Politics 101: Stop It

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a very political post, but it’s not about any particular candidate or party.  It’s about the political apathy that has seeped into American culture and how it can destroy things.  This post is written from a place of passion for me, and might step on some toes or just straight-up make you mad.  I try to keep posts like this to myself, but I felt this one needed to be shared.  Read at your own risk.

I’ve been labeled as a nerd for most of my life. I guess a variety of things have contributed to that: I love to read, I can watch Star Wars on mute and recite every line, and my childhood was centered around becoming a meteorologist. I’m not bitter about it at all. In fact, I know that I enjoy things that not a lot of people do, which usually is the basis of being labeled a “nerd.” It’s fine.

I also love politics. Not just political TV shows like The West Wing (which you need to watch on Netflix immediately because it’s that good); I love everything about politics. The drama, speeches, debate, strategy, history, vision-casting, and a plethora of other things all contribute to this love. In the past, I have been labeled as a super-nerd because of my love for this. But I’ve noticed a subtle shift in the past few years. Instead of people just writing me off as a super-nerd, I’ve been receiving some anger. As in, “How can you like this trash?” or “What is so great about this ______.” It’s odd.

There’s a lot of feeling behind politics. Most of it is negative. I guess I can understand why. My parents’ generation probably hates politics because they lived in the aftermath of Watergate. My generation (at least the mid 20- and mid 30-somethings) probably hates politics because they saw a superstar President fall out of grace with the nation after an affair in the 1990s. There’s been some dark stains on the political stage.

But isn’t that life? I like to think that I’m mostly good. But guess what? I have some dark stains. You? You’re probably alright. But you have some dark stains, too. Our places of employment, our homes, and our families all have dark stains.  It’s just the way life goes.

But it’s different with political people. Our view of the political process is tainted with this negative view that absolutely no politician will ever be able to climb out of. This leads people to say things like:

“Both candidates are terrible. I’m voting for the lesser of two evils.”

“They’re nothing but a bunch of liars.”

“Voting is irrelevant. It will make no difference.”

Sound familiar?

Our political jadedness is slowly ruining the political process in America. We’ve left voting up to a small percentage of the state and nation. For example, if 10% of people in Kentucky vote in this month’s primary election (which is realistic), that means 440,000 people of the 4.4 million in the state are making the decision of the future of the Commonwealth.

Just take a look at the Kentucky primary election in 2011, the last Governor election year. 2,917,836 people were registered to vote. Out of those registered, only 304,923 people voted. That’s 10.4%. Those 304,923 people dictated which candidate would run for office for high-power positions, like Governor.

Fast forward to November 2011, and the general election fared a little better (but not really). 2,944,602 people were registered to vote, but only 842,528 showed up at the polls. That’s 28.6%. These 842,528 people determined the course of Kentucky for at least the next four years. Are we OK with that?

How about the issues? Some think that issues won’t really change, as politicians are “just a bunch of liars.” But this is blatantly ignoring factual evidence. In 2008, when President Obama was first elected, we had an embargo against Cuba, swarms of boots on the ground in Afghanistan, and health care was the same as it had always been. Regardless of what you think about these changes, you must admit that things changed. In the case of healthcare, things changed dramatically.

Let’s look at just Kentucky. Governor Beshear, when elected in 2007, had a struggling education system. So he pushed forward an overhaul, known as 2009 Senate Bill 1. SB1-09 created standards for Kentucky students to work towards that might just make them more marketable to employers post-high school, and help college acceptance rates. Regardless of what you or I think of these issues, we have to admit that things changed. So to say that things won’t change under a political leader is to ignore evidence and history.

Some people hate the mud-slinging and smear campaigns that candidates run against each other. I understand. It can drive me crazy, too. But as much as everyone complains about it, there’s a reason that they keep running those ads: it works. Again, the evidence supports it, so we can say that we hate it, but we watch (and share) every mud-slinging ad that comes out.

Finally, there’s the lying. When people tell me that a candidate lied, I always want to ask them when. Usually, they can’t name a time, but it’s the cool thing to say, so we say it. Obviously, “promises” made on the campaign trail are going to be broken. But let’s be honest; these aren’t really promises. When a candidate says that they will work hard to do something, or persuade Congress to pass something, it’s a hopeful statement.  A hopeful statement and a promise are not the same thing. We make candidates out to be evil, as if they are making promises just to break them because it’s fun. This line of thinking has to stop. If they do actually break a promise, we can do something about it: elect someone else.

I think it’s become the “cool thing” to hate politics and act uninterested. This is really unfortunate. History proves that the political process in America was an experiment to see if people could actually democratically elect leaders in a republic. It worked. Until now. All for the sake of the “in” thing.

Yes, I’m railing against this mindset. It upsets me when people use these ignorant excuses as to why they don’t participate in the political process, especially since it requires so little of you. Watch a debate, or visit a couple of candidate’s websites. See which one you can support. If you can’t support one, find someone you can support and throw your support behind them! Then, take 10 minutes and drive to your polling place and push a few buttons. I hope that our national laziness hasn’t gotten to the point that we’d let a few voters dictate the future for the rest of us.

Just imagine the future if a majority of Americans voted! Instead of just accepting the two-party system, we might be able to elect a third party president if he or she reflected the mindset of America. Or we might cause candidates to move to the center, where a majority of Americans are. We might not elect a radical republican or democrat, or we might! It’s our choice!

I’m actively involved in the political process. I volunteer for campaigns and research way more than the average American. That’s fine, and I will label myself a nerd for that. I’m not asking anyone to do any of that, unless you really want to. I’m asking you to do exactly what the framers of our Constitution asked you to do: something. For the future of our state and nation for the next four (or more) years, reject the political apathy that’s “in” and go vote.