Sending Electoral Apathy Into Exile:

The nation's future depends on an informed, involved citizenry.
By Jeffrey Abelson
(Jeffrey Abelson is a filmmaker and writer in Los Angeles).
Los Angeles Times
January 24, 2004

As the campaign season heats up, we'll hear a lot about civic apathy, how voter turnout remains lamentably low despite aggressive mobilization efforts.

But there's a crucial corollary issue that's rarely addressed in the public square - the more sensitive notion that the ongoing health of our democracy depends not merely on increasing the number of voters, but increasing the depth of thought that goes into the act of voting.

If citizens have only a cursory understanding of the critical issues, they lack the ability to make truly informed judgments about candidates and the policies they promote. And that produces government after government presided over by politicians who seem out of touch with ordinary Americans - which, in fact, they often are because they're funded and influenced by special interests that fill the vacuum created by a passive citizenry. We claim to disdain this, yet we do nothing to reverse the trend, which is curious because democracy is about self-governance and thus offers an obvious solution. If we want more effective government, we need to become more effective citizens.

The only way to do that is to fully inform ourselves about the increasingly complex problems we face. But too few seem willing to make the effort. Why is this the case in a nation that claims to value education so highly? Why do so many of us know so little about the issues that deeply affect us?

Some say it's because we simply don't have the time do the requisite reading, thinking and analyzing. Our priorities are elsewhere. So we become apathetic about our civic duties. We become lazy as citizens.

When most of us think about governance at all, we focus on the personalities of politicians - how they make us feel, not on the ripple effects of the decisions they make that affect not only our own lives but those of our children and grandchildren.

Yet we endlessly grumble about the quality of our leaders, as if we didn't elect them. On some level, we know we're not doing enough, and the truth hurts. So we wrap a sheath of psychological armor around our civic conscience. This armor of apathy might help assuage our guilt, but it also helps keep us passive as citizens. It's a counterproductive crutch we use to help us avoid thinking about our failure to fully honor the social contract that formed the core of our extraordinary national inheritance. That inheritance of uniquely liberating ideals and transcendent values helped make this nation the most prosperous and powerful in history. It sustains us still, even as we squander it.

So how do we wake up and wise up and reconnect with our root values and lost ideals? Each of us will have to answer that for himself or herself. But in the tenuous times we live in, this much seems clear: Regardless of who is president or which party controls Congress, we're on a collision course with our future unless a new enlightenment arises from a vastly more informed and engaged citizenry.

To get to that promised land, we need to shatter the armor and send apathy into exile - the acts of true citizen patriots.

Read DDC Response