The buck stops with us.
Finger-pointing is rampant following this week’s shutdown of the federal government. Blame it on the radicalism of the Tea Party, some say. Blame it on the timidity of moderate Republicans, say others, because they fear losing their seats if challenged by Tea Party candidates. Blame it on the stubbornness of the Democrats, say others still.
Without question, all three share blame. Far higher on the blame barometer, however, are we the people. For far too long, now, we have abdicated our central role in the democratic process.
First, but not necessarily foremost, is the poor turnout in elections. For example, while 126 million people voted nationally in 2012, they represented only 57.5 percent of eligible voters, according to the Center for the Study of the American Electorate. There were 93 million people who could have voted – should have voted – but did not. New Jersey did better than the national average – 62.6 percent – but that still means that one-third of eligible Garden State voters sat on their hands in 2012.
The Senate is often at a standstill because neither party is able to muster the 60 votes needed to avert a filibuster. Yet in August, when New Jersey voters were asked to choose the candidates who will face each other this month to replace the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, only nine percent of eligible voters turned out. Nine percent!
Now that Democrat Corey Booker and Republican Steve Lonegan are facing off, most voters are not even aware that the election is only 12 days away, much less what the issues are or where the two men stand on those issues. Is Booker as liberal as advertised? Is Lonegan a Tea Party Republican? Most eligible voters cannot answer such questions.
This lack of knowledge among voters is even more chilling to the democratic process than low turnouts. We do not take the time to study the issues, or where the candidates stand on them. We settle for sound bites and slogans and the like, but we do not take the time to attend town hall meetings or candidate forums, such as the ones co-sponsored last year by the Jewish Standard and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
To understand how poorly we the people do our part in the political process, consider some pre-shutdown polls.
A CNBC poll, for example, shows that roughly 29 percent of the public supports Obamacare, while only 22 percent support the Affordable Care Act (ACA). On the other hand, while 46 percent oppose Obamacare, only 37 percent oppose the ACA.
In a Fox News survey, support for the ACA among Republican voters was eight percentage points higher than their support for Obamacare.
In other words, some of the very people who support or oppose Obamacare feel the opposite about the Affordable Care Act. Yet Obamacare is the Affordable Care Act. The ACA is Obamacare. “Obamacare” is merely a label tacked on to the ACA to make it anathema for people who dislike President Barack Obama.
Anti-ACA forces also manage to confuse the public by referring to “the health care bill,” as if the ACA is not yet established law. It is not a bill that can still be defeated; it is a law that passed muster even in the U.S. Supreme Court. Forbes magazine, which is no fan of the president, found in a survey it commissioned that “voters believe, by a margin of 66-33, that the 2012 election ‘represented a referendum on moving forward with implementation of the 2010 health care law.'” By calling it a “bill,” that number drops – because we the people do not do our homework.
Jewish voters turn out in larger numbers than many other groups, but often are no more knowledgeable about issues. A case in point is the reaction many had to Rep. William Pascrell’s signing of a 2010 House letter opposing on humanitarian grounds the extent of Israel’s blockade of goods entering Gaza.
Many agreed with Pascrell (D-NJ Dist. 9), two New Jersey colleagues, and 51 other signatories that Israel’s policy was too broad and hurt the average Palestinian rather than Hamas. Few of those people, however, were aware that importing goods is how Hamas and islamic Jihad terrorists fund their operations. Money is funneled into dummy Persian Gulf companies, which they deposit in bank accounts in China and elsewhere. Their agents then use the money to purchase goods that are shipped to Gaza. Once in Gaza, the goods are sold and the money goes into terrorist coffers.
Knowing this and still supporting Pascrell’s 2010 stand is valid and proper voter behavior. Not knowing this and supporting such a stand is why the democratic process is so dysfunctional.
The partial shutdown of the federal government is a shameful betrayal of the public trust. It is a cynical political ploy and people will be hurt by it for however long it lasts. The fault, however, rests less with the people who caused the shutdown than we the people who put them there in the first place.
Ultimately, we have only ourselves to blame.