Politics as Unusual

I voted last week.  My schedule takes me away from home on election day, so I went down to the town office and cast an absentee ballot right on the spot.  I know it’s hard to imagine, but the political ads become even more annoying once a person’s vote has been cast.

The election of 2008 was very interesting in many ways.  A person of color and a woman battled it out for one nomination, while an elder statesman picked a mostly unknown woman as his running mate in the other party.

And yet, somehow this off-year election is even more interesting in some ways.  The past two years saw one party in complete control of the executive and legislative branch in Washington.  It has happened before in recent years, with Bill Clinton’s first two years and George W. Bush’s first two years.  The difference between the recent two year period and those others is that rather than arguing amongst themselves, the party in power this time took advantage of their power and made many changes in laws.  Even more changes have been made administratively, without the input of the legislators.

This election is an opportunity for people who are pleased with those changes to show their approval, while those unhappy with the changes can let their views be known.  That’s always the case with elections, but the level of support and opposition seems greater for this election than it’s been for years.

Some candidates are denigrating their own party’s leaders in their campaigns.  Others, from both parties, are telling us that they’ve learned their lesson, and will behave differently in the future. 

Negative attack ads by the candidates themselves and groups which support them are filled with insinuations and accusations.  Some are true, some have a grain of truth – but don’t really fairly tell the story – and some are just lies.  Negative ads aren’t new, of course, but are getting more sophisticated.

I heard a political expert say that negative ads aren’t designed to get you to vote for anyone, but rather to encourage you to stay home.  They’d like you to think that all politicians are crooks and liars.  They have so little confidence in their candidates that they want to win by suppressing voter turnout.  So, no matter who you vote for, it will be a vote against negative ads.

When I hear people say that they aren’t going to vote because all politicians are the same, and that it won’t make any difference, I say that they’re being intellectually lazy.  I’ve never known a political leader who did everything I wanted her or him to do, but we have lots of evidence that the people and party in power do make a huge difference.

A week from now the talking heads on TV will all be hoarse from taking excitedly about how the pre-election predictions were right, or weren’t, and what it all means.  I hope you’re not sitting in your recliner at that time thinking, “Gee: maybe I should have voted after all.”

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