Sunday, January 20, 2008

What's the matter with American voters?

This is a long video, but the speech captures perfectly why I believe John Edwards should be America's next president. I just can't understand why the message that life shouldn't be so damned hard for the middle and working classes hasn't caught on. After all, most Americans are middle or working class, and our lives have been pretty hard in these last eight years. Author Thomas Frank asked What's the Matter with Kansas? in his book that explored the rise of conservative populism using his native state as an example: Kansas has evolved from a radical hotbed to a Republican stronghold with a citizenry who perpetually vote against their own interests. Lately, I've been asking myself: "What's the matter with American voters?" Two faults immediately come to mind: our media and our immaturity.

Let's take media first. Shame that you have to go to a comedy show to get insightful commentary, but...

These are the people we let choose our leading candidates. (Don't think the media chooses the top candidates? Think about it. Who controls the amount of air time each candidate receives, and by extension, how much we learn about their platforms? Who concocts the narratives that thousands of Americans buy into?)

The lock-step reporting in the above Daily Show segment typifies what passes as news coverage in this presidential election cycle: All flash, no substance; all "find the easiest narrative and stick to it"; no digging and no probing on important issues. The mainstream media I see is lazy and panders to American voters' basest instincts.

A good example of this is the recent Democratic debate. MSNBC wasted nearly an hour rehashing the damaging and fruitless race war the Clintons started and thankfully put to bed. I'm sure the conversation kept folks tuned in, but that was an hour that could have been spent discussing what the candidates plan to do about subprime loans or healthcare or Iraq or ANYTHING. Also, way to marginalize John Edwards, the white guy who is smart enough to stay off of the third rail.

Also during the debate, Brian Williams actually asked Barack Obama to respond to ridiculous, racist and anti-Muslim lies on the Internet that have only gained credence among tin-foil-hat-wearing nutjobs. Are you secretly a Muslim? Is it true you refuse to pledge allegiance to the American flag? Were you sworn in using the Koran? Let's give more credence to these fringe rumors by framing them as legitimate things Americans should be worried about. How I wish that Obama had done what Jon Stewart suggested and asked the moderator if good journalism involves trolling for debate questions on the Internet. Instead, like all "good" American presidential candidates, he gave the pat speech professing his strong Christian faith and love for the flag, as if either of those things have anything to do with the ability to govern.

Which brings me to the immaturity of American voters. It was something smart that Symphony said in the comments section of a post on Essential Presence that made me realize that half of us aren't mature enough to choose the leader of the free world. (I don't remember what she said, but it got me thinking.) In the endless debates about who should win the Democratic candidacy, I hear woefully little about platforms and issues. Here is what I do hear:

- We need a woman president.

-I've never seen Barack Obama with (insert name of local black leader).

- I don't know (insert name of potential candidate).

- Clinton is too cold.

- Obama isn't black enough.

- Edwards is too white and too male. We've had enough of his kind.

- Is Obama a Christian? And where is his flag pin?

- John Edwards is too pretty. What's with the $400 haircut?

- I can't forgive Hillary for sticking with Bill after the Lewinsky scandal.

- I love Hillary for sticking with Bill after the Lewinsky scandal.

As Bill Cosby would say, "Come on, people!" Voting is one of the most important duties we have as American citizens. And for those of us who are women and black, our right to vote was hard won. It should not be taken lightly. This is not a popularity contest. This isn't about who you want as a friend, drinking buddy, romantic partner or spiritual guide.

A mature voter knows the leading candidates' basic stances on issues that are important to her. If she doesn't, she FINDS OUT. If a candidate isn't addressing her issues, then the mature voter has reason to discount him or her. A mature voter does not say, "I don't know John Edwards."

A mature voter recognizes the issues that are important to him. A poor, black, single dad who desperately wants to return to school, will recognize that a candidate who addresses universal healthcare, expanded earned income credit, affordable daycare and plans to make higher education more affordable, is a candidates with his interests in mind, even if the candidate doesn't say, "poor, black, single dad, this one's for you."

A mature voter doesn't get distracted by unimportant things. A mature voter knows that Clinton's coldness and Edward's prettiness only matter if you are trying to sleep with one of them. In the presidential race? Not so much. And Obama's presence in your local Baptist church only matters if he's on the "ursher" board. Otherwise, politicians in the pulpit generally smell like pandering to me.

And speaking of religion...Surely we all know that being a Christian doesn't automatically confer great leader superpowers. We do know that people who are Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist or atheist or agnostic can be equally good people and fair, smart and strategic leaders. I mean, in the country's that "hate us for our freedom" only one faith is respected and any leader must pledge allegiance to the theocracy, but we're better than that, right? At least that's what we keep saying.

Our country is teetering on the brink of recession or worse, and continued war in Iraq or worse. For women, our right to choose is at stake. For all citizens, our right to privacy is at stake. No one can confirm that voting irregularities from the 2004 election have been fixed. Will my vote even count in the red state where I live, or will it be "lost" like the hundreds of Bush administration e-mails that went missing this week?

A mature voter knows that we'd better grow up soon or the next eight years could be worse than we ever imagined.

What do you say?


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