SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 26, 2012

Uninformed voters? At least, do no harm

Barbara Anderson
The Salem News

---- — “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

— Dorothy

to her dog, in “The Wizard

of Oz.” But you knew that. It’s the third most-recognizable quote in movie history.

I always wanted a little dog like Dorothy’s. But I wasn’t going to name him Toto: I was going to reference another quote from the movie, the witch telling Dorothy, “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too,” and name him Too.

Anyhow, if I had this dog in this election year, I would say to him, “Too, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” I should have noticed earlier, but this feeling of being in a new place didn’t hit me suddenly; there wasn’t a tornado lifting me from my usual campaign mode and dropping me in the present. It’s as if I’d been rushing as usual through a campaign season, then suddenly noticed that the surroundings aren’t familiar.

Younger people, who didn’t experience being a political activist in the 20th century, can still relate to this feeling by imagining themselves waking up in The Matrix. Or, let’s all think Rip Van Winkle or Odysseus, returning home after 20 years. Everything has changed.

Never mind decades, I’m noticing a difference just two years after I was using the theme “Revolution 2010,” singing along with Jefferson Airplane’s “Got a Revolution”; this year, I got a “Revolution 2012” bumper sticker, but just can’t get into the music or the mood. Somehow, the excitement of that tea party year, the celebration and hopefulness, isn’t here; this year is far too serious.

Since you are reading this column, in a newspaper, you may relate to my intense interest in what is happening in our state, country, the world. There are other people hardly paying attention to anything political at all. National Voter Registration week? How about an “If You Don’t Know What the Heck You’re Doing, Don’t Vote” Week.

I know some of us learned in high school civics that it’s our duty to vote, but the assumption was that before we did, we were going to follow the issues, get to know the candidates, watch debates. My civics teacher knew I had studied some American history in grade school and was about to learn more before I graduated. Do we know this about all the students that came after me?

Maybe I’m overreacting to those “people on the street” interviews done by Jay Leno, John Stossel and print-news reporters who ask questions about the U.S. government structure and get clueless responses. Maybe they just publicize the worst answers to get a laugh.

Do we envy the blissfully uninformed? No. Ignorance is pathetic, not blissful, but with so much information available, we are overwhelmed and therefore uninformed about a lot of important things.

In past elections, candidates and ballot question proponents had a few reliable ways to reach the voters, who had limited distractions; where do they get their information today? I used to participate in two-hour debates on ballot questions on the David Brudnoy radio show; today’s hosts often need to recognize the modern listener’s brief attention span.

Local television also offered weekly in-depth interview shows: Things said on these shows were picked up by print media, which also did in-depth analysis of ballot questions. Our local media is doing its best to cover the election, but many people get their news from the Internet, along with fantastic lies, theories and silly notions, with no editor in charge. Much of the national mainstream media since 2008 has been as much an advocate for Barack Obama as an objective purveyor of information.

On my way to vote in 2010, I was surprised to see a plane towing a banner with my congressional candidate’s name on it; seemed a waste of money to me until I thought about those citizens who go to vote having paid no attention to the election. They might very well choose a candidate whose name they just saw in the sky, for no other reason. Better they should stay home with their heads buried in the sand of apathy, where they at least do no harm.

I never paid attention to polls; nowadays, they seem to be used as a campaign strategy by different camps to influence the vote instead of just indicate trends. Not sure how this works today, anyhow, with cellphones, blocked calls and caller ID. Mucho campaign money is still spent on television ads, which are sometimes clever, but hardly the way to become informed even if you don’t fast-forward through them.

With all this going on, with no one voice reaching many people, it’s important to understand the role of each of us concerned citizens. There are columnists, ranging from the syndicated greats like Charles Krauthammer, George Will, David Shribman, to simple weekly contributors like me reaching only local readers; online posters and op-ed letter writers; talk show hosts and their callers; individuals talking to, arguing with family members, neighbors, friends; people running for office with volunteers helping them. Every one of us becomes a vital force on one side or the other, trying to make a difference.

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Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is a regular contributor to these pages.