I tend to view myself as a practical person. I try not to let emotion cloud my judgment and I usually try to see the “bigger picture.” I’m also a big fan of facts over ideological rhetoric. By that I mean, I care about facts over what I want to be real. Far too often I encounter people who care more about what they want to be real rather than what is real. It’s a phenomenon that’s found on both the left and the right.
Well, lately I’ve hit my limit with all this talk about “2016 is the year voters want an outsider, someone who’s not part of the establishment” and that people are “sick and tired of the government working for special interests, not the people.” After all, that’s a lot of the rhetoric driving both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Two politicians who couldn’t be more different but, ironically, are using some of the same “we must put an end to the status quo/to hell with the establishment” messages.
Is our government efficient? Not really. Does our government need a lot of changes? Yes. Do we need to get money out of politics? Abso-freakin-lutely.
Except the truth is, people have complained about government since the very first politician. I recently re-watched Ann Richards’ speech from the 1988 Democratic convention (if you’ve never watched it, it’s a must-see) and it’s amazing how, 28 years ago, she was saying many of the same complaints about jobs, the economy and the government that people are saying today. People act as if these are new complaints – they’re not. While the debate has changed some, you can go back decades and find essentially the same sort of rhetoric being uttered by both sides.
But with the rise of social media and the 24/7 cable news cycle, revenue-driven media is all the craze. Nowadays it’s about pushing negativity, fear and stories that get people worked up. Because those stories are what sell the best.
Though when it comes to our government, why are we really whining and complaining? We elected these people.
Oh, I know: Money in politics is buying our government!
Really? Did money make people vote for these politicians? Did money declare them the winner?
No – votes did. Votes from American citizens who went to various polling locations around the country and exercised their right to vote for the candidate they support. Nobody forced them to vote for a particular person… they did it of their own free will.
Even more importantly than the votes that were cast, are the votes that weren’t.
Aside from presidential years when voter turnout tends to be higher, the rate at which Americans vote is typically bad. In midterms it’s much lower than during presidential elections and for local elections it’s practically non-existent. Which is even more frustrating because local elections have just as, if not more, impact on our day-to-day lives than national ones.
It’s why I haven’t particularly bought into the Bernie Sanders “political revolution” rhetoric. Were people not angry in 2010? 2012? Heck, were they not angry 15 months ago when voter turnout was at its lowest level in decades? You know, when Republicans absolutely crushed Democrats practically everywhere.
Now I know what some will say to that: Voter turnout was low because people are disillusioned with government and feel nothing will change. Now they have a voice for that change!
By that “logic,” you’re telling me that the “solution” when you’re dissatisfied with government is to not vote in better politicians? Again, these people don’t magically get anointed to office. They’re elected by us. Every single election – every single one – we have it within our power to elect better politicians to make our government better… but we usually don’t.
Words cannot express how frustrated I get when people say President Obama hasn’t done enough. What did these people expect him to do when many of those voters who were so excited in 2008 let Republicans take back control of the House in 2010 because they apparently had better things to do? What did they expect him to do last year after we let Republicans take back the majority in the Senate to claim both houses of Congress? But we want to blame him for not getting enough accomplished because, as voters, many of us let him down?
Again, the government is only as good as the politicians we elect to run it.
Even now with the Bernie Sanders craze his main selling point has been “we’ll bring people to the polls to create a political revolution for change.” Well, that’s not what’s happening. Voter turnout for Iowa and New Hampshire was lower for Democrats than in 2008. In fact, Republicans turned out in higher numbers in both states.
But the truth is, we’ve already seen this before. In 2008, the big movement then was the youth vote and how Barack Obama was appealing to the anger among young people which was going to propel his presidency to accomplish a sweeping overhaul of everything we’ve known about government. You know, “hope and change.”
Well, once the excitement wore off, the realities of government set in and he didn’t wave his magic want to make all of their hopes and dreams come true… they turned on him. Sure, the logical thing would have been to turnout in 2010 in historic numbers to give him a Congress that would have passed everything he wanted to do. But as we all know, that’s not what happened.
American voters are almost like our own Greek tragedy. We sit here and talk about how awful our government is, how much we want to see change and all this really great rhetoric… but we never see it through. We are literally the cause of our own problems. The power to bring about the change we want is ours for the taking. Unfortunately, our political memories and attention spans seem to last all of about six months.
Hell, our congressional approval rating is abysmal – yet re-election rates are over ninety percent. And that’s not because of “money in politics” – it’s because we elected them. Well, more truthfully, because we didn’t show up to elect someone better.
So, while we continue to talk about how terrible our government is and complain, as we always do, about how we’re sick and tired of the “status quo,” just remember – we created the status quo.
If we want better politicians, it starts by voters picking better candidates during the primaries to run during the general election and making damn sure we show up in large numbers to see that they win.
And until we start doing that – during every single election – we really only have ourselves to blame for the government we elected either by our vote or because we chose not to vote.
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