If there is one thing we can all agree on when it comes to
politics, it’s that our system is not working.
Voters are disgusted with apathy reaching epidemic proportions.
Less than 20 percent of voters age 18-24 voted in the 2000
elections, according to a study by Brown University. Less than 50
percent of the entire voting-age population went to the polls in
2000. The same year in Australia 93 percent of the voting
population turned out.
In California we saw a flash of hope. Enraged voters threw out
their governor, replacing him with a man whose only qualifications
seem to be that he speaks better English than George W. Bush. Sure
their new governor is a joke but Californians suddenly remembered
how much power the people still have in this country.
So how do we start turning this boat around before it sinks?
There are two options. The easiest and most effective way to make a
positive change would be to scrap the Constitution and immediately
install me as a dictator with unlimited power. I, and my offspring
after me, would ensure peace, prosperity and justice forever. The
second option is to start the long, hard and vital process of
rebuilding our democracy.
The first step in the process has to be eliminating the
meaningless words that choke out any possibility of real political
debate in this country. We as citizens must demand that politicians
and the mainstream media immediately stop using the following
words: Democrat, Republican, liberal and conservative. These words
mean absolutely nothing. Worse than nothing, these words suck the
meaning out of any sentence in which they are used because they
give the illusion of meaning.
Consider this sentence: “I’m a liberal Democrat.” It contains no
real information. Next time someone tells you this in a political
discussion I insist you immediately slap the offender. Talk about
issues or shut up.
Party labels are meaningless in our system. Conservative
Republicans are against big government, right? But as
“conservative” columnist George Will points out, the Bush
administration is looking to pass the biggest expansion of the
welfare state since the Great Society 40 years ago. Who passed the
biggest reduction in the welfare state in the history of this
country? The arch-conservative Bill Clinton. Bush’s nation-building
catastrophe in Iraq is as far from the usually isolationist
conservative philosophy as possible. I could list instances where
politicians voted against their party platform until all the ink in
the universe was depleted. But the joke’s on us. We keep
Gen. Wesley Clark was an admitted lifelong Republican who voted
for Nixon and Reagan. Last year he was giving gushing speeches
glorifying the Bush White House at party fundraisers, now he’s
suddenly a Democrat. Does this mean his personal philosophy has
changed? No. The only change was the adjective in front of his
name. And as the political scientist Larry Abraham says, “Those who
control the adjectives win.”
The journal Public Opinion Quarterly reported on a poll in which
people were asked to describe themselves as moderate, conservative
or liberal. Then they were asked questions on various policy
issues. Their answers had no resemblance to the positions usually
equated with their professed ideology. One question asked: Do you
think the government should make sure that everybody has a job even
if that means being the employer of last resort? A substantial
percentage of the people calling themselves conservative said yes.
But these people are absolutely not conservatives by any
This just shows how these empty words confuse us all. We know
how we feel about the issues. We just don’t know which party or
label represents our stance. What’s more we will agree with one
party on one issue and the other on a different issue. The real
world is not as simplistic as left and right.
These words and party affiliations are used as crutches in our
society. They allow politicians and the media to perpetuate the
myth that there is some huge divide. Liberal vs. conservative.
Republican vs. Democrat. “Warning!” they scream, if you don’t vote
for us the other side will win. But I think we’re all pretty
similar in this country. We want a safe place to raise a family and
a decent job. We want clean air and clean water and a functioning
infrastructure. And it’s time we started demanding politicians tell
us exactly how they are going to provide these things instead of
hiding behind phony party names. Talk about issues or shut up.
We citizens use these meaningless words because they allow us to
be politically lazy and disconnected. When these words are gone
we’ll have to start becoming educated on the issues. We’ll have to
start caring. We won’t be able to simply vote Republican or
Democrat as if that was some kind of decision. We’re going to have
to start learning as much about our political representatives as we
know about the contestants on “The Bachelor.” We’ll have to follow
what goes on in Washington the same way we follow the Broncos. That
is the sacrifice the founding fathers envisioned with the words
“government for the people, by the people.”
I don’t blame politicians or the media. I blame me. I blame you.
Voting for the next American Idol is not political participation.
The old saying goes that citizens of a democracy get the government
they deserve. We must strip away the meaningless words and party
affiliations they hide behind and demand real change on real
issues. The time when we could afford to ignore politics is gone
forever. This is step one in reclaiming our democracy. Stay tuned
for step two.
Todd is a journalism major who is endorsing Gary Coleman for
president in 2004.