Electoral Politics and the Lament of the Well-Informed Observer

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Although his focus is Fall River, Marc Monroe Dion’s lament of the well-informed observer in the Fall River Herald rings true much more broadly, certainly throughout this one-party region of festering apathy:

And Wednesday morning, when another dud of a Fall River election was over, there wasn’t anything left to do but pick up the crumpled napkins.

I say “dud” because hardly anyone votes, and I say “hardly anyone” because I write the history blog for this paper, and am often immersed in old newspaper stories from the days when a 60 or 70 percent turnout was the norm.

People who work in newsrooms live very close to the political process, so we overestimate the public’s level of interest, and we do that no matter how many 30 percent turnouts crop up in our stories. Politics in Fall River is like soccer in the rest the country. It’s going to get popular NEXT year.

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As I’ve written again and again, what people seem most to want from government is the ability not to pay attention.  Back when those old newspaper articles that Dion references were written, life was more difficult and entertainment more scarce.  Moreover, government did less and was therefore easier to get one’s head around.

What the busy schedules of modern life haven’t pushed aside, the progressive big-government mudslide of the last century has swept away.  Not only has government been made to seem like the existential battle of partisan tribes, but it’s so pervasive and intricate that the average person feels unqualified to assert his or her own interests, at least in contravention of insiders’ priorities.  Add to those dynamics the promise that central planning can relieve us of the need to pay attention.

We’ve gotten to the point, however, that people just want to be left out of the pressure and vitriol, free to live their lives.  The way back from that feeling isn’t obvious, unless we can promote the principle that government has no right to do things beyond the ken of the people.



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