Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Electoral Fairness

Well, the election is over, Republicans took over control of the House while Democrats barely held onto the Senate. It's no big surprise -- incumbents rarely do well in periods of economic distress, and America is still in some serious economic distress. But I had to laugh a little when the US issued a statement condemning Ukraine's elections as not meeting "standards for openness and fairness." Why? Certainly, there were voting irregularities, intimidation, and fraud in the actual election in Ukraine. No one here expects less. 

But, what is "fairness" in elections? Is it candidates running advertisements that are either blatantly untrue and inflammatory? Is it telling voters that a candidate didn't support a program (like the stimulus plan) when he did (like Charlie Crist did in the Florida gubernatorial race)? Is it Rick Scott, in the same race, claiming that the stimulus didn't create a single job, even though one of his OWN companies issued a press release praising the 1,300 jobs it created through a stimulus grant? Or claiming that Dem. Rep. Ed Perlmutter somehow voted for a law giving federal funding to pay for rapists' Viagra, even though the health care reform specifically refuses such funding? IF we lived in an informed society, then people would be smart enough to check out the facts. But facts are much more difficult to ferret out than the lies that get spewed during every election cycle. So who wins in this very American scenario? The people who create the most outrageous lies. And why? Because people are stupid enough to believe them. 

I'm not arguing that there shouldn't be freedom of expression. But the American media does such a poor job in general of confronting people with actual facts that today's political debate is completely shaped by the intentional distortions of various interest groups -- both liberal and conservative -- that takes some effort to dispel. And Americans these days -- maybe ever -- aren't much for effort. 

Which brings me back to the central question: Were the US midterm elections fair? In some ways, probably -- there seems little evidence of intentional intimidation or ballot fraud. But in a society unwilling or unable to think critically about the garbage spewed by politicians and their lobbies, it only takes the most crass and manipulative individuals to create the outcomes it wants. And the only good solution is knowledge, something Americans increasingly shun in favor of comfortable, reaffirming emotions. But there are places to find facts, like politifact: and even places like snopes:

Yes, I'm sad that Americans voted out of office a great senator like my own Russ Feingold to tea party activist and millionaire businessman Ron Johnson. It appalls me that a guy like Johnson does not have the self-reflection to understand how the social programs and tax structure that enabled his success (he was a child of the 70s, when college was still affordable to average people) are central to the success of people like him in the future. He becomes the 71st millionaire senator in the Senate. And he talks like he represents the "working people," 98% of whom are poorer than him and now, thanks to so many years of tax cutting and elimination of public support of things like education, will have an even harder time rising to success. 

It is a sad day for America, but one they could have avoided if they had taken their responsibility as citizens seriously and dug hard for the truth. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice post! It is a completely frustrating mess. I've got nothing beyond that statement. :-\