Gene Weingarten did a fantastic piece in this Sunday's Washington Post Magazine on non-voters. He spent time with a man in Muskegon, Michigan, to delve into the myriad reasons why someone might simply have no interest in participating in elections. It was a fascinating and informative look across the divide to where the average American earns about $500 a week and supports his family in multiple ways that you and I can only imagine, or in our more shameful moments, laugh at. For instance, he fishes and hunts to supplement the family's food. He has periodic seizures but can't afford to go to the doctor, so he just "hopes for the best." He doesn't see a single difference between the two candidates for the simple reason that, to him, they both represent the same thing: moneyed aristocracy with not a clue about his life. Both went to Yale, both are extremely wealthy, both hunt "for sport" not survival. The debate discussions on trade policy or yellowcake uranium stores or ethanol subsidies are so esoteric as to be distancing for the majority of people like this gentleman. What he needs to know is: how can I make sure my kid eats three squares a day? How can I make sure that he and his mother will be okay should one of these seizures kill me? Screw Osama, screw Saddam, screw all of the other nonsense that passes these days for "campaign issues." Who is going to honor this man's work ethic with some policies to give him a break?
I read this article and for once in my self-important, Tracey Flick election-enthusiast life, finally understood why someone just wouldn't care to vote. The disconnect between taking time off work, standing in line, punching a chad and getting health insurance so your kid can grow up healthy, or bringing industry to Michigan so you don't have to work long hours laying cement is just so wide, so gaping as to be impassable. The chasm between the American ideal of voting and this man's daily life is shockingly and shamefully wide.
How did we get here? And is there a road back? For me, because my life experience is different from the Michigan nonvoter's life, that road begins tomorrow at my ballot box. And that act will create a ripple that will create a current that will create a wave that will make his life a little less difficult.
At least, I hope so. But isn't that what this Great American Democracy is all supposed to be about anyway? Hope? That we can do better and be better--and that we all have the power to make that happen?
I hope so...