Voter Apathy

James Taranto makes the following comment on a recent E.J. Dionne column, regarding the pretentions of the two national parties:

It has been widely noted that congressional Republicans have failed to live up to their billing as the party of small government, especially since George W. Bush became president. There are exceptions, to be sure, but the allure of spending other people’s money has proved so great that voters have not gotten the spending restraint they expected when they elected a Republican Congress in 1994. About all that Republicans can say in defense of this record is that Democrats have been worse.

Yet what is less widely noted is that the Democrats, in opposition, have presented themselves to a large extent as an antigovernment party. One of their main themes has been that the Bush administration is “incompetent”–that, at least for now, the government can’t do anything right. As we noted in September, former Enron adviser Paul Krugman blamed the allegedly poor response to Hurricane Katrina on Ronald Reagan’s “ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good.”

This attitude betrays a fundamental lack of faith in government. Its implication is that the institutions of government are too frail to withstand the pressures of American democratic politics. It is also a remarkably self-serving position. Liberal Democrats take credit for creating an enormous government, which, according to them, doesn’t work–but would work just fine if only the populace were smart enough to elect liberal Democrats.

In sum: Republicans favor small government but embrace big government when they have the power to control it. Democrats favor big government but insist that it can work only when they have the power to control it. Politicians in both parties, then, seem to see government as a means to the same end: their own political power. Little wonder that voters are suspicious of government.

That seems about right. I think many Americans were intrigued, in 1994, by the possibility that the Contract with America might just prove to be the tonic long needed in national government. Unfortunately, as with most revolutions, this one too reversed to Establishmentarian form once its enumerated objectives were met.

Given the choice between bad ideas and no ideas, is it any wonder voters and citizens are tuning out?

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

1 thought on “Voter Apathy”

  1. All my adult life, I’ve been listening to one lament after another about the poor turnout for elections, the apathy of the average voter, the uninformed boobs who can’t bother to vote, and on and on, year after year, election after election.

    Meanwhile, it never seems to occur to our political masters, (and let’s not pretend, that’s exactly what they are) that the low turnout might just be in reaction to mediocre candidates, “politically correct”, mealy mouthed, meaningless campaign speeches full of vague promises and even vaguer proposals, and a never ending game of charge and countercharge between the parties and their various campaign committees as to who violated the most arcane and unintelligible sections of the latest round of “election reforms”.

    Let’s speak plainly. The average citizen in the US has had his fill of one phony, promise-everything-and-actually-accomplish-nothing, party hack candidate after another coming around trying to pretend that they have any actual ambition toward improving the lot of the ordinary working man or woman, when in fact their only real goal is to make it into a political position they can parlay either into higher, more powerful positions, or a well paid job as an “influencer” (AKA lobbyist) of those in powerful positions.

    It is not lost on the voter that our current political scene seems to consist of politicians’ kids, brothers, wives, or buddies, all scrambling around trying to convince the money bags that they will be the one who delivers the goods, i.e., lots of subsidies, favorable legal exceptions, or other favors to pay off supporters and financiers.

    The political sector has become a cancerous, all-consuming black hole which delivers little or none of the security and rights protection which is the presumable purpose of government, but is very, very good and finding an infinite number of ratholes down which to throw an ever increasing number of tax dollars, regardless of whether or not the net effect of any of it is for good or ill.

    It would be best if, in a deliberate rebuke, several major elections were marked by the refusal of many voters to vote for any of the candidates put forward by the major parties. I doubt that it will ever happen, but it is a pleasant daydream, nonetheless.

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