Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Vote 'em . . .Out?

Is this troll trolling?

I read a lot about politics and government, both home and abroad. I read news items, op-ed pieces, blogs. I occasionally read the comments on these articles and blogs, too--and before you ask, yes, I do enjoy nails on a chalkboard and a good tasing now and then.

OK, that’s an exaggeration. But given the content of most comment threads in the political world, one might prefer being tased or listening to the chalkboard screech. I do find it fascinating to see Godwin’s Law in action, as well as the many layers of trolling that exist--including trolling of trolls. That is, I can enjoy it for about 1-3 minutes, and I never let myself get pulled into the ring.

And by the way (yes, I'll get to the point about voting them "out" in a second), what’s the origin of the internet “troll”? I mean the term, not the actual thing (which, I suspect, originates somewhere in the 5th, 8th, or 9th Circle of Hell). I hear people talk about not feeding the trolls and telling them to go back under their bridge, but doesn’t the practice of internet trolling resemble the trolling that anglers engage in even more than a simply ugly mythical creature? You know, where you drag bait through the water and watch the sharks or whatever come out to feed? I suppose it’s a hybrid of these; an ugly mythical creature out fishing. But I digress.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of well-meaning comments to the effect of “We need to vote these [insert adjective form of expletive here] [insert plural noun form of expletive here] out of office!”

This puzzles me, as I’ve read this on English speaking sites based in the USA. If these commenters had ever voted they’d realize that no such mechanism exists. We do have recall votes, but they don’t seem to be calling for that. I’m not hearing “Recall the [insert plural noun form of expletive here]!” and all that that entails (Wisconsin aside). What I’m reading and hearing is “vote them out.”

Please don’t kill the messenger, but I just have to point this out. It’s important: apart from the elaborate recall process, we can only vote people in here in the good ol’ USA. That means that, when you’re talking about how dissatisfied you are with this guy or that gal or whomever, you really do need to think about . . . alternatives. Solutions. You need to know what’s going on, not just in your backyard, but in other backyards in other parts of the country and the world. If you wish to be rid of your favorite target of internet ranting, great, but who will replace them? How different are they in deed, not just in word? Because simply stepping into a voting booth and leaving the ballot blank, or not going to the polls at all, isn’t going to send your “vote em’ out” message. What it will do, is allow another candidate--most probably a member of one of our two official major parties--to get the job. So again I would ask you, are they really that different, in practical terms, from “the other guy”?

National Archives, Washington DC
This kind of makes me want to know who I’m voting for, since voting for someone is all I can do. I have to know what I want, not just what I don’t want. Which explains the first two sentences of this post. It explains why I check out various sources of info, rather than trusting the one that most confirms my existing viewpoint. That can be damned uncomfortable, let me tell you. It also makes me want very much to see fundamental changes in our political system. Yes, I certainly want to see campaign finance reform. But I also want to see legitimate third parties; real parties with a commanding presence and no need to gather signatures just to get ballot access, parties taking a sizable chunk of the vote, without one or the other major parties claiming that candidate “stole” votes away that were rightfully theirs. Who told those [insert plural body-part related expletive] they were entitled to my vote, that it belonged to them?

News flash to the major parties: If I vote for a candidate outside your two established parties, it's not that candidate who has "stolen" a vote that belonged to you--you never had my vote in the first place, because you don't represent what I want. I'm not "giving away" an election to someone else. If I voted for You, I'd be just throwing it away, voting for more of what I don't want. Get it? And for those who support one or the other established parties, good for you, but shame on you for suggesting that any voter has less of a right to vote for their own specific interests instead of yours. When you do that, you sound just as entitled as the plutocrats on Capital Hill. So, for crying out loud . . . just stop it, already.

My vote belongs to me. And yours, Dear Reader, belongs to you. It’s an awesome responsibility we share, finding those who most represent--in deeds, not merely in words--our most deeply held beliefs, needs, values, interests, desires. I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of tired of having to choose the lesser of two evils when exercising my civic duty at the polling station. A friend of mine is fond of saying “If you choose the lesser of two evils, you’re still choosing evil.” 

But it's just a mini-evil . . .
Well, I’m not sure I’d use the word evil, but I do want to choose a great candidate one day, not just one who is somewhat less crappy, somewhat less corrupt, somewhat more articulate and camera-friendly, somewhat more “electable” [blech!] than the other guy. This two-party system holds us all hostage. Do people really end up saying "I'm going to vote for John Doe because he's electable! I want someone . . .able to be elected!" Can we not aim any higher than this? It seems to me that many an American voter is constantly on the defensive, often voting more out of a sense of blocking what they're against, rather than advancing what they're for. "Well, I'd like to vote for X because he has great ideas, but he can't win and I really don't want to see Y win, so I'll vote for Z." You know why Mr X can't win? Because that voter, and other good people like them, keep buying this line of thinking and making their choices out of fear. 

The two party system divides us along simplistic, mythical lines, and instills fear of being forced to cross over into the dark netherworld of “The Other”, and losing whichever supposedly righteous identity we’ve chosen to align ourselves with. In the end, we end up aligned with a long history of suckers, plain and simple, compromising away the very things we most need and want. Is that really democracy?

This probably seems like the kind of post to put up around election time, and it’s already the end of November. That’s OK. You see, I know good citizenship takes time and effort, and we’re busy people, all of us. So maybe this little reminder, now, a year before the next Big One, can be useful to someone reading this.

