Thursday, October 9, 2008

Getting the Public Involved and Educated?

David Miller sort of posed a question similar to this to me, and I've been thinking about it, but I'm struggling with solutions. The political blogosphere has the ability for frank and honest discussions between those who care about issues, coming from both sides of those issues. But what do we do about those who decide to vote out of public duty, but don't do their homework on what the people they elect actually do and have actually done? Our nation will only be as good as our average voter, and honestly (I know I'll be accused of being elitist), I don't have alot of faith in the average voter.

Most of the people I ride the bus with, don't understand the electoral college, the separation of powers doctrine, who the last five President's were, or even who their State Senator is. Many of them do vote, however, some of them Democrats, more of them Republicans. On what basis do they vote? I haven't been able to get my hand around this. Is it name recognition? Who has the most and prettiest signs? Do they know the candidate personally and think well of them? Is party affiliation the driving force? I'm sure the reasons are all over the board.

I think one thing that would help, is the insistence upon a civics course in order to graduate from High School. I would also encourage high schools to allow clubs associated with political or issue/based affiliations. Perhaps each high school can have it's own political blog and allow for posts and discussions with perhaps some moderation from a faculty member. Maybe it is happening already? I'm staring at my 30 year reunion coming in a couple of years, so I'm not in touch with the younger crowd. But my experience has taught me, that someone engaged in political discussion in high school, tends to remain engaged and interested and is more likely to read the paper or watch the news.

And what about the rest of the electorate. How do we get them engaged, not only in voting, but discussing openly the important issues of our day? IRL, I have never shied away from political discussions (even though I've been chastised a few time) in public. I've even been willing to take a position opposite my own, if it will cause discussion. But I am often perceived as a weird outlier, someone who gets caught up in politics too easily. I can almost hear them say, "ol Obi, there he goes again."

i apologize for the rambling. But I am open to suggestions in how to get Americans engaged in their own governance. Good government rarely comes hand-in-hand from an ill-informed electorate. But I don't know what to do to raise the bar for that electorate.


Allie said...

I think a lot of people feel like it doesn't matter what happens in politics because it doesn't directly affect their lives, or that there's nothing they can do to change things anyway.

I don't know how you help people get over those feelings.

I feel like when I start talking, some of my inlaws automatically turn off their ears. Anything I have to say is automatically viewed as crazy liberal stuff (although I view myself more as a moderate). It's really frustrating.

Curtis said...

I feel that this is an echo of the "me first" generation. Like Allie said, people don't feel that politics relations to them on a personal level (even though everything from traffic lights to international fiscal policy is politics).

What I can say, being part of the younger generation, is that people my age are starting to return to a feeling of civic engagement. The driving force for this is the interconnectiveness our generation embraces.

As far as what you need to do to get people more involved overall? Well I propose that those active citizens reach out to our non-political friends and explain to them in (and this is the hard part) a non biased way what each politician feels and helps guide people through the process.

Most people don't hate politics, they just don't understand it. Because they don't know how to respond to politicos without sounding stupid, they tend to just opt out of the conversation entirely.

Anonymous said...

If Allie and Curtis are right (and I have no reason to think they aren't), is there some way to help people see how politics does affect their daily lives?

Obi wan liberali said...

I think that is the challenge, David. Government affects people in a wide variety of ways and it only occurs to them when things go wrong. How do we focus people on the desire to engage with the government to ensure that things go right?

People take their kids to public schools, on publicly funded roads, and even bury their loved ones in public cemetaries. They picnic in parks paid for by the public. No invasion of our land has occured since the war of 1812, because of our publicly funded military. Our government plays a significant role in our life, and so few seem to realize it and pay attention to the implications of changes in governmental policy.

Too many Americans are like members of a board of directors who never examine the financial statements of the business they are supposed to serve. I've offered a few ideas to correct this, but I'm still struggling with ultimate solutions.

Anyway David, I appreciate you bringing up this most difficult problem.