FREE SPEECH ZONE | Why Americans vote against their own interests


I originally titled this “When it comes to voting, too many Americans are ignorant”.  But that was too harsh. But not by much! 

Free Speech Zone
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The fact is, most of the socio-economic changes that we see in our country today are a result of negligence, ignorance, or indolence in the voting booth, and if you wish to be brutal about it, those on the bottom of the economic scale in our country may deserve what they get.  Witness Egypt. Change can be made, but those who want it must participate and be active. That is not happening in America.

Today, in our country, 1% of the population (about 2 million of the voting age people) control about 38% of the wealth, while the bottom 40% (about 120 million voters) controls under 1%. Yet, the policies, and trends in our country on this vital subject alone (distribution of wealth) strongly favors the wealthy – while the poorest among us only complain about their plight and the way things are.  They opt out, when it their opportunity to effect change at the ballot box

On issue after issue such as taxes, civil liberties, media control, education, income distribution, power, influence, and others, America has been swinging to the right and putting our country on a slippery slope downwards.  The best and most viable way to change this is at the ballot box – but apparently too many Americans have not done this. The reasons are two: ignorance of the issues, and laziness when it comes to voting.  Meanwhile, those who want to perpetuate the status quo are organized, funded, smart and aggressive. Despite the wide disparity in eligible voting numbers, it is no match!  Thus, the Americans who most need a more balanced democracy and economic system too often vote against their own interests or do not vote at all.

Starting with ignorance of the issues, on this perhaps we should be a bit tolerant. After all, the airwaves are filled with venom, anger and right wing tirades.  Exacerbating this is the internet which is a cesspool of misinformation. And the issues are laid out in simplistic slogans that are too easy to swallow without proper vetting. Examples: “no new taxes…government is too big…everyone should be able to own a gun…abortion is killing babies…immigrants threaten us…Al Qaeda is on our doorstep”.  Like water running downhill, these simplistic claims finally find their mark: the hearts and minds of the uniformed, unless the recipient is willing to challenge or make some effort to fully understand the issue.

Additionally, many of these voters are single issue supporters (abortion high among them). Thus, they vote against their own economic interests and fail to see the bigger picture about how to improve our country on the banner of a single issue.  

Add to this the travesty of the recent Citizens United decision, and these simplistic claims are backed by massive funding both during the elections and between. The propaganda that propels right wing ideology is huge, ongoing and without shame. And much of it is designed to protect the wealth of those who fund it.

Lack of voting is another matter, and here fault is evident and unforgivable. From 1960 to the present, presidential election barely get 50% of eligible voters to come out and cast ballots. In mid year elections, the turnout is usually under 40%.  That allows a minority of our citizens to maintain control of our nation’s agenda.  Worse yet, those who do not vote are typically the young, the poor, minorities, and the least educated – those groups who have had, and will have, the most to lose as our democracy morphs into a more corporatist society.  The excuses are many, and none are valid.  “I’m too busy…it will make no difference…I can’t get away from work and it would cost me money…registration is a pain”.  All untrue and lame.   And from this mélange of non-voting Americans, what have we wrought?  A society badly skewed to the right, and ceding control of our country to the highly activist groups such as the Tea Party.

I should point out, in fairness, that this is not strictly a left/right issue. There are plenty of enlightened Republicans who can frame significant policies to make our country better; but the moderates among them are intimidated, and few emerge as leaders of the party now. Meanwhile the Democrats have been quite inept in communicating messages to counter the blizzard of information from the right.  The bottom line: those voters who are uniformed, or opt out of the electoral process are much needed, if the direction of America is to be changed.

It’s all very frustrating and any change means swimming against the current. And there is not much hope in sight to change the dynamics of the situation. On second thought, I think I will re-title this piece: “Too many Americans are ignorant when it comes to voting”!