Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Political Apathy

It is very interesting that although the citizens in many other countries still look to America as a model in civil political discourse, we ourselves are growing increasingly disenchanted and cynical. At some level, I am not sure whether public discourse as a whole has taken the wrong road rather than just political discourse. Moreover, the apathy is even more startling. As we as a society become more polarized, we are simultaneously becoming more apathetic. The pollyanna in me tells me not to give up on democracy. Though we are constantly bombarded by talk shows and sound bytes, we have to recognize oratory hyperbole when we see it. As an oratory device, there is nothing inherently moral or amoral about hyperbole. One just has to be more discerning and careful about interpreting such claims and statements. Truly, the device is as old at public speaking itself. Although modern living has afforded with a multitude of means to get connected with our representatives, government, and each other, far more so than 100 years ago, can we really say that we are that much more engaged in public life? Take a step back. This country, although relatively young, has been through a whole lot of everything, from civil war, world wars, economic panics, and political scandals. Are politicians truly that much more untrustworthy when compared to that of the Gilded Age to warrant our disengaging from public life? In the days leading up to the Civil War, the country was truly divided. A President who was despised by whole swathes of the country was elected. Instead of disengaging from public life, whole states seceded from the Union. Truly, it is in these trying times that democracy must prove itself.

Compare today's civic environment to that of 100 years ago. Is the press today truly any different from the yellow journalism from William Randolph Hearst's days? In 1912, the press certainly still exaggerated, fibbed, and sensationalize lots of things. Perhaps it is just human nature. Yet despite the sensationalism of Pulitzer and Hearst, the American democracy survived and even thrived with a voter turnout well in excess of 70% of voting age population (VAP). Some people have reservation about VAP, but the question remains, is it healthy to have voting concentrated in such a small segment of the resident population?

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