Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

I live in a world of haunted memories. The ghosts of the last decade visit me to remind me of richer times represented not only by greater affluence, but of the wealth of possibilities that the future might have held. I am faced with the phantoms of a pre-9-11 world, a society not emburdened with the threats of immanent terrorism, the scourge of heightened jingoism, nor the plague of economic decline. I look back in time, before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, before the latest recession, to a time when the U.S. dollar was still worth more than the Euro, before the mass de-industrialization and sell-out of major corporations in this country. I look back at all of these things, look at how much our society has changed for the worse since 9-11 and long for those brighter days of the “Roaring ’90’s.” At times I walk through this life in a waking dream and think that that proverbial chartless future may still be around the corner, but more often, I wake to the realization of the nightmare that has become post 9-11 life in America.

While the events of September 11th, 2001 were certainly startling, I must ask myself why those particular terror attacks were so impactful. Like most people, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the morning of the attacks. I was living in Dayton at the time, and the woman whose grass I was cutting called me inside to watch the television, where the infamous events of that morning were tragically unfolding. All of the media with its pervasive all-seeing-eye, already posed the premise that we were under attack, complete with stylized graphics and stunned reporters commenting with great pathos and occupational self-indulgence not seen since the Gulf War in 1991. I remember feeling afraid.

Rumors of more terror attacks to come circulated even throughout the Dayton area. We were after all, close to Wright-Patterson Air Force base, and in the heightened state of fear, it seemed plausible that the terrorists might fix their diabolical eye on sleepy Dayton, home of such treasures as the Mead building and the Wright B Flyer. It was the fear of the unknown that drove us to such ludicrous concerns. Even then no one could have guessed how much our world would really change.

It is easy for me to look back at the progression of events since 9-11 that brought us here. It seems that even the 2000 presidential election debacle was a harbinger of things to come. A dynastic son rises to power, despite a series of failures, becoming appointed (not rightfully elected) as president during, perhaps, the most controversial election in American history. A mere eight months after his inauguration, 9-11 happens, solidifying George W. Bush’s place in history, bringing purpose to his mostly non-descript presidency. More controversy would haunt this man in the post 9-11 years in the form of bad policy decisions which would lead us to war and drive us into record-breaking deficits. Despite the political capital he gained immediately following 9-11, George Bush, continuing his streak of failures, extinguished the positive regard posited by most of the world by circumventing international law and invading the sovereign nations of Afghanistan and Iraq. This had the effect of driving the United States further into debt and entangling us in a state of war that has no foreseeable end.

The terror attacks on 9-11 marked the birthing of the neo-fascist era of America, sometimes referred to as the “New American Century.” The Bush administration was certainly opportunistic in its complicity surrounding the events of 9-11. This administration cranked up the fear machine to help remind us that we are in a state of terror. Unprecedented executive power was seized in the aftermath of the attacks. Traditional avenues for diplomacy and policy-making were displaced while the might of the U.S. military industrial complex was bolstered by the “war on terror,” an ambiguous war of paradox and deception.

In fact, 9-11 was a veritable free-for-all full of opportunists ready to steer America in new directions. The mainstream media, largely uncritical of the post 9-11 American government, enjoyed a lucrative and satisfying arrangement with the administration and rolled out the terror propaganda. Religious fanatics capitalized on the new aura of fear by tying the events of 9-11 together with the mythologies of the bible, creating a sort of new American theocracy. This had the effect of polarizing not only contingents in America, but in the rest of the world as well. All the while the terror threat was hyped, and the warmongering continued to pervade the ideology of the terrorized psyche of the American mind. War and violence at the expense of the lives of unrelated parties were somehow justified as acceptable measures to be taken to preserve the fragile sensibilities of the American way of life.

If the purpose of the perpetrators of the attacks on 9-11 was to permanently alter our way of life, then sadly, they have succeeded. It seems that most of the progress we made towards tolerance, acceptance, and unity in the 90’s somehow lapsed in favor of post 9-11 priorities. This is not due to any terrorist infiltration of American society, but rather, our acceptance of neo-fascist regime change within our own country. We have practically handed over constitutional liberties in exchange for the illusion of security. Americans have become more galvanized, more bigoted, and seemingly more ignorant in the years succeeding 9-11. Easy answers in the form of bumper sticker slogans touted by talking heads are repeated in remarkable lock-step fashion by detail-weary Americans who don’t take the time or put forth the energy to scrutinize the state of affairs in our country.

