By Tim Buchholz
What happened to the Flower Power of the 70’s? Did we use it all up? Drain our reserves already? Or have we given up on our ability to make a difference? And while burning bras and free love may have not done a lot toward ending the war, at least large groups of people were getting together and believing that they could make a difference. What happened to that drive in America to do the right thing, and not just when election time, or some national disaster, rolls around? I think it’s quite simple. We have lost our faith in our leaders and their desire to listen and respond to our needs. Oh, and we now have “better things” to do.
How did we lose our faith? I think it had a little something to do with money.
According to opensecrets.org, George W. Bush raised $360 million for his 2004 campaign, and spent $306 million, which was $167 million more than he spent in 2002. John Kerry raised $317 million and spent over $240 million. That’s over half a billion dollars just for one political office, and that is just what was released publicly.
Imagine how many mouths could have been fed with just one attack ad, let alone the 40 we see each day until not so Super Tuesday. And not only is it a waste of money, it also shows that if you want to run, you’d better start with the bank account. It’s very difficult to believe that our democracy is really democratic, but instead our elections line up pretty well with our capitalist ideals. It appears he (or she) who spends the most, wins.
And then, once they are elected, how often do they do any of the things they said they would do? With our last election in 2006, the Democrats promised us change (everybody promises change) and an end to the war. (They are still promising that 2 years later, how do you think that went?) And while Nancy Pelosi’s first 100 hours may not have gone the way the Democrats planned (that’s legislative hours mind you, as described by Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly as “when the House convenes, after the one-minutes and before the special orders”– I thought they would be pulling a few all-nighters:), at least they made an effort to follow the calls of the people who elected them. They tried to create a timetable for troop with-drawl and put a cap on war spending, two things they told us we would do if we voted for them. And we all saw what our votes got us, more of the same. Backpedaling, vacations, pork, and filibusters, and as usual, no real change.
So, we stop believing that our votes matter, and until we can end our two party system we will keep fighting for our team, and not for the American people. I think it’s probably a safe argument to say that our politicians spend more time getting elected and reelected, than they do actually serving their posts. It seems every time I watch a vote on C-SPAN, half of my representatives aren’t even there. I wish my job was this understanding. Isn’t that what we pay them for, to represent us? Not themselves or their political party at a fundraiser, but to be an experienced stand-in for our voice? If they don’t show, will anyone hear us?
Now to the apathy. Ben Franklin said, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” We still have the two wolves, but the lambs have found something better to do- Cable. It used to be, if the President was giving a speech, you had to watch it, or read a book, God forbid. It would be on every channel.
I thought about this the other night as I was channel surfing and happened upon live coverage of Obama and Hilary as they battled in my home state of Ohio. I flipped right past it, and kept going, trying to find a good rerun to watch instead. After a few minutes of Maguiver, I remembered it was my civic duty to watch those speeches (even if they didn’t write them, this is who I’m electing to speak for me and they can’t speak for themselves?). So I flipped back and listened to them both promise me change and tell why they would do it better, and I remembered why I stopped listening to these speeches. They make a lot of promises, but don’t tell you how they’re going to do any of it. Again, this is old hat, but what’s changing? I don’t have to watch it! So I flipped over to the main channels; we’ve got Deal or No Deal, some lie detector show (I’d love to get the candidates on that one!), some reality challenge show – nothing for me, thanks. Well, how about a little surfing, on the web of course, this new generation doesn’t have to go outside (even Reggie Bush tells kids in commercials to log on to the internet to learn how to play). So, I surfed the web, checked my mail, and when that got tiresome, I turned on my Playstation. There went the night. Then I dragged myself to work in the morning so I could come home and repeat the process.
Are all of these new distractions just the products of a growing global economy, as The Beatles put it, “It’s getting better all the time (couldn’t get no worse)?” Or is this a highly crafted plan to divert our attention from what really matters? As our Capitalist system keeps unveiling the new must have products, we find more and more reasons not to pay attention, and we get more and more reasons not to fight back. All of these luxuries become necessities in our lives, and we begin to think we can’t live without them. That’s when we become so trapped in our “almost good enough” lifestyle that we don’t want to risk losing any of it for a change we don’t believe will come anyway. I don’t think most of us believe in change anymore, and as long as our Capitalist system keeps us chasing after the next great product that will revolutionize our lives, (and fearing we could lose it all with just one roll of the dice), no real revolution will happen.
So, how do you stop a people from revolting? Take a lesson from the great United States. You have to give them the belief that things are getting better, and that they have a hand in it. You have to show them repeatedly on the news and in your films (you will generally own both) how bad it could be if they moved somewhere else. You have to make them believe that they are just a few steps away from achieving their greatest dreams, and that all they have to do is keep on track, go to work, pay their bills, and eventually they will climb out of that whole. And you have to make them live in fear that it all could be taken away in an instant. I have watched speeches by the top candidates (and Nader, but a vote for a third party is a lost vote, right?) and they all sell it well, but we know it’s mostly sweet talk and slander, and we just don’t believe what they (or their speech writers) have to say anymore. Instead we think, “Eh, what else is on.”
-Tim Buchholz is an activist and freelance writer based in Ohio. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.