OPINION – Off-year elections are both a curse and a blessing to those few members of the electorate who are still paying attention.
On the one hand, they’re a nice break from shameless political ads and partisan hype that are the hallmark of general elections. On the other hand, voter turnout is often below 30 percent. This is a pretty good indicator of voter apathy and indifference.
One reason that many potential voters refuse to participate is because they have a sense that voting actually changes very little. While I believe they are fundamentally correct, there is a better reason to place less emphasis on voting as a means of effecting change.
While politicians and political parties speak only in the most reverent tones about voting being the high sacrament of our civic duty, the truth is that voting alone has never been enough to make a lasting difference.
If you’ve ever stood at a voting booth scanning the ballot for a familiar name or wondering what a particular ballot measure is supposed to accomplish, you should understand why voters often fail to use their franchise wisely.
Highly paid spin doctors and political analysts have long known how to manipulate the electorate through fear and emotionally-laden language to cast their votes in a predictable manner. Using focus group-tested catchphrases and other group manipulation techniques, candidates are coached to tell us precisely what we want to hear rather than the truth.
The flip side of this sad reality is that any candidate who does speak truthfully to the electorate is said to be “unelectable.” In this sense, the apathetic public gets exactly the kind of candidates they deserve.
Voting in an election is just one small part of what real citizenship requires. Outside of the occasional primary election or the first Tuesday in November, there’s a great deal of governing going on that requires our attention and sincere efforts.
This is where attending City Council and other civic meetings is a necessity. Beyond the public meetings, a great deal of good can be done by regularly communicating with elected and appointed officials alike. If your public officials don’t know you by your first name, you’re not talking to them enough.
They don’t have to agree with what you say. Some may even think you’re being a pain in the rear but they will have a clear sense of accountability to you and anyone else who actively participates in their own governance at any level. This matters more than we think.
When we are engaged in what’s going on around us, we must beware of falling into the trap of thinking that every problem requires a political solution.
As Paul Rosenberg wisely points out, anytime we allow something to become politicized, we bring violence into the mix. Without some type of physical force behind them, all laws and ordinances would simply be suggestions. Naturally, this is prone to abuse.
It can be seen in the efforts of promoters of same-sex marriage who, upon gaining legal status in certain states, are now using the threat of state violence against wedding photographers and cake makers who, do not wish to be involved in same sex nuptials.
Which is more thuggish, the peaceable person who, for religious reasons, would forgo business rather than act contrary to their personal principles, or the person who insists that the state point a gun at them and threaten violence unless they violate their standards?
That’s just one example of what happens when a political solution is imposed to solve a cultural question. This is why we must be capable of solving problems with more than mandates from the state.
Family, religion, academia, community, business, and media all play complementary problem-solving roles to the state in a healthy society. None of them rely upon voting alone or politicized force to institute needed solutions.
It has taken us generations to drift away from active citizenship at the personal level. Correcting this problem will likely take generations of serious effort at a level where the corruption of politicized solutions has not yet taken hold.
Voting alone will never be enough to solve our considerable challenges. Still, that shouldn’t hinder our efforts to become more active politically, economically, spiritually and philosophically. When we do this, we inspire our children, family members and friends to do the same.
In the same way that it’s difficult to fill a row of milk bottles with a fire hose, a more methodical, one on one approach is likely to produce far better results. The key is to begin right now, where we are, and to refuse to defer our personal responsibility to others.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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