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.
The first step in the process of rebuilding democracy 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.
Consider this sentence: “I’m a liberal Democrat.” It contains no real information. Talk about issues or shut up.
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.”
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.
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 sports teams. 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. 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 Nelson, Rocky Mountain Collegian, Colorado State University.