Sunday, November 07, 2004

What the Democrats Did Wrong

You can read all about this in almost any newspaper this weekend or you can hear it on the radio or watch it on television. You can even find it on the net. So I'm not going to bore you with my amateur interpretation of how the Democratic campaign could have been more efficient.

Instead, I'd like to point out that it takes two to tango. Somehow we have decided that the proper view of political engagement is similar to an ardent wooer going after someone uninterested. It is as if the politicians must not only inform the voters about what is at stake, but also personally get them out of the house and into the voting booth. The voter appears to have no responsibility, no obligation whatsoever. The voter is also seen as a buyer, a reluctant consumer, and the onus is for the political firms to sell their products by clever advertizing. In either of these metaphors an uninvolved voter is seen as blameless.

This is not what democracy is all about, of course. We have a responsibility to be involved, to educate ourselves about the issues and to vote. If we accept this view of voters as passive lumps to be manipulated by the right message, even against their will, we have no democracy but a system in which politicians manage the voters. It should be the other way round.

I'm just now hearing on the radio that voters can't get informed or involved because they are so busy with their lives, their children, their work. Fine. I'm too busy to have my teeth checked, too, but if I don't get them taken care of regularly I will end up with no teeth. In the same manner, those who are too busy for democracy will end up without it.

This is not to say that the pressures on people's time today wouldn't be real. They are, and we need to do more to make voting easier. For one thing, the election day should be a national holiday so that the poor don't have to choose between a paycheck and voting, and there should be daycare facilities and free buses to the site. It wouldn't cost that much for one day every few years, and paying the money would show real respect towards the voters. But it is still true that even if voting is a hard chore it is a necessary one for anyone who wants to live in a democracy.

The Democrats probably made many mistakes in their campaigning. Given that really atrocious and mortal errors didn't matter for Bush's chances of getting another four years, mistakes don't seem to matter too much. To be quite honest, I am much more concerned with the hidden message in all the articles that talk about how the Democrats could have done better, because the hidden message is that the voters are objects, passive lumps, to be manipulated at will by others. Politics is not consumerism, whatever the corporations try to tell us.

It's time to treat democracy seriously. This means making the voters understand not only their rights but their moral responsibility. It also means making sure that every vote counts, even the votes of minorities.