Monday, September 09, 2002

The Problem with Politics Isn't the Politicians--It's the Voters

My column ran on Saturday, instead of Sunday; apparently, the "blackout" period for the primary election Tuesday started on Sunday, so editor Bob Schuster put me in a day earlier because of my rather backhanded endorsement of Jay Blanchard. I got two emails in response, one from a friend who supports Rod Rich (on substance! Geez, can't a guy urge people to vote for really superficial reasons like campaign slogans?) and another 1,300 word response from somebody who is really, really upset about politics but I can't tell, despite the length of the email, whether he/she is an unrepenitant Naderite, a right-wing true believer, or a unreconstructed libertarian.

Problem is, you can get all three types to agree that the status quo stinks, or that people in office are skunks. But it's much more difficult to get them to agree with your views and beliefs, and then to get them to decide to give you the power to put those ideas into place. And in the case of my emailer, thank goodness.

The Arizona primary election is Tuesday. I'll be appearing on Horizon on Phoenix channel 8, KAET-TV, our local PBS station, along with Grant Woods to comment on the results at 9:30 - 10:30 pm. I will NOT be appearing the next evening, which the Horizon website lists as a "A warp up and ananlysis of primary election results". Too bad--I could have brought the liberal Star Trek viewpoint to that evening's show, but I'm not very good on ananlysis.

Low turnouts for most elections are a societal disgrace

East Valley Tribune, September 7, 2002

I automatically vote against anybody running for office who says “I’m not a politician.” It made the Democratic primary for Superintendent of Public Instruction easy. Never mind Jay Blanchard’s platform, or his vacillating legislative style (although anybody who beat Jeff Groscost in that district should deserve a “Get Out of Primary Free” card good for the next election of his choice). As soon as Rod Rich put “Not A Politician” on his signs, I’m voting for the other guy.

The state’s chief educator should know semantics. (Isn’t it part of AIMS?) The dictionary defines “politician” as “a person experienced in the art or science of government; one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government.” If you seek or hold public office, you’re a politician.

How does a “not a politician” campaign for votes? If a “not a politician” wins, does he have to refuse to take office? So if you’re voting in the Democratic primary Tuesday, vote for Dr. Jay Blanchard -- by definition. Forget ideology; vote semiotics!

The only thing worse than politicians refusing to admit involvement in politics, and the reason for it, is because voters always say they hate politicians.

Every American loves the idea of democracy, but always has some reason not to like its practice. It’s the “Colin Powell effect”: To most voters, the perfect candidate, the one they most want to vote for, isn’t running. As soon as a person actually decides to seek office, then he or she becomes just another lousy politician.

You’ve heard (and probably made) the usual sneering remarks. The top two are “they never keep their promises” and “they’re all crooks.” But the real problem with politics, and the people to whom those slurs actually apply, isn’t the politicians -- it’s the voters.

You’ll never hear it from candidates; they have to mouth all the false pieties that you demand to hear. But the recent ethical record for politicians is far better than that of CEOs and CFOs. And when politicians do go bad, they somehow manage to violate our trust without wrecking our 401(k)s.

If you really want to know who breaks their promises in the political equation, it’s the voters. We really don’t ask very much of citizens. You’re supposed to register to vote, but vast numbers don’t bother, even though they now can do it online from home or office, and those without a computer just need a form and a stamp. Over the past few years, while Arizona’s population boomed, the number of registered voters actually dropped.

Worse, even though less than two-thirds of those eligible bother to register, most of you who are registered simply don’t vote. We’ve made voting incredibly easy; you can vote by mail for every election, request a ballot via mail or the Internet, or just go to a neighborhood location twice a year, but sometimes only once, and say “howdy!” to the retirees working the polls. But the vast majority of you aren’t keeping your promises as citizens.

In Tuesday’s primary election, which, with rare exceptions, will determine the ultimate winners, maybe some 20 percent of the registered voters will vote. Most experts predict 10 to 15 percent turnout. That means that when combined with the unregistered, some 85 to 90 percent of citizens aren’t doing their job.

The percentage of bad apples among politicians is way less than 85 or 90 percent. But that’s the number of citizens who “don’t keep their promises.”

What’s worse, in Arizona, convicted felons can’t vote, which means all you non-voters (not the politicians) are the ones behaving like crooks.

The numbers don’t lie. If politicians as a group behaved half as poorly as voters as a group, then we’d really have problems.

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