It’s very easy to get frustrated with American politics. The constant bickering, finger-pointing and mudslinging between Democrats and Republicans drive many to voter apathy. They stop paying attention and focus on their own lives. 93 million eligible voters didn’t bother to vote in the last presidential election, which adds up to 42.5 percent of them. In 2010, it was even worse: 58.3 percent of the electorate couldn’t be bothered to show up at the polls.
But is this voter apathy really a problem? Yes, because voter apathy is the greatest nemesis of a free society. Acknowledging the inherent problems of a democratic system, Winston Churchill once remarked that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried.” Democracy isn’t perfect, and it has its limitations. Its greatest strength and its greatest weakness is that it gives the people what they ask for, whether it is what is best for them or not.
Cartoon by John Cole
In computer circles, there’s a saying that goes like this: “garbage in, garbage out.” It refers to the fact that no matter how good a computer program is, if the data it is given is faulty, then it will give incorrect results. The same thing applies to democratic politics. The key for democracy to succeed as an effective form of government is an informed and engaged electorate that is truly representative of our society as a whole. When large numbers of people stay home on election day because they don’t care, or they go and vote without thinking for themselves, they amplify the power and voices of loud special interest groups who do care enough to show up and speak out. This puts garbage in at the ballot box, and we shouldn’t be surprised when all that comes out is garbage as well. Voter apathy gives us garbage in-garbage out governance.
Some still say, “it doesn’t really affect my life, anyway, so why should I bother?” They are wrong. Politics, whether you like it or not, can have a huge impact on your daily life. Here are a few examples:
The Price of Milk
Thanks to our disastrous and protectionist agricultural policies, the price of milk is projected to shoot up to seven or even eight dollars a gallon in just a few weeks unless Congress passes an extension to the 2008 Farm bill. Think about that next time you pour milk into your cereal.
Our civil liberties are under assault every day in Washington. The National Defense Authorization Act gives federal authorities the right to detain anyone, including American citizens arrested on American soil, for as long as they want, without trial or any other judicial remedy, if they are suspected to be involved in terrorism. “But I’m not a terrorist, so why should I be worried?” you say. Because they don’t have to actually prove anything, all they have to do is say the T-word and they get a blank check to hold anyone, forever, in violation of our most basic constitutional protections, which declare that we cannot be deprived of life or liberty except by due process of law. It could be you or one of your loved ones that ends up in that cell.
Taxes, Seen and Unseen
Taxes are an essential part of any government, but they are often crafted to make themselves invisible to the common man. If you’re an employee, you pay only half of your payroll taxes directly, and you may think that reflects the real costs involved, but it doesn’t. Your employer has to pay half of that too, as well as a host of other local and national taxes on business. Every additional tax we levy on businesses and corporations ultimately reduces the money they have to pay their employees and raises the costs of the goods and services they provide. Even taxes aimed at those rich corporate guys could cost you a raise or make the things you need more expensive.
Take that dollar out of your pocket. Why does it have any value? Because the government says it does. Despite our criticism of China as “a currency manipulator,” our government manipulates the value of the dollar with nearly everything that they do. If they make bad decisions here, prices on nearly everything can go up, hurting your family’s bottom line.
Decisions made in government affect your ability to find and keep a job. When governments are irresponsible, they drive up unemployment and precipitate layoffs that could cost you your job. A quick look at the 26% unemployment rate in Greece should give us all an idea of how important it is to elect responsible leaders.
Ultimately, we as Americans are responsible for our government. We have the power to change things ourselves, something our forefathers thought was worth fighting for. So stop blaming everyone else for our country’s problems. Remember that even if you hate both parties, improving voter turnout could make third parties viable even in America; the 58 percent of the electorate that didn’t show up at the 2010 midterm election could easily form a majority and elect a third party candidate. Get off the couch, study the issues, get out and vote and fight voter apathy in your own life. Only then can we turn our back on the garbage-in garbage-out democracy that plagues us today. As Lotte Scharfman, a refugee from Nazi Germany once said, “democracy is not a spectator sport!”