Why were we so affected by 9-11? It was certainly tragic and unprecedented. But I believe deep down that we were so affected because it connected us to a larger reality for just a moment, and now that we have experienced it, we are hooked. The orgy of violence on 9-11 reminded us that death and terror are real and maybe even thrilling. We are so buried in the virtual reality of television programming that we have become de-sensitized to the real possibility of danger. So when it happens on a large scale and in front of our eyes, we are so shocked that we can’t help but to watch. I believe that the terror attacks on 9-11 awakened a thirst for graphic voyeurism of a tragic scale. On the surface, we hope that the worst is over and that any possible future attacks have been stymied by all of the post 9-11 security measures put in place. But under the surface, I believe we are anticipating the next big terror event that will bring us to grips with that which connects us to what is real.

In light of this year’s race for the presidency, I have decided that I will take the advice of this election cycle’s slogan “You Decide,” and make the choice–not to choose. I know…how unpatriotic of me, how un-democratic of me. There are those who value voting as highly as a marital union or a religious experience, and will no doubt despise my diatribe, but for those individuals who are courageous and open-minded enough to read on, I promise there is a method to my madness.

One of the problems I have with the current political system in America, is that there is no real choice. All the possible candidates, all the presidential hopefuls that are qualified to “run” this country are eventually funneled into one of two favored possibilities, one representing the “right wing” ideology, and the other from the “left.” Somehow, the right has become synonymous with conservatism, and the left synonymous with liberalism. This left-right paradigm has historically dominated American politics over the past two centuries, leaving little or no room for “centrist,” or “moderate” affiliated candidates to have a substantive effect on the presidential electoral outcome. This process galvanizes voters by forcing them to choose the next president based mainly on platform issues such as: gay rights, gun control, abortion, death penalty, etc, or even more cosmetic attributes. While these issues are important and highly volatile in the public debate, they aren’t necessarily the best barometer for choosing a president.

While the president does have a certain amount of power and authority, those who place the bulk of the future course of this country on the shoulders of the next president are sadly misled. Inasmuch as presidential voting in America has become mostly symbolic, the actual position of “President of the United States of America,” represents more of a ceremonial figurehead. The actual planning, deciding, and execution of national policy is determined by a larger scope of factors including internal bureaucracy, international relations, corporate ties, residual effects from past administrations, and many other factors that influence and mold the so-called democratic process of the American political machine.

The road to the 2008 presidential nomination has been one of the most contentious, contested, costly, and convoluted in history. It has also been one of the most widely publicized, with all of the contestants getting an early start, and getting plenty of air time and hype. All televised debates aside, the leading contenders have been whittled down to three media favorites, with the public eye primarily focusing on the petty bickering between the two democratic front runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Much emphasis has been put on this squabbling by the mainstream media, which has historically acted as the de facto declarer of all that is newsworthy, if not by technological ubiquity, by the sheer pervasiveness of its influence over our culture.

Of all the potential candidates for president, the ones who are afforded the most influence are the ones with the most money. It costs money to run political advertisements, to make nationwide campaign tours, to hire consultants and advisers, to equip a competent staff, etc. The more money you have, the more primetime slots you can buy. What we are left with is essentially two analogous factions vying for the top executive position of a heavily biased system. In his book Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, notable scholar and political analyst Noam Chomsky states:

“Through tacit agreement, the two major parties approach the contest for the presidency as political kabuki in which the players know their roles and everyone sticks to the script, striking poses that cannot be taken seriously. If the public escapes its marginalization and passivity, we face a crisis of democracy that must be overcome…”

The media inevitably gives its endorsement to representatives from the bi-partisan “wings” by allotting them the most airtime, thrusting their causes into the limelight, and instigating a limited debate forum. The substance of the message becomes lost in the flash of gratifying allure of the primarily entertainment driven political scene. This process only reinforces the illusion that only their causes are important and newsworthy. It is the media that reports. It is the media that decides. It is the media in which most people pledge their unwavering faith.

