We live in a nominally democratic society, to be sure. Our voting rights, whether or not they actually amount to the power to sway public policy, are among the most cherished cornerstones of American culture – indeed, all our other rights ostensibly flow from this source. There’s still the idea, the last two presidential elections notwithstanding, that if We The People want to get out there and change things, we can make our voices heard in the ballot box, God bless America!
The reality of the situation, however, is that the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, forever and ever, amen. Governmental corruption is so commonplace as to be taken for granted, thousands are being slaughtered in Iraq and Afghanistan (take these as metonymy for the many violent conflicts around the world) in base pursuit of lucre and corporations have increasingly unchecked powers, economically (fuck you, Ayn Rand), and, thus, politically.
Humor me for a moment and consider the obvious: When’s the last time a poor man was elected president? Or a woman? Or a person not of European extraction? Still, our ability to actually achieve the society promised in the glowing words written by Thomas Jefferson and his fellows in the late 1700s – regardless of the grotesque hypocrisy in the Declaration, written as it was by a dyed-in-the-wool, if eloquent, slave-owner – is directly related to our ability not to be rendered impotently cynical in the face of the ever-growing monolith of money/power/violence. Who cares that the Declaration and Constitution were, for the most part, attempts to shore up wealth in the hands of the men writing them? Those words are ours now. What matter that women and Blacks were given ludicrously short shrift by the “Founding Fathers,” relegated to the kitchen and plantation, respectively. No more, you old wig-headed bigots: those words are ours now.
That’s why we needn’t be bound to 18th century notions of moral rectitude, (i.e. blow-jobs are bad, owning slaves is good) because we can make of those old words what we will. We can force them to live up to their literal meaning, rather than allowing them to be used as a euphemizing veil for all sorts of nefarious bullshit. We can make of them a cloth to fit all Americans, and, when you get down to it, we must. I for one am sick to death of babies going hungry, or worse, being blown apart – under the legitimizing aegis of the American flag ?” and thus, essentially in my name. In our name –
And there’s the rub: the American people, via the ballot box, have in effect, underwritten all of this crime and corruption. So, how can this soulless, avaricious scum infest our public offices again and again and again? Because the election process itself basically guarantees that the men and women elected cannot be honest, altruistic people, and the larger the stakes, the more this is true. Altruists, forward-thinkers and philanthropists are weeded out by the huge sums of money required, the back-stabbing opportunism of electoral politics, and the necessity, often, to be all things to all people – a Sisyphean nightmare, to say the least! If these would-be politicians start out with a soul and good intentions, they are purged of such by the time they mount the podium to give their acceptance speeches.
But is it inherently so, or could we remake the process? If so, we’ve got to start from the ground up, cultural/political retraining, as it were. And one learns these life-skills, properly, in college (among other useful skills like oral sex, budget shopping and how to prepare a beer-bong). If we are to reshape the electoral process as a whole, we’ve got to start from the bottom up.
This is why, each year, I am so disappointed, even dismayed, by our student government elections. Far from being a starting point for positive change, a new electoral paradigm stressing actual transparency, easily accessible, wide-based discussion of germane issues, or anything else that could act as penicillin to the infection polluting our democratic system, these picayune, yellow-flyered campaigns are an exact microcosm of everything rotten in “grown-up” elections. Our elections are, therefore, in the precise image of grade-school class elections: petty, unamusing popularity contests, where the prettiest candidates, or the ones with the catchiest slogans (“Your Vote, Our Voice, Everyone’s Victory” – What vapid assholery! Who the hell thought up that gorgeous little haiku of mediocrity?) come in first, regardless of any substantial ideas or criteria.
Even last year, when it seemed we elected decent, intelligent women to head ASPSU, the whole process was marred by jeers and catcalls, back-room machinations and empty-headed aping of the real thrust for student democracy that one found, say, at UC Berkeley in 1961. Sit-ins are hella fun!
So my message to the candidates, and prospective voters, is this: Ignore the whole, convoluted mess. Don’t legitimize an election packaged in condescension and intellectual vacancy. Think of the Declaration, for pete’s sake, and make those words our own. Make our student government truly accountable to our needs and will. Ban flyering. Eighty-six the proliferation of sophomoric (no offense, sophomores) slogan-mongering. Ban the ridiculous notion of lazy “slate-based” voting.
Where do we start? Baby steps – daily or weekly public debates, maybe, or a series of centralized public kiosks for dissemination of candidates’ platforms?
Or, if we decide to keep things as they are, let’s at least base our considered opinions on the results of truly telling confrontations, like nude mud-wrestling or watermelon-seed-spitting contests.
At least then our selection method would befit the process.