© Josh Sager – October 2014
Put simply and crassly, the American peoples’ memory for political events is little better than the attention span of a ferret, on crystal meth, in a mirror store.
The average American is categorically incapable of remembering political events that happened more than a few months in the past, never mind accurately assigning blame and credit to the politicians involved. Unfortunately, this is extremely dangerous, as it makes it virtually impossible to achieve democratic accountability at the polls—crimes and triumphs from last year are forgotten rather than used to make decisions.
Americans tend to vote based upon a snapshot of their circumstances at the time of the election (ex. if they are discontent, they want to throw out whoever is in power) and a combination of identity politics (ex. religion and party identification) and assumptions about the candidates’ positions (ex. what they see in campaign ads).Because a snapshot is rarely a good measure of who is to blame or who deserves credit for a situation, this leads Americans to be remarkably bad at voting for their interests.
This problem has been worsened by the incompetence of the mainstream media. They have completely fallen down on the job in terms of fact-checking, and have refused to remind the American people of pertinent information in the days before the election (ex. by giving a fair retrospective of the past two years and explaining the political/economic roots of Washington’s dysfunction). Additionally, the media has ignored the open secret that American politics is swamped with corrupting money, and have instead praised some of our politicians for their remarkable abilities to “raise money” (Read: accept legal bribes).
Here is an example of this problem: the Bush Administration crashed the economy with a combination of deregulation, tax cuts, and overspending on needless wars—this crash hit as Bush was leaving office and left the incoming Democrat, Obama, a huge mess to clean up. Because Obama couldn’t immediately wave a wand and fix the immense damage that Bush’s conservative policies did the economy, many Americans began blaming him for their poor economic circumstances. This led them to become more attracted to his opposition and support the very policies that created the crash in the first place. In 2010, those people stood up and voted for these conservative dunces, while the Democrats forgot just how bad things could be if conservatives were allowed control again, thus failed to turn out and support the undeniably weak and center-right Democrats. At no point have the mainstream media outlets pointed out that the “new” right wing beliefs are the very ones that precipitated the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, and that the right wing is dealing in bad faith (trying to trick the American people by taking advantage of their ignorance).
In 2014, there is a very real chance that the American people will make an incredibly grave mistake by forgetting the last few years of politics and voting for the Republicans. They will temporarily forget the facts that the GOP shut down the federal government, voted dozens of times for throwing people off of their healthcare, obstructed every attempt at making the economy better, blocked the Violence Against Women Act, and, in general, did everything in its power to make this country ungovernable and miserable. While in the voting booth, these low-information Americans will simply try to “vote the bums out” and, because the Democrats are currently in the majority (but not in control), they will be hit the hardest.
Similarly, many Democratic voters are deeply disenchanted with the pathetic, center-right, corrupt, Democrats and will stay home. They don’t remember the right wing wave that came in 2010 when they made a similar choice to opt out and the subsequent chaos that was inflicted on this country.
At the end of the day, everybody must take some time to vote, and base their decision on the facts. They must look at the last few years and assess their choices based upon the actual record rather than just looking at a few over-produced ads and voting with their “gut.” Unfortunately, this is unlikely given the evidence, but we all must play a part in making it more likely—go out and volunteer for a candidate, remind your friends what happens when the right wing has power in this country, sign people up to vote, and do everything you can to improve the turnout of left-wing Americans.