There has been a move in recent years, to make voting more appealing and even trendy, sometimes exaggerating the importance of presidential voting to the point of social bigotry. I call this phenomenon voter chic. The voter chic crowd believes in voting for the sake of voting, and anyone who doesn’t follow their adhesion to the illusion of “choice,“ in American politics is exempt from true citizenship. These are the people that chastise non-voters with the usual lockstep cliché of: “Well, if you don’t vote, then you don’t have a right to complain.” This statement is a true sign of non-democracy, and of complete ignorance of the voting process. When the voter chic camp is confronted with the fact that, in the end, voters are pigeon-holed into the left-right paradigm, and that inevitably only one of two candidates will emerge victorious, another common cliché is: “Well, that’s just the way it is.” According to his essay “End of the Mandate,” Gregory Bresiger states:

“They say that people who don’t vote can’t complain about the outcome. But they also say that if your candidate didn’t win, you can’t complain because that’s being a sore loser. You also can’t complain if the guy you voted for does something you don’t like. Hey, you voted for him, didn’t you? You can’t win. The game is rigged.”

The truly important decision of electing a president has been reduced to choosing the lesser of two evils, rather than voting according to one’s conscience. During past elections, I found myself voting for or against candidates based on this flawed system of false choice. I walked away feeling like no matter which direction I voted, I was ultimately playing into the hands of political elites that had already charted the course of my vote based on giving me the illusion of choice.

To the ignorant, “not voting” is an irresponsible act that is tantamount to the ruination of this country. There are however, dissenting voices that see through the subterfuge of false choice politics in America. In the book Everything You Know is Wrong, editor Russ Kick summarizes the book Dissenting Electorate by stating:

“People who choose not to vote are often derided as lazy, apathetic, and apolitical. While there may be a few folks who don‘t cast a ballot out of sheer sloth, lots of people have convincing reasons…Perhaps most often, politics and government are seen as worthless, even harmful, systems that exist solely to exercise power over people. By voting, you play the game, you support the very system that imprisons you. By not voting, you commit a revolutionary act by refusing to be a part of the machine. You are withdrawing your consent to be governed by an inherently corrupt system.”

For those that would argue that voting is a right, or privilege of living in America, I would argue that my right to protest, or to conscientiously “not vote” is an equally afforded right which is just as valid in this age of political kool-aid drinking. Robert LeFevre states in his essay, “Abstain from Beans:”

“When we express a preference politically, we do so precisely because we intend to bind others to our will…Political voting is nothing more than the assumption that might makes right. There is a presumption that any decision wanted by the majority of those expressing a preference must be desirable, and the inference even goes so far as to presume that anyone who differs from the majority view is wrong or possibly immoral.”

What it comes down to for me is, either my vote counts, or it doesn’t. If it does, then my voice should be heard in a truly democratic system. Spectrums of real issues would be debated in a public forum not censored or marginalized by the corporately controlled media or its clients. If my vote doesn’t truly count, then my time and energy will be wasted in the process. The illusion of choice is not real choice. Instead of binding myself to a broken system of false choices, I would rather extend my energy to help create the type of world I would like to live in.

Blogger’s note:

At the time of the writing of this blog, I happened to enter into a conversation about the subject of voting with an individual sitting at my table. She rudely proclaimed that I was “stupid” for choosing not to vote and basically argued that I was apathetic and in the majority view of thinking. She then went on to talk about how she didn’t vote in the past two election cycles, including state and local issues, which incidentally have far more of an apparent impact than presidential elections. Her reasons for not voting were that she had too far to travel to her voting precinct, and that she frankly didn’t care about some of the local issues on the ballot, but she plans on voting this year. “It may not matter much, but at least I can say that I voted,” she said.

Such empty and uneducated rhetoric only serves to illustrate my point, and strengthens my resolve. This individual, although arrogant and opinionated, is sadly misguided in her attempt at political awareness. She is happy to walk away from the voting booths with the nifty little
“I Voted” sticker displayed, so she can brag to the world that she was part of the American political system, albeit an admittedly manipulated one. This idea of fashionable voting or voting for bragging rights is the epitome of “voter chic.” Her ignorance is only compounded by her hypocritical voting- or rather non-voting record.