I’ve had a great many people contact me in the past few days
complaining that I’m not being very realistic when I admonish this
nation to “throw out the professional politicians” during the November
Having said that, I will admit — based on results over the past few
decades — the prospect of seriously changing the electorate through the
ballot box seems dim indeed. But there is another aspect to these
Could today’s ballot results be having a less-than-desirable effect
on the political process because most of us aren’t bothering to go to
the polls? I wonder if most people even realize that this kind of
pitiful voter turnout is exactly what our career politicians hope
for every year.
It’s true. Incumbents count on poor voter turnouts because
statistically speaking, incumbents benefit when voter turnout is low.
Historically, when more of us turn out to vote, we routinely change the
players in Washington. You may remember the most recent example of
this: The so-called Republican Revolution in 1994. It happened because
after only two years of Bill Clinton, Americans en masse were already
prepared to make drastic changes and showed up in record numbers at
polling stations all across the country. The result was a
GOP-controlled Congress for the first time in over 40 years that was
reelected, for the most part, in 1996 and 1998.
Were these examples just flukes? In reality we really don’t know
because the last few generations of Americans haven’t consistently shown
up at the polls in large numbers. Consequently, there has been no way to
gauge the very real power “ordinary” Americans possess in regard to
selecting those we want to represent us in government.
I personally know — as do you — many people who either never bother
to vote at all in any election, or vote very infrequently,
perhaps only when there is a “pet” issue to consider in a local ballot.
What a shame that is.
It’s a sad testament to the United States that these days, in
national elections, we consider it a good turnout if just 35
percent of eligible voters bother to utilize our God-given right and
privilege to choose whom we want to lead us. If only a fraction of us
who can ever bother to vote, how in the world can we then say that “we
the people” have selected the leaders we send to higher office? “We the
people” aren’t doing anything except letting a minority of us
choose an even smaller number of select people who are supposed to
represent all of us. It doesn’t make sense.
For years Americans have complained that the federal government
doesn’t legislate on behalf of the majority anymore. Maybe that’s
because only portions of eligible Americans are even willing to help
select those people we routinely criticize. If we value the kind of
representation we are supposed to get, then we ought to value the
process in which we select these people. If we want to reserve the
right to criticize (or suggest better ways of doing things) then we
ought to participate in the selection process. If we don’t, then in
essence we are not criticizing the lawmaker, per se; we are criticizing
the selection of that lawmaker by a minority of voting Americans. That
isn’t the same thing because the lawmaker knows he or she can still
count on the same few people voting for them the next time around if
this trend doesn’t reverse itself.
I know there are many obstacles to making responsible choices for
leaders to lead us. I realize the dominance of the two-party system,
the bias of the mainstream media and their selective reporting, the
occasional instances of voter fraud, America’s addiction to the
five-second sound bite, and so on. But we have to remember that we’re
citizens of this country, and this country belongs to us. With that
also comes the responsibility of doing whatever it takes to find out how
your representatives feel on the issues that are important to you.
That isn’t easy. But it is doable. We just have to commit
ourselves to a few things, like our forefathers did.
For one thing — and this is especially true of any incumbent –
don’t be satisfied with sound bite explanations for complex problems and
issues. If your representative says, for instance, “We need more gun
control,” you need to find out why that lawmaker or candidate feels that
way. While you’ll probably never get to talk to the candidate yourself,
sometimes just calling his or her campaign headquarters (where the call
takers have been given “position statements” to read from) will be
sufficient. Dig; don’t just settle for some stock answer. Find
out the details of their positions and what led them to formulate
Secondly, turn the heat up on your current representatives and
senators. Call their offices, write them letters, and be
vocal — you have that right. After all, regardless of what they
think, they are ultimately there for you and your community.
Realize that they have many people in the same district (and hence, many
viewpoints) to represent. But you have every right to make your point
of view known and you should do so often. It matters, contrary to what
you may think.
Third, learn as much as you can about all of the different issues and
problems your representative or candidate is likely to face. You
have an obligation to stay informed, and with the plethora of news and
information services out there these days, there is virtually no excuse
for not taking the time to find out all you can about all you can.
Think of yourself as a boss who has the responsibility of knowing all
there is to know about the company you’re running. We, the people, are
the bosses; the representatives and senators are the employees. If we
expect them to know what we want and how we want things done, we
have to tell them instead of having them tell us what to do all
Fourth, make sure you show up and vote. That vote is so much
more powerful when lots and lots of people cast it; it is less powerful
and, therefore, less influential, when only a few of us vote.
Last, it’s probably a good idea for you to get into the mindset that
this strategy will take some time. Our country did not slip into the
current moral abyss after one or two elections; it has taken years for
this slip to take place. It’s likely to take years to reverse it. But
always keep in mind — for every election we participate in, the
slippery slope into chaos is slowed. Eventually, this process will stop
that slide completely, then reverse it altogether. History is replete
with examples of societies that have completely changed their culture –
and those changes were not always for the worse.
I really believe through a combination of spirituality and diligence,
Americans can and will change the face of our society if we resolve to
stay in the game, make the commitment to stay informed, and refuse to
let career politicians who espouse ideals anathema to our beliefs and
our Constitution get away with it. We have to remember that people like
Bill Clinton may only be anomalies instead of “the kind of person we
deserve” to lead us. We have to stop believing the lie that there is
nothing we can do for ourselves, and we have to stop letting our
citizenship in the greatest country on earth be taken for granted. We
owe ourselves, our Founders, and our children more than that.
The fact is no society in any nation on earth deserves
somebody like Bill Clinton. As far as we’ve come since 1776, that is
especially true for Americans.
So let’s get busy throwing the bums out in November 2000 and stop
taking “no” for an answer.