I May Not Vote This Year …

… for the first time ever.

There are two reasons.

One is the blaring and blasting of political cliches, buzzwords and soundbites instead of thoughtful discussion of viewpoints. I have listened to three 1-hour moderated political debates in the last couple of weeks (for state-wide seats and U.S. House), another hour of a U.S. House candidate talking about his views (again in a moderated forum), and have heard and read numerous other politicians’ comments on issues such as unemployment, health care, small business, immigration, budget deficits, taxes on the top 2%, taxes on the middle class, state taxes and fees, the role of the U.S. Constitution, the success and/or failure of the stimulus and TARP, the wars and national security, etc.

Instead of a clear-minded and thoughtful debate of issues, and respect for other viewpoints, I have heard and read kneejerk reactions based on party affiliation, enthusiastic and unquestioned bias, avid production and repetitive recitation of soundbites and buzz words, and what seems to be a complete inability to consider  or respect “the other side’s” point of view. This has been true for both the Democratic and the Republican candidates (and in one case, the Libertarian candidate).

I have not heard one new idea, or one admission that “the other side” is right or has a valid pov — even though the candidates are often directly asked, “On what issue can you agree with or work with the other side?” The response is uniformly an issue  that that candidate’s “side” already holds up as one of their own values or goals.

There seems to be a blanket refusal to see anything positive in “the other side’s” views or actions. I have heard a lot of name-calling and derisive, dismissive, derogatory framing of “the other side’s” ideas and values (“Obamacare” and anything with the prefix “Pelosi,” and “teabaggers” and “Bush bailout” are all popular) and the use of intentionally inflammatory words and phrases; the opponent painted as pathetically clueless and/or willfully reckless and dangerous; and heaping blame on “the other side” for all our problems and for blocking the potential improvements “our side” would have made.

The second reason is the simple weight of lies, over time, over many U.S. administrations. By lies, I mean outright political lying, misdirection, omissions, secretiveness rather than transparency, false justifications, and cover-ups. I realise we’re not voting on a president this year, but I feel pretty sure that truth is a casualty not just of war but of political power at all levels.

Presidential lying probably stretches back to the founding of the country but in this century, it certainly took place during times of war, in the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations.  I just watched the PBS program on the Ellsberg Papers, The Most Dangerous Man in America; those papers, brought to light by former-Vietnam War supporter and U.S. Marine Daniel Ellsberg, along with White House tapes, proved that those five administrations consistently lied to the American public about why we were in Vietnam, when we went into Vietnam, why we stayed in Vietnam, and pretty much everything about the war there. (See also the government-made film, Why Vietnam, narrated by Lyndon Johnson in an attempt to sell the Vietnam war in1965.)

I also recently watched the Nova program, Astrospies, about the astronauts that would have been the first into space operating cameras on spy satellites (had not their funding been axed); in this case, too, U.S. citizens and even others at NASA were not told the true mission of the astrospies — instead, they were told it was a kind of science lab in space.

Last week, the public radio show On the Media had a program about journalist Jack Anderson, who “outed countless political scandals beginning in the 1950s,” and whom the Nixon Administration planned to have permanently silenced — after they had used the CIA illegally to get dirt on Anderson, created fake photos to implicate him in wrongdoing, sent him forged documents hoping he would publish false stories, and “tried to smear Jack Anderson as a homosexual.”

Then there was FDR ‘s administration misrepresenting the Yalta Agreement (secretly giving the Soviets’ control over Eastern Europe) and before that its escalation of U.S. involvement in WWII after France fell while promising publicly that the U.S. wouldn’t enter the war, the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion under the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, Kennedy’s handling of the  Cuban Missile Crisis (another secret quid pro quo with the Soviets to end it), Nixon’s administration and Watergate (Ellsberg’s case is part of this),  the Iran-Contra scandal within the Reagan administration (where we secretly sold arms to Iran, which was officially under an embargo, to save U.S. hostages and to get money to support the notoriously human-rights-abusive Contras to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, in violation of U.S. law), the lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq by the GW Bush administration that got us into the Iraq War (former Joint Chiefs Chairman Shelton’s take on some of those lies), the U.S. involvement in Kosovo precipitated by the Clinton administration’s characterisation of the fight between Albanian and Serbs as genocide and ethnic cleansing — and so on. Last week we learned that the Obama Administration blocked scientist estimates on the BP oil spill to make it seem smaller, for their own purposes. Though this is obviously minor in scope compared with these other events, it’s another example of an expedient presidential deception.

