Disenchanted Democracy

Last night the NTDO Executive Committee held its monthly meeting. Among items on the agenda, President Judy Mandel announced that the Committee will have the month of July off to enjoy a brief summer recess. (She is a much more humane leader than the Senate’s Mitch McConnell.) But seriously, it was a good meeting that included the organization’s plans for the summer and fall and also several stimulating discussions and positive reports.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s Political Director, Ben Head, was there along with our 17th District’s Democratic candidate for State Rep., Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz. Ben, a well-respected pro, will now be guiding Jennifer’s campaign toward victory in November. We know it will be a tough race as she will be facing a Republican opponent with tremendous financial support from right wing organizations. Keeping the 17th District blue will require support from every one of us as volunteers and donors.

The highlight of the evening, however, was a report from Committee member Mark Caras’ daughter, Georgia Caras. Georgia, a Boston University student, graduated from New Trier last year where she was active in the Young Democrats organization (and really active as the coxswain for the medal-winning New Trier rowing team).

Georgia gave an informal report on the political climate among students at Boston U in this election year. It was interesting to hear that the great majority of her student friends, including those with conservative fiscal views, are social liberals. The divisive tactics being used by the Trump Party (formerly the Republican Party) are a turn-off for most of those young potential voters.

But getting the crucially important votes of students in November is far from a done deal. Ms. Caras described how so many students have become disenchanted with the entire political process. There’s no guarantee they’ll even go to the polls. And what makes things even more complicated is that many of those students, if they are registered voters, are registered in their hometown precincts. Getting them to vote while at school will require that they request an absentee ballot.

Ms. Caras’ comments inspired a brief discussion on how more students might be encouraged to either vote on campus or vote absentee at home.  It was mentioned that in some past elections, the NTDO has had some success sending messages to NTDO members with college-age kids, alerting them to request absentee ballots.

So here’s that first reminder: if you have a family member or a friend going away to school this fall mark your fall calendar to remind them about absentee voting. Today, the percentage of young voters is shockingly low but based on the recent student-driven demonstrations across the country, things may be changing. Raising the number of young voters in this election could make a desperately needed difference.

As was mentioned above, young people (and to some degree, voters in general) have become increasingly cynical and disenchanted with the need to vote. And it’s not hard to see how such voter disengagement has come about.

Over the years, the use of editorial deceit, divisive rhetoric and a denigration of government has been normalized by Fox News. Most AM radio stations have been monopolized into the hands of a few conservative owners so in many parts of our country a single point of view is all listeners hear. Also, today’s 24/7 news requires filling air time with “news” that is too often factually suspect. And now the Internet has appeared to spread not just facts but also half-truths and outright lies instantly to millions of people. Want one more factor? By The Washington Post’s count, President Trump has told the public over 3000 lies since becoming President.

In that vein, one of the discussions last night dealt with how ham-handed, crudely exaggerated political messaging can turn off voters in our region. This led to a discussion about judging when a line of decency in politics is crossed. Of course someone quoted the old political adage: “Politics ain’t beanbag.” And someone else pointed out that Honest Abe Lincoln used shrewd “machine style” moves right here (fittingly) in Chicago to win the 1860 Republican nomination for President. The truth is, from Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to the years of FDR or LBJ, political battles have often required rough tactics in order to get good things done. And as for keeping messaging “pure,” political figures have always been allowed some level of “double speak” – just watch any Sunday morning political “news” show.

But the thing is, things quite recently have changed. The deeper we get into this new era of instant messaging to millions of voters, the more imperative it is that the messages from our candidates must ring true. Our good candidates, in politics for honorable reasons, can’t give in to the urge to match their opponents’ inflammatory words and distortions with an equal level of sleaze.

Yes, hit back hard. But do it with honesty and class. If we play their game, we will just be adding to the further erosion of our democratic process. This is what Russian Intelligence hackers have been shooting for.

With that in mind, every Democratic candidates should keep in mind what Michelle Obama memorably said, “When they go low, we go high.” At least that’s the way we should go.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973 

P.S. If you have noticed that sometimes your weekly NTD News doesn’t show up, check your junk mail. Sometimes Comcast, in particular, labels this as “junk.” (We are working to change that.)