November 28, 2000

Every Vote Counts

Florida 2000 As I sit down to write this, the Office of President of the United States of America seems to dangle from the fingertips of the unelected members of the Florida State Supreme Court. You, reading this presumably after their decision, know much more than I.

But what, really, do you know from your future vantage that we all couldn't have known all along just by looking back, back and all around us, with a bit of common sense? Whether the Florida Supreme Court proved our electoral puppet-masters of the last instance? Which dumb block of wood and paste they marched to stage front and which dragged off to the wings? Or whether their decision, trumpeted around the world one moment was challenged the next, proved not final; and other masters assumed the strings and continued the tawdry vote-counting melodrama into a fifth act? And what is that future knowledge worth, really?

The fact, the fundamental fact concealed from us by the media culture with which we are daily inundated and the insatiable appetite for what happens next and next and next that it deliberately, systematically cultivates, is that the only thing universal, human common sense cannot tell us is "The News."

But we hardly need "The News" to tell us -- and it won't -- that this, for example, was a presidential election about which almost no one visibly cared until the few final weeks, if even then; that the two major candidates, in a nation supposedly intent upon imposing term limits on mere "career politicians," were second and third generation hereditary politicians chosen by their respective parties and funders long before even primary votes were cast; that neither candidate offered a comprehensible legislative agenda with any chance of passing a divided House and Senate, and one actually ran on a set of slogans almost explicitly promising Americans that they could "Trust" him to do nothing for them; that the only major stakeholders in the outcome of the contest have, all along, been the oil, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries, which are just about the only industries that clearly stand to lose or gain a great deal at administrative law depending on which candidate is elected to enforce or not enforce, as the case may be, existing regulatory policies; that, in sum, recent Mexican presidential elections, not just the last one in which the PRI was finally defeated, have afforded a more genuine opportunity for the "sovereign will of the people" to express itself than any Republican vs. Democratic media spectacle conducted in America in decades.

"The News," moving ever forward, doesn't even bother to correct, with readily available numbers, the popular misimpression that overall voter turnout this time round was something historically remarkable. Instead, national news anchors have simply fallen silent on this point as various pundits and members of the public are allowed to perpetuate the lie, in the name of free speech, each to his or her own opinion, via talks shows and broadcast interviews. "The News" certainly won't tell us that, if this year's voter turnout was somewhat better than the abysmal turnout four years ago, most of the increase might reasonably be attributed to public response not to the candidates or their "issues" but to the last minute media drumbeat that voter turnout was "predicted" to be huge. Needless to say, there is no shortage of advertising and marketing campaign directors and executives with the expertise and experience to make the very reasonable attribution that the hype was so great that the marginal increase in all probability ought to be chalked up as self-fulfilling prophecy.

There is, of course, no "cure" to this problem, no benevolent social-political doctor to whom an appeal might be made to mitigate, at least, our addiction to "The News" or to cut off the supply of trivial misinformation, political psuedo-drama, and spurious interest group conflict at its many "free" sources, let alone to restore the healthy, common sense perspicacity that was once reputed to be the pride of America and Americans, from wherever they came. Endlessly diagnosing the disease serves no purpose either: the patient is not listening and the disease -- those who benefit from the public stupor that is the end result of our addiction to gibberish that knows no past, no future, but only the possibilities of excitement in the ever-passing moment -- the disease doesn't care, absolutely thrives, has no conscience and no center. It is everywhere.

This is because the problem, at root, is neither political-corporate propaganda nor the relative few whose purposes it serves. Greed and the vain pursuit of short-sighted self-interest are human universals; they have and will always be with us. And in that light it is hardly surprising nor in need of much explanation that, given free reign, these impulses can indeed run riot and trample under foot every other human impulse, principle or value, across the length and breadth of a land. It is not mysterious that Greed and Vanity, or any other of the failings that were once properly numerated as The Seven Deadly Sins, are even capable of raising themselves up, putting themselves forward as the very ideals by which humans ought to live in relation to themselves and in relation to each other.

I am afraid that the problem, at root, is none other than the positive stupidity and intractable viciousness of a people that has suffered this be done to itself, to its diverse individual members and to its culture as a whole. In America, which, after all is said and done, must likely still be judged the freest, law-governed democracy the world has ever known, the place where the will of the people, especially in dissent, has the easiest opportunity to make itself known, what other explanation can there be?

We have the government we deserve.

Posted by Raoul

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