Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

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Sunday, November 08, 2015

Shallow and proud, Powerless and Ignored

Whether an election contest be grueling or easy, Super PAC  fueled or small-donor financed, filled with venom-specked snarling or staid and courtly in tone, one final duty finishes off every campaign. The winners all issue some form of standard victory statement. You’ve heard these speeches many times from many candidates.  But listen closely.  In fulfilling this task,  most utter an unintentional but telling exaggeration more profound than any promise made on the campaign trail.

Here’s an example from the winner of the recent mayoral contest in Terre Haute, Mayor Duke Bennett is speaking:  “I am humbled that the citizens wanted me back again.”

Did you hear it?  No, the “I am humbled” part is good.  It’s Bennett’s “the citizens wanted me back again” that is what should catch your attention. It implies all of Terre Haute was out there backing  Duke.  This is an unseemly stretch.

I add again, it’s not Mayor Bennett alone who speaks with a slippery and not a slip of the tongue.  After last Tuesday “the citizens,”  “the people,” “this wide community,” “all out there” were being thanked by winners, Democrats and Republicans, across the nation.  Sadly, those who are a part of these sprawling collectives will be forgotten by the election victors before the voting machines are packed up and stored away.  The umbrellas of victory speeches will close.  The rain will pour on citizens, people, communities, and the all.

Too harsh?  We’ll see.  But we do have some hard facts from this past election. We can do the math on just what portion of our citizenry did, through their votes, get a little closer to the candidates, did participate in our representative democracy.  It’s not a pretty picture.  It’s pitiful and depressing.

In Bennett’s case, those who wanted him back again, turn out to be a mere 9% of the eligible voters. You don’t have to be an ISTEP math scholar to divide votes cast for Bennett (4,285) by total eligible voters in Terre Haute (48,500 is a close approximation) to see that the broad reach of “citizens” he thanks for his victory were in truth a small sliver of Terre Haute’s potential voters.

And so it goes in Terre Haute and beyond the Crossroads of America.  Low voter turnout defeats the ideals of representative democracy.  And yes, refusing to vote may represent to some a kind of freedom. As if freedom is served by sitting on the sidelines, shallow and proud, powerless and ignored.

And the national elections of 2016 loom.

[Letter to Terre Haute Tribune Star, Published November 8, 2015.