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Monday, May 23, 2011

Voter Manipulation

After every voting day, our thoughts turn to the ageless question of what motivates voters.
Sometimes voters get it right—whatever that is—and sometimes they make startling mistakes. Voters, as studies have shown, will even vote time and time again against their own interests. Don’t believe it? Ask yourself who was the last president who actually did something important for you. (When I say “you,” I’m assuming you’re not rich and powerful.) If Congress is so good, why is that this country continues to decline by almost any objective measure you wish to choose?
But it’s better at the local level, right? These people live amongst us, share our problems, and know right from wrong? Right?
When was the last time your school taxes went down? Can’t remember? I thought so. Forget about it. School board after school board, despite campaign promises to the contrary, has voted to raise our taxes. “It’s for the kids.”  They say so even though they are elected by and for adults.
The disheartening truth is that politicians at every level these days tend to be demagogues. Over and over we elect people for whom “truth” is what they want it to be. More importantly, it’s what they want us to believe it is. They make up their own truths while burying the real thing under so much rubbish people give up looking for it. After all, people have jobs to work, shopping to do, bills to pay, families to care for, and entertainment galore grabbing at their attentions.
Look around you. Look at your borough council, township board, county government and state representatives. They tell you one thing, do another, and all the while nothing important changes except that which is important to the politicians.
It’s really not hard to understand what happens in places where dictators take over. To be sure, the worlds of amoral strong men and adept propagandizing con men are unique. We can feel reasonably assured that those times and circumstances will never happen here. But don’t get too smug. Read “What’s the matter with Kansas?” by Thomas Frank. The voters in places like Kansas listened to the promises made by the people they in turn elected repeatedly but never seemed to notice that the promises were never delivered upon.
It’s sometimes called the Big Lie. Tell people the same thing over and over, shield them from the truth, and they’ll follow you like sheep. Only today, in small-town America, there is nothing to shield. The truth is what the demagogues tell you it is because there is no recognized entity telling you otherwise. The media is too busy making money, or in the case of newspapers simply trying not to go over the cliff of bankruptcy by refraining from angering anyone with power and money. They have neither the interest nor in many cases the ability to bother to uncover and report how you are being lied to continually by local politicians. They even help convince you that white is black, the good is bad and the bad good, and the candidates urged upon you are not what they are advertised to be (and sometimes much worse).
The situation is grim and getting more so. Sure, at the local level our taxes don’t go up so much right now (school districts are a special and separate issue). If the potholes are fixed and the snow removed, we assume all is well in city hall. But underneath it all, the system is rotting. The termites are running rampant and no exterminator is in sight.
The incompetence and petty corruption grows mostly unseen because the voters are unseeing.
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