When the recent governmental shutdown occurred, I can’t tell you how many times I heard people say something to the extent of, “Good riddance! I think we need to get these guys out of office and start all over.”
It’s a noble intention, but I can’t help but skeptically scoff a majority of the times I hear it.
Though it’s an oft-repeated phrase, there are a few categories of people who say it.
There are the ones who say it but continue to blindly vote in each election, knowing barely anything about their candidate of choice besides their hair color and many flaws pointed out by opposing candidates .
There are the ones who say it, yet have no intentions of voting, citing their disgruntled opinion of politics.
And finally, there are the ones that say it, and also have no intentions of voting, simply because they aren’t sure of what the candidates stand for.
It’s a paradox for me. It’s comical that people demand change, yet find so many excuses as to how to avoid it. It’s like Congress is our mother-in-law. She’s in the house, and we’re really not big fans, but we just aren’t grown up enough to push her out the door.
To clarify, I love my soon to-be mother-in-law, I use the analogy only for clarification.
One major problem is that people don’t look at voting as the privilege that we once held it as. Voters tend to forget that the power of the country is ultimately in their hands.
Listen to the words of men who we could learn a thing or two from. Men who shaped the foundations of the greatest nation the modern world has ever known.
“Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual – or, at least, he ought not to do so – but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society, for which he is accountable to God and his country,” Samuel Adams said.
“When a citizen gives his suffrage [vote] to a man of known immorality he abuses his trust,” Noah Webster said. “He sacrifices not only his own interest, but that of his neighbors, and he betrays the interest of his country.”
“Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights,” Thomas Jefferson said .
Look at those words. You can feel the passion can’t you? When you look at Jefferson’s quote, his confidence that voters will hold their leaders accountable is palpable.
But, statistics clearly show one thing: we’ve failed them.
Studies by the Washington Post have shown that voter turnout in Virginia has decreased in presidential, gubernatorial, midterm and off-year elections since 1976. Further studies have shown that trend continues in almost every other state.
In 2011, a professor from George Mason showed that nearly 40 percent of eligible voters in Virginia don’t vote in general elections.
When the debate was held at the Louisa Arts Center on Tuesday, Oct. 29, which featured candidates running for the school board, county supervisor and governor of Virginia, many of the auditorium’s 200 seats were empty.
By the way, don’t complain that it wasn’t advertised. This very publication ran a 400-word story about it on the top of the front page two weeks ago, as well as running a half-page advertisement and promoting it on social media.
So, chances are high that if you’re reading this column, you saw at least one of those posts the other day.
It’s a pandemic called voter ignorance. It means that, likely, people didn’t show up because they didn’t care – in which case your complaints about the government should cease – or because they already had their mind made up.
And oh, what a mind voters have. Another study by Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, detailed this in his book, Democracy and Political Ignorance. He found that 58 percent of Americans can’t name the three branches of government. Almost 70 percent can’t name their state’s senators, and 72 percent can’t name more than one or two rights guaranteed in the First Amendment.
I bet most of those people can complain at lengths, though.
I know I’m preaching a sermon that has been reworded and rehashed so many different times that it now resembles a plea.
Our forefathers gave us the ability to freely criticize our government, but they also gave us a way to correct it.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5. If we can find some time to rip ourselves away from the latest televised sporting event, reality shows and Facebook statuses, we might be able to make a positive improvement to this country, which to me is the very definition of a modern day patriot.
There’s no denying that we are unhappy with government, various polls show Congress’s approval rating sits at 10 percent. But all of those members of Congress didn’t just show up for work one day, they won small-town elections or were voted to low-profile seats on county boards. Change, true change, starts from the ground up. So far, I’ve seen more heads in the ground.
Those seats at the debate weren’t the only things that were empty. It seems the words and actions of our citizens might be too.
Editors Note: This op-ed originally appeared in the October, 31st 2013 edition of the Central Virginian, just before Election Day, and has been re-posted in it's entirety to provide additional context to current articles in Blue Louisa.