Here’s the challenge to those who say they don't have time to become more informed. And please don't take this as a lecture. It's not meant that way at all--I know we all have busy lives to live, myself included. It's meant to be a pep-talk, to inspire you to do what I know is a really challenging thing for people who have only a 24-hour day, and to give you a few tools if you click on the links. You don't have to become an expert on everything. But wouldn't you like to know about the things that matter to you? See if you’re up for it: 

Rah! Rah! Rah! Go People Go!

Maybe skip an episode of House or whatever is the medical-show-of-the-moment, and read about health care policy. Read about costs, fraud, pharmacological research, Medicare policy, fee-for-service versus other models that exist outside the USA. Read about where the USA ranks among the world’s nations in health care (hint: perhaps not where you think). Read (or watch, if you follow the link) about the number of bankruptcies filed in the USA related to medical bills, and then read about how that compares with the rest of the developed world.

Maybe cut back on “World of Warcraft” a little and read about our military spending compared to other countries, and where that money goes, and who wants to cut benefits to veterans while asking them to bear the burden of multiple wars overseas. Read about war widows and orphans, and the costs we don’t measure in dollars; the costs we can never measure.

Maybe cut back by 30 minutes each day or each week the time spent playing Farmville the next time you’re on Facebook, and read about some farm bills and farming; read about farm subsidies (aka farm welfare) and who gets them. Read about genetically modified plants and seeds, environmental protections, farm impacts on water quality, the FDA, food inspections and government oversight. How are they doing? Which candidates support which policies?

Maybe cut back 30 minutes of Mafia Wars gaming, and read about crime; how we stop it (or fail to), how we prevent it (or fail to), how many people crowd our prisons and who they are, why they’re there, and what options they have when they get out--because not everyone is there for life, nor should they be. Read about those who write the laws that effect all of us, and those who write the laws that are sometimes unevenly applied. Read about who supports and who opposes capital punishment, and how it’s applied in their state. Read about crime victims and which candidates support them, support or oppose strong and reasonable gun control legislation. Read about the modern-day mafiosos (they don’t wear fedoras necessarily, so don’t be fooled) who pay for campaigns, in the hope of writing laws in their favor. Read about the deals that make for corporate welfare and major companies that pay zero dollars in taxes due to subsidies and loopholes set up by their friends in government. These guys could teach the mafia a thing or two.

"Goldman-Sachs is on the phone. I don't think you can refuse."

Kids keeping you busy? Well, if they’re old enough, you can give them a lesson in civics and open up discussion with them, start training them to be the best, most engaged citizens they can be. Have them look up a topic, or a representative’s voting record. Talk to them about an issue they can identify that directly affects them. They want any excuse to be on the computer? Well, now you can give them a really good one. Kids too small for that? Then remember that decisions made by our leaders today (or their practice of “kicking the can down the road”) will directly affect your kids later on. Do you want to know about those effects? More importantly, don't you want to know more about that guy or gal who's trying to kiss your baby?

Photo credit: Jim Bourg/Reuters file.

You’re too busy looking for a job to do this? I hear you loud and clear. The last I read, for every one job opening in this country, there were 5 people looking for work. But maybe, just maybe, one day when it all gets too frustrating and you need to feel more empowered to change that state of affairs in a big way, you’ll take a day off from the search--you’ve probably earned it-- and read what leading economists say about various plans put forth by different candidates. Maybe you’ll decide to read about the deregulation of banking and finance that started a long time ago and got our economy to start circling the drain. Maybe you want to read about who is or isn't looking out for you and your family, your retirement, your ability to put food on the table, your job training opportunities, and who is looking out for the greedy [insert expletive of your choice] and irresponsible pathological gamblers who helped get us all into this mess (and no, I don’t mean only Wall Street guys and banking execs). . . .read about those reps who seem to care only about keeping their jobs and the benefits they receive as government employees, but that they would deny to you and your own family (health care, just one example).

None of these things concern you? I can't imagine how that's possible, but then go ahead and seek out info on the things that really do matter to you. Because one thing I know for sure is that the current broken system thrives on our sense of being helpless, thrives on our exhaustion and depletion and, ultimately, on our inaction. Remember this guy?

You don't have to face off with tanks. Just the internet, then the voting booth.

 You don't have to be him. Not even close. You only have to do a little searching for what matters to you most (is it really Facebook? Is it really TV?), and who you want representing you to make it happen.

. . .and if you find him or her--you know, the one who’s looking out for you and me--please let me know who that is, and tell me why you think so. Because the next time I enter a polling place, I don’t want it to be from a place of vulnerability and ignorance and being “against” someone. I want it to be from a position of strength and empowerment, with a clear vision of what I’m voting for, of who and what I’m voting in.

Cheerleader illustration credit: Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on


  1. nice work. i know its impossible to start writing about politics without ranting a bit. i feel the same way. thanks for the links, it very helpful to have someone we feel connected to and know we share similar life values with to discuss and point out issues that need attention. Relationship really is key to caring.

    1. Thanks for reading, as always, Ms Wasp. Be sure to spread it around (the post, that is). I'm sure there are lots of folks who'd love to become better informed but don't know where to start. The Project Vote Smart link is a big help, I think, outlining some of the biggest issues and where specific reps stand. It's this one:


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