Oct 202003
Authors: Todd Nelson

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

re-electing them.

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.




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