One voter’s discontent

Posted Nov. 04, 2010, at 8:23 p.m.

The media talking heads are waxing pontific these days about Tuesday’s election, especially about their views of what’s going on — or not — with the electorate. We voters, that is.

I have listened and read and watched until I am sick of all of them; I have never felt so much despair and hopelessness as I do today.

Let’s be clear: I am not a disinterested voter. I have voted faithfully in every election for at least 40 years. I try to vote for the “best candidate,” not a particular political party. It is becoming harder and harder to determine who that best candidate is.

Campaigning has gotten absurdly complicated. No longer Joe Chummy stands for “this” and Bill Blackheart stands for “that.” Now, Joe Chummy says XY to group A, YX to group B, then retracts both when either group takes him to task. They’re moving targets. How can I pick one of them when they all have fatal flaws?

There have always (well, for as long as I can remember) been ads for and against the candidates, some of them nice and many of them not. There are posters, billboards, TV ads, bumper stickers, parades and street-side signs. Some are paid for by collections of individual supporters (“committee to elect Joe Chummy”), profes-sional groups (such as doctors, manufacturers and auto dealers), associations (such as unions) and us plain folk.

The slogans are hypocritical and vacuous, pandering to various groups who want lots of services but no taxes. Let’s see, how does that work? Which fairy godmother leaves the money under the pillow?

I vote for president like everyone else, with the notion that a president can make a difference, that he or she can “lead,” set the tone, make a budget, set policies and so forth. None of them, at least not in the last 20 years, has been able to accomplish a tiny fraction of their grandiose campaign promises. None, regardless of political affiliation or which party dominates Congress.

We vote for our senators and representatives, and it seems that even they can’t get much done for us. Promises are made, and almost always broken. Then the blame game starts, each group guilty of outblocking and out-thwarting the other. They do it so much it must be a helluva lot of fun.

Why? What has happened to our political system? Has it always been this paralyzed, polarized and inept? Or am I just getting cynical enough to believe it used to be better?

The older I get (and I’m getting more practice at that), the less faith I have in our politicians. I have nothing against any one of them personally (well, maybe one or two), but I am disheartened by the infighting, the corruption, the sleazy finances and even the claims of shocked innocence that a family member may have done something illegal.

There must be a politics-as-usual black hole in our government houses — no matter whom we send there, they get sucked down into the mire and emerge as zombies who walk and talk but have no souls.

Whatever happened to a sense of the common good? The welfare of the populace? The rights of the poor and needy? Have we, as a society in general, so given in to our sense of self-importance and narrow-mindedness that we can’t find a way to bridge our differences and live together? Is no one willing to compromise?

The common good, general welfare and conflict resolution all require a willingness to compromise. A nasty concept, I know, abhorrent to a person who thinks he or she has the inside scoop on what’s the “ultimate” right and wrong, “my way or the highway.” In any compromise — even the best ones — nobody gets everything, but nobody loses everything, either. To make our democracy work, we have to be mature enough to see the larger picture, see down the road to the consequences of our actions, give a little here and there while gaining a little here and there. In other words, to get my roads paved, I have to pay taxes.

As seldom as I agree with her on other things, I have to support Sen. Susan Collins’ views in the Oct. 9 editorial “A Call for Civility” that we should stop shouting, start listening to one another, put our political parties aside and act for the common good.

I try not to, but I still care about my neighbors and my country. I am getting desperate, though. Somebody, anybody, please help me before I start a revolution.

Anne L. Hess is a retired neuropsychologist in Stillwater.

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