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When did Democracy become a show nobody wanted to watch?

Captive Audience

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Recently, I was talking with an acquaintance who shared that she did not intend to register as a voter "until they started putting better candidates on the ballot."

It took me a while to put my finger on exactly what it was about the statement that bothered me most.

Then, it hit me: it was the use of "they" instead of "we" and the implication that the political process is something others do to us, not something in which each of us has an active role.

The truth is that many — if not most — Americans have been feeling this way about politics for decades — as if we were bystanders, an audience.

We've been played.

That's not the way it's supposed to work. Democracy, by definition, is a participatory government. In America, "We the People," through elected representatives, govern.

So how did we arrive at this strange point in history in which the political system has become dominated by two bickering parties more interested in keeping themselves in power than in representing their constituents?

Somehow, We the People let the reins slip through our fingers, the lunatic fringe from both political extremes grabbed hold, and neither the horse nor cart has been quite the same ever since.

Familiarity is a funny thing. Let an oligarchy of pachyderms and domesticated asses run the show long enough and it's easy to slip into a daze in which you really believe there's no other way the show can be run.

Maybe it's time to dust off the history books, review what the Constitution actually says, and remember that democracy stands or falls on the activity and involvement of its citizens.

Citizens: that means you and me and him and her and you and you and you.

Now, the deeper problem is that those folks who point out that things aren't going to change regardless of who we put in office this time around aren't entirely wrong.

So it may well be time for all of us, as Americans, to reacquaint ourselves with the concept of delayed gratification. That's going to be a bitter pill for a lot of us to swallow. Worn roads, crumbling schools, a widening wealth disparity, the grip of foreign oil, and boatloads of resentment — they're not the kinds of problems that mend easily or quickly.

But if we keep allowing the emotional vampires of our bipartisan system to drag us all down into the never ending morass of finger pointing and name calling, the problems won't mend at all.

And, frankly, the degree of division that has gained a foothold thanks to decades of the blame game is frightening, and, make no mistake, the blame game displaced baseball as our national pastime long ago.

A vast segment of our population even seems to have been persuaded that it is unpatriotic to so much as question the views expressed by the ruling party. That's the definition of a certain political system, all right, but it's not democracy.

I have a deep, abiding faith in the law of parsimony, which states that the simplest explanation tends to be correct. Thus, when I see a pack of pundits encouraging division, encouraging us to fight amongst ourselves, I have to step back and ask myself who benefits from us squabbling over our differences?

After all, nobody puts as much effort into something as certain pundits put into instigating culture wars without a reason.

So, maybe the reason for encouraging division is this: If a substantial number of eligible voters in the United States actually did unite on Election Day, we could flip the gravy train right off its tracks.

That might remind both major political parties that it's not about them and their internal squabbles; it's about us and the real problems facing our country.

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