of voting, and about how poorly informed voters are. But it’s gotten worse. (AP File Photo)

Now it’s up to the people. The time has come for the electorate to speak, for the American polity to play its fundamental role in democratic self-government, which is to vote in a national election. Our cacophony of political forces and actors must pause for the voters to take over, to dictate to the rest of our political system. Ah, the purity, the relief, of it!

The Constitution begins with “We, the people. . .” We are, or aspire to be, a Lincolnian society “of, by and for the people.” The basis of our legitimacy as a nation is the popular will.

Yet the founding fathers were very skeptical about such an ideal in actual practice, entertaining serious doubts about the assignment of such an important responsibility to the masses. And there is plenty of experience since to perpetuate the question of whether the electorate is capable of fulfilling this crucial authority.

We are a separate, contentious, polarized nation today, at odds with itself. There is no E Pluribus Unum.

Particularly now. There have long been concerns about voter apathy, low levels of voting, and about how poorly informed voters are. But it’s gotten worse. The multiple obstacles and disincentives now pressing upon voters in their role of anchoring our model of representative democracy constitute a serious threat. The total impact of all that goes on during an American presidential campaign has a better chance of victimizing than empowering the electorate. Has our reliance on ourselves as the ultimate self-governors become illusory or feckless? Not that there’s a better idea around, but are we up to it?

Here are the forces arrayed against informed voting capable of fulfilling our mandate:

– The dysfunction — not to say corruption — of our major political institutions make it less attractive for the electorate to do its job.

– The intense complexity of the most demanding policy issues is very difficult for average citizens to penetrate. We are intimidated, and spooked. How can we be expected to understand this density, to make rational judgments, when many of our expert leaders don’t?

– Globalization, driven headlong and unpredictably by technology and economics, contributes to general anxieties of people about disorder, danger, and uncertainty in the world and how their own lives will be affected.

– The negative, exploitative nature of our political life either alienates potential voters or invites them to ideological excess.

– Moneyarchy. Our society is increasingly behaving according to the devotions and dictates of money. Transactions in every sector are increasingly determined by who has more money, distorting and subjugating other pursuits which fulfill our lives, including democratic participation.

– A betrayal of the truth in our public discourse, driven to appalling excesses during election campaigns, undermines social morale and behavior. Not only is it a common practice among our highest-ranking political leaders to violate truth-telling by factual disregard, manipulation, deceit and outright lying, but there seems to be an acquiescence, at least no outrage, on the part of the general public to this phenomenon.

– A growing disparity gap in American life has been attracting more empirical evidence and more nervous attention throughout the current election cycle. Are we as a nation, in a time of economic distress, less empathetic, more selfish and less generous? Do we care as much about fairness? Enough to influence decisions in the voting booth?

Confronting this cornucopia of adversaries to what we might call competent voting, it seems pertinent to consider what influence our traditional national values have in this situation. What truly are our American values? Are they real or illusory? Which are shared, which divided? And which of them could be applied to reinforce American political institutions, including elections?

Certainly common commitment to spiritual as well as material values, to truthfulness and to fairness, for example, are profoundly important to America’s moral fabric. Any decline in them should be of concern to voters. Yet how directly to support such principles when addressing specific and limited ballot box choices can be perplexing. But the effort should be made.

Where such an effort might be most valuable is in seeking choices which would contribute to America achieving a common good, a shared goal. We are a separate, contentious, polarized nation today, at odds with itself. There is no E Pluribus Unum. We have too little we steadfastly agree about, no national ethos which sustains us as a whole. And this can be fatal. We need not abandon those values which divide us but to concentrate on strengthening those which can unite us — to try to transform anomie into comity. By choosing candidates and policies with promise to nurture our entire nation, we may help resuscitate the quality of our voting so that it justifies the assigned role of the people in our democratic aspiration.

Tags: Election 2012

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  • http://profiles.google.com/phyllis.craine Phyllis Craine

    This is a very big picture and self-indulgent article that
    doesn’t actually define an actionable problem to solve so here are three I
    think tactically can be solved: (1) independent voters should be able to vote
    in primaries (2) the voting process is unwieldy, time consuming, unstandardized
    and antiquated and (3) only two political parties with power at the national level
    guarantees polarization because it’s hard to build the middle when there are only
    two extreme choices. It’s a simple as that.

    • vito33

      I wonder how many registered Democrats / Republicans would “come out” as Independents if they could register as such and not lose the power of their vote in the primaries?

      I’m sure I’m not the only one.

      • http://profiles.google.com/phyllis.craine Phyllis Craine

        prescisely

  • massappeal

    It’s stunning to read a column about “(t)he multiple obstacles and disincentives now pressing upon voters in
    their role of anchoring our model of representative democracy” that “constitute
    a serious threat” and find in the long list of said “obstacles and disincentives” no mention of the flood of new “voter ID” laws aimed at disenfranchising millions of Americans.

    There have always been those who thought that only the “better classes” (defined by ownership of property, formal education, ancestry or some other equally arbitrary measure) should be able to vote. They’ve also generally been proven wrong as the franchise has been extended to women, to former slaves, to those who do not own property, to 18 year olds, to Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and immigrants from every corner of the globe.

    The public rituals of our elections (the conventions, the debates, the lawn signs, even the attack ads), culminating in the casting of ballots—one per voter regardless of his or her station in life—and the peaceful transfer of power to the next government are *in and of themselves* part of how we constitute (and reconstitute) ourselves as a people: E Pluribus Unum, even with (and in part because of) all of our differences.

  • lilee

    Bravo to Phyllis C. This is a self-indulgent article. Quite frankly surprised it made the vetting process. If only the world were as wise as the author. Also the other comment about having only two viable political parties does cause polarization. I do wish though the republicans were less insane. I feel like I have to vote for the guy who orders executions via his drones over the etch-a-sketch party but I wish I had a third choice. Instead we argue over whether billionaires avoiding taxes can save the rest of us from losing our houses.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=686519255 Daniel Healy

    You forgot one of the major reasons people have thrown up their hands, the election NEVER ends. I’m really surprised we haven’t heard a call for Hillary in 2016! My choice has been clear since the logjam about health care embarassed me so much I’m proud to say: SHEEN/LOHAN 2012!

  • Ben Hammer

    People who don’t have sufficient interest in the nation’s business to know the issues are doing no one (other than Democrats) any favor with an uninformed vote. The obligation of citizenship is not simply to vote; an uninformed vote is worse than no vote at all.

  • get an education

    No independent voters can NOT vote in the primaries for obvious reasons. What would prevent a group of people from voting for H.Cain just to throw the election to the other side. THAT’S why independents can NOT vote in primaries.

    Learn the Constitution; all parts including the Amendments and then consider yourself qualified to vote. Less than HALF of Americans are actually qualified to vote and I may be over stating the percentage.

    • http://profiles.google.com/phyllis.craine Phyllis Craine

      so why would this be a problem?
      “What would prevent a group of people from voting for H.Cain just to throw the election to the other side. THAT’S why independents can NOT vote in primaries.”

      You’re implying that independent voters have some sort of agenda when they are just people who don’t want a party affiliation. Also your rationale as to why party affiliation is required e.g. to prevent “throwing the election to the other side” doesn’t make any sense.

  • http://twitter.com/bodysurfinyon bodysurfinyon

    Use on moneyarchy instead of plutocracy may be self-indulgent, but the gist of the article is good. One can only start with the money. As long as we have the best government money can buy, no other reforms will take root.

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