One of my sons will vote for the first time this week. His twin got so busy with schoolwork and extracurriculars that he missed the registration deadline.
With only a fraction of eligible American voters casting ballots on the Tuesday after the first Monday this November, “majority rules” once again will be a misnomer. In fact, with only the most partisan and deep-pocketed among us ruling the day and candidates pandering primarily to such activists’ priorities, “fringe rules” would more accurately describe contemporary reality.
And yet, with Campaign 2006 coming to a close and negative commercials at last off the air, one might hope that those receiving the most votes might now pay more than lip service to the age-old candidates’ clichÃ© that, “Having been elected, I now represent all my constituents, even those who voted against me.”
That won’t happen, of course, at least not often. Because the newly elected know they will face the voters anew in only two, four or six years. And they know their every vote will be distorted, their every viewpoint contorted, their every statement bastardized by their next opponent. And they know they’re more likely to achieve electoral survival if they play it safe, heed the status quo, and cotton to the paltry percentage of the populace most likely to pull their lever next time.
And so, because too few of us register, too few of us vote, too few of us stay abreast of the issues, too few of us know the players and too few of us engage in the debate, the thick-skinned souls willing to have their reputations ruffled must run from the right or left, govern from the same, and weather the whine of centrists saying no one gives a damn.
But the potential consequences of our partisanship, apathy and inaction seem direr and closer at hand this year. And our world feels more fragile. And the mortgaging of our children’s future seems more severe and cynical.
Like the young delinquents in Louis Sachar’s “Holes,” we’re digging ourselves in deeper and deeper in the delusory pursuit of someone else’s strike-it-rich scheme. And we’re feeling frustrated and angry, hungry and thirsty, humiliated and hopeless in the process.
So, as you newly elected officials go about governing, we centrists have some requests:
Take a bow and take a breath. We don’t say this often enough, but thank you for running and serving. We know the people’s business can be exhausting. We know you lose lots of personal time and privacy. So please, give yourselves a pat on the back. Get a little sleep. Take a short vacation. ‘Cause there’s lots to be done and we need you at your best.
Skip the vengeance. We know those scumbags on the other side of the aisle have been ruthless. We know they attacked you personally during the campaign. We know some of the nastiness embarrassed you and your family. We know you’re itching to turn the tables.
But don’t do it. Because there’s too much at stake. Too little time. Too many issues too important to too many.
So please, focus on “we the people,” not your opponents in the crosshairs.
Represent tomorrow’s constituents, not just today’s. You don’t need us to tell you this, because you know it’s true: For too long, when it comes to funding people, programs and projects, we’ve fooled most of the people most of the time. We’ve conned ourselves into believing we can have our “no new taxes” cake and eat it, too.
That’s hogwash, of course. And the piper’s playing his collection tune very loudly and in both our ears.
Right now, today, we’re up to our eyeballs in unfunded and underfunded mandates, pensions that can’t be paid with current resources, bond debt that lasts longer than the facilities it finances, infrastructure that has not kept pace with our lust for expansion, and trillions in IOUs to individuals, institutions and governments at home and abroad.
Please, don’t fool us any more. Stay out of our kids’ piggybanks. Don’t pass anything we can’t or won’t finance now. And if you have to knock us upside the head to make us realize there’s no free lunch, then do your sworn duty and strike away.
Stand for individual rights that are threatened by the tyranny of the majority. We keep distracting ourselves with polarizing issues like gay marriage bans, flag-burning amendments, sectarian prayer in the Statehouse.
While such hot-button issues fire up the fringes at election time, they keep legislators from focusing on what matters most to most Americans: jobs, health care and education. So let’s make this the year we spend less time denying individual liberties and more time enhancing human needs.
That’s enough from the middling masses this day. I have to take my son to the voter registration office.
Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to email@example.com.