Similarly, administrations time and again ally themselves with non-democratic, repressive and even terroristic groups and states for expedient and personally beneficial reasons while not informing the public that they’re doing so — and denying or justifying it for as long as they can when it’s found out — and while outwardly supporting democracy and freedom. The Eisenhower administration’s Guatemalan coup d’état in 1954 — effected by the CIA with massive propaganda preceding an invasion that was followed by bribery and the installation of  an inept and corrupt leader whose repressive policies led to great civil conflict, all to replace  democratically elected president Arnemz, deemed by the U.S. administration as too sympathetic to communist principles and whose policies were likely to be detrimental to the United Fruit Company (owned by the Dulles family) — comes to mind, as well as the CIA-backed Chilean coup d’état of 1973 under Nixon (hello, military dictator Pinoche), the CIA-backed overthrow of Iran’s first democratically elected government in 1985 (hello, 25 years of dictatorship under the U.S.-armed Shah), our aid to the mujahadeen and incipient terrorist groups in Afghanistan from 1979 through the 1980s under the Carter and Reagan administrations (because those groups were fighting our arch enemy) and our alliance with and major financial support of Pakistan now.

As Eric Alterman wrote in When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences (2004), when public officials “feel free to lie to the press — and, by extension, the nation — with impunity, then democracy becomes pseudo-democracy, as the illusion of accountability replaces the real thing.'”

And lately, the press isn’t inclined to bring much to light for the public. I prefer to watch football with the sound off so I don’t have to hear commentators glorify the team that’s ahead and disparage the one that’s behind, only to reverse themselves moments later when the heretofore losing team pulls ahead, always speaking of the leading team in glowing terms and offering statistics to support that view, and speaking of the flagging team as basically losers, with numbers to support that view as well. Apparently, the news press corps is not much different: Dana Milbank, syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, said on the Diane Rehm show today that “reporters are poll-driven: … When a president is soaring in the 70s and 80s [in polls], well, he can do no wrong, and we’re not nearly critical enough of the president,  and then there’s this pile-on effect when things get really bad for the president. I think we are following rather than leading public opinion.”

9 thoughts on “I May Not Vote This Year …

  1. Why do these problems with politics lead you not to vote? Do you think it doesn’t matter who’s in office because they’re all the same? I think there is still a big difference between the policies of the two parties.

  2. I see some difference in policies but little difference in actions. The elections, and the candidates when in office, seem almost entirely mimetic to me, mirroring and copying each other’s behaviour even as they feel they are completely different from the other.

  3. M:

    I’ve been struggling with how to respond because I agree with your pessimistic and frustrated assessment of what is going on. But the only way we can hope to change this is to do just what you suggest we not do: vote.

    If the smart people give up and stay home, the end result is painfully, obviously predictable. The assholes will take control. (For what i’s worth, Eric Idle of Monty Python once said, “No matter who I vote for the politicians always win.)

    Most of the BS, obnoxious, divisive and repulsive advertising is being placed by so-called independent groups. That is, not by the candidate and not the party. The impact of Citizens United on this is both profound and alarming. But, we have to hold some home that the good guys will ultimately win.

    Paul Hodes has supported the DISCLOSE bill and the Fair Elections Now Act. So has Carol SP. Their opponents have not. These bills will make a big difference. Kuster is on board too. Charlie is not. These are real differences.

    What’s more, there are a lot of worthy candidates running for the NH Senate and House. They deserve (and IMHO, have earned) your support.

    I hope you’ll reconsider. We can prevail. Maybe it will take an election cycle or two, but we can. But, we need you and everyone else to stay engaged. Stay active. And, stay positive.

    Just sayin’


  4. Thanks, Nick. I appreciate your thoughtful response and your serious concern (and my friend Rachael’s) about this.

    I haven’t actually heard the TV or radio ads, just the debates so far. That’s what I’m responding to.

    You wrote: “But the only way we can hope to change this is to do just what you suggest we not do: vote.”

    I’m not suggesting anyone else not vote. I’m saying that it’s likely that this year, for the first time in 30 years, I won’t. I’m not recommending it for anyone else (or even myself!).

    Not because I think that not voting is an effective action to take, and not because I am an idealist or purist about politics or anything else — I’m not. I simply don’t believe that who we elect matters, and it pains me (makes me physically nauseous and tearful) to say so.

    I’ve told myself for most of my voting life that every vote makes a difference, that the platforms are different, that it matters who wins even when I don’t like the candidates or agree with some of the policies, etc. The thing is, I no longer believe that there are good guys and bad guys (as Solzhenitsyn puts much better than I ever could), and I don’t want to support a system that labels people as such. It’s the “sided-ness” (us vs. them) that repels me.

  5. Just a thought.
    Perhaps because were no longer as challenged by our physical environment as we once were, we’ve transferred our need for challenges to our psychology, besides we seem to be at our best when we indulge in polarity for its own sake. Of course there’s much more involved, like our need to be right in our own eyes, see Proverbs 21;2. etc. etc.

  6. Can you say more about “we’ve transferred our need for challenges to our psychology” ?

  7. Actually it’s our search for security and belonging, which is a psychological need. In answer to your query, we no longer work outdoors much, where we got a sense of accomplishment,and a great appetite, so now were face to face in crowded conditions, and our self experiences more challenges on the walls its built around itself. And so we spend so much time in responding or not responding to others’ all the while engaged in protecting our image.
    Some organizations offer identity and belonging but their narrative can be negative, but we care so much more for I and B, that we put the narrative (belief) on the back burner. see my blog http://secretsofviolence.blogspot.com/
    God bless you.

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