Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"The Voting Question"

I was watching a documentary on the making of the epic movie, Gone With The Wind. The focus was on the venerable blockbuster’s legendary producer, David O. Selznick, a man driven to take action, even when the evidence suggested it was hopeless.

The documentary relates this story, which crystallizes the essence of Selznick’s character.

Selznick is playing at a roulette table. Somebody comes up to him and says,

“Look out, David. This game is rigged.”

Selznick, continuing to play, replies,

“I know. But it’s the only game in town.”

This brings me, naturally, to the question of voting.

Knowing the game is, though not rigged, troublingly problematic in the “It really matters who we elect” department,

Why exactly should I vote?

Civic minded people disparage people who don’t vote. “If you don’t vote, you get the government you deserve,” they decry.

This leads me to wonder, if you do vote, what do you get then? The government you don’t deserve? I don’t know what that means.

Let’s restrict the issue to voting in national elections, where the electees will consider our country’s most serious problems. They may not do anything about them, but they’ll consider them. Which, you have to admit, is a step up from paying no attention to them at all.

I’m reminded of the old vaudeville act, where, Louie, a sad-eyed mutt, sits, motionless, on the stage, oblivious to his trainer’s commands, while all the time the trainer retains a buoyant sense of hope, announcing,

“He sees me.”

Congress sees the problems.

So there’s hope.

But is there any movement?

More than Louie, but not that much.

My assumption is that the purpose of government is to consider with our nation’s problems and find ways to make things better. That’s right, isn’t it? Let’s say it is. Because if it isn’t, I don’t know what they’re doing there.

We want government to enact legislation that will improve the lot of the American people, or something of that nature. The question then is:

How are they doing with that?

Let’s take a look.

From its inception, the American model of government was structured in such a way that, with the best intentions of all its participants, the most predictable outcome remains


With the worst intentions of its participants?

Worse gridlock.

Putting aside the desire to help find solutions to our country’s most intractable concerns, the opposition party, some of whose support is generally required to pass legislation in the Senate, has no incentive to do anything that will allow the party in power to succeed. You can’t win on the slogan:

“We Helped Them Do What We Were Vehemently Against!”

Okay. So you got gridlock, both systemic and manufactured. Not a hopeful prospect for “Change We Can Believe In”, or any other kind of change. “Status Quo We Can Believe In”? No problem. But you don’t need to vote for that. It’s already there.

We move on to the method in which the voting districts are drawn. Which is to guarantee the parties the closest thing to an electoral slam-dunk. And it works. Generally, over ninety per cent of the current members get a return trip back to Congress.

Maybe this time, with the mood of national dissatisfaction, the percentage will be lower, but I suspect not much lower. And even if some of the faces change, that doesn’t say anything about the parties. Sitting Republicans or Tea Party Republicans – the electee is still a Republicans. Entirely because the districts are designed that way.

So tell me. What incentive is there to vote in a district where the outcome is more certain than any bet you can make on anything? That’s not an election; it’s a rubber stamp. Who wants to go outside for that? It’s November. It could be blustery.

And then, of course, there’s the money. Millions, tens of millions are now needed to bankroll a campaign. Election laws may illuminate where these massive contributions come from? But can we ever know what they buy?

Candidates claim the large donations do not buy influence. But common sense would suggest otherwise.

“Mr. President, I gave you a million dollars. Have you got a minute?”

“Can I get back to you? I’m on the other line with a poor person.”

You think that happens that much?

Let’s end this admittedly incomplete exploration of why we should vote with the question of cosmetics.

What do we really know about any of the candidates? A huge chunk of those Uncle Scrooge-sized war chests goes for professional consultants, whose job it is to make sure we see the candidate, not as they really are, but, exclusively, as that candidate has been – after polls and focus groups and countless, behind-closed-doors strategy sessions determined they should be –


Obama believes in bi-partisanship. Does he really? Or is his position merely a calculated campaign tactic to befuddle the opposition:

“If they go along with me, I win. And if they choose to be ‘The Party Of No’, I was the Reasonable Guy even though they stymied me, so I win.”

This is a genius strategy. At least once.

The president might be entirely sincere. But how could I possibly know that? I thought Hillary ducked sniper fire on the tarmac. And had no idea John Edwards fathered an illegitimate child.

A fabricated candidate, backed by millions in contributions from people who will want something in return, elected, easily in a gerrymandered district, to an institution that makes it nigh on impossible to get anything that matters effectively accomplished.

Tell me again. Why should I vote?

My strongest reason is, as David O. Selznick attested,

“It’s the only game in town.”

With Election Day approaching, I’m beginning to wonder if that’s really enough.


Unknown said...

I’ve been watching from afar (well, not that afar, from Toronto…okay, from across the border)… for several US elections … probably since Clinton’s first stumble into power, and a couple of things have bemused/driven me crazy about how the Greatest Democracy In The World deals with elections.
The first is the Money, and the second is Election Day itself.
The reason given for the huge amount of dollars required to run for, well, any office now, is the huge cost of purchasing television media. As someone who has, from time to time, purchased media, I have generally been given a substantial discount because I have purchased media time on a regular basis. Surely television costs can be reduced substantially to political parties who can be regularly expected to line up for media time .
Do not the American people own the airwaves? Have they not licensed various media stations/conglomerates the use of those airwaves? Could they – the American People – not just demand, as a condition of license, really cheap rates for electioneering ads?
Just wondering.
Election Day.
Or, generally, a week before Election Day, when it becomes clear that, shock of all shocks, the machines are malfunctioning!
I have no solution to this other than the usual bleats for planning ahead and elimination of graft, but I do wonder if there has ever been an election when the results have not been thrown into doubt because of defective methods of vote casting.

Gary said...

“The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Rebecca said...

Of all the campaign promises he made, the only one he chose to keep was an attempt at bipartisanship - the one about which voters cared the least. And now, 5 weeks before the elections, the White House is telling all the people who worked so hard to get Obama elected - Labor, gays, women, immigration activists, etc. - to stop whining, that we should be grateful for those incremental little achievements they're trying to pass off as CHANGE!

If he had fought for our interests instead of pandering to conservatives for two years, we wouldn't be whining. We also wouldn't be stuck in a lousy economy because he gave away half the stimulus package before even attempting negotiations. And we would have much better health care and financial reform, not to mention more loyal men and women in our military - because he can stop having gays thrown out of service simply by signing an executive order at any second he so chooses.

What makes it so hard to take is that, not only did we put him in office with an unheard of 70% approval rating and majorities in both houses, but most of these issues had the support of public opinion. With that kind of political capital, any random Democrat off the street could have done a better job than he has.

Thank goodness the Republican Party has been shooting itself in the foot all this time with the Tea Partiers, because as bad as it will be during mid-term elections, it could have been so much worse.

Hopefully, something or someone will come along in the next couple of years to get our side energized again. Then maybe we can at least elect a Congress that will do some good in spite of a weak leader. Otherwise, we're probably doomed. Because this country is still far from healthy, and no one in charge right now looks like they're willing to do much about it.