After the awful hurricane, I thought of how a national election year is kind of like a powerful, slow-moving storm moving across the map. We’re all on edge, fearing how the big-picture news will affect us personally.
The passion over the presidential election is always intense. We tend to approach each one now with apocalyptic fervor. And media outlets stoke this emotional firestorm, pushing talking-head coverage on us relentlessly, as if pundits carried some wisdom we need. The aim of television “news” outlets is less and less on civic-minded policy education and more on carrying an audience through a commercial break. If you rely on television news for your education, you should be aware of your place in the giant revenue picture and why educating you is less important to the outlet than selling you on Cialis or whatever sex enhancement drug is played at the break.
Anyway, the election is over. The passions are still intense. And opinions on the presidential race are everywhere. Our shirts vs. skins culture will continue, with teams rabidly opposing each other and declaring each other the devil. It’s the nature of things now. Policy differences aren’t enough. We must hate. And I’m constantly disheartened by the acrimony. I believe the political system to be completely beholden to monied interests. And partisan gnashing of teeth is a kind of sideshow to the underlying crookedness of the system that infects both parties like a cancer. Imagine if I took money from people I wrote about. Imagine if a judge took money from plaintiffs and defendants. Imagine if referees took money from players. Our legislators operate in such a climate. They talk as if they are straight with us, but they have their hand out to the high bidders. They have no choice. It’s the game. And all of their talk is compromised by that fact. Without people finally uniting and showing outrage over this, we will always be duped to a large degree. And we will focus on our partisanship and our cultural differences rather than recognizing the crooked structure that compromises us all. This is what I want to shout whenever I’m confronted with partisan rancor. “Don’t you see the bigger picture? It’s an auction!”
Now, that you’ve sat through that post-election sermon, let me offer a few other observations:
•The Republican Party faces a demographic challenge nationally in this new century. The South tends to show real party loyalty. And the GOP will probably hold the southeast for at least another generation. State and local politics mask this fact to most around here. But the nation is becoming less and less white. And the party will struggle nationally if it can’t find ways to address this demographic truth politically. Whatever you feel about George Bush’s proposed immigration reform, an underlying principle for the GOP in that move was securing more numbers for the party’s future. They knew they needed to make in-roads with Hispanic voters. This was adamantly opposed by the party’s base. These issues will surface again for the Republican Party. And there will be great inner-party conflict in how to deal with this.
•Our “hanging chad” debacle of 2000 brought us a wave of electronic voting machines. This was seen as an upgrade. But I’m skeptical. I have more trust in paper than in digits on a computer monitor when it comes to reviewing actual election results. Where is the paper trail? In Georgia, we don’t have one. In an age of high-end computer hackery, we put our trust in election computers and assume no one can breach the system. This seems naïve. I want to see a paper trail and more safety checks before our next general election.
•I have absolutely no problem with requiring an ID to vote in person. I do have a problem with not requiring an ID to vote by absentee ballot. Seems like a sketchy incongruence that can be exploited.
•The passage of the Constitutional Amendment 1 in Georgia will likely lead to a wave of charter school requests. There will be money to be made. Will it ultimately prove worthwhile? We’ll see. But it will certainly create a type of parallel education system, with public funds sent to private interests. I hope legislators will at least require companies operating the schools with taxpayer money to open their financial books to the public.
•The area re-elected our local legislators to the Georgia General Assembly. Like or dislike their political decisions in Atlanta, there’s no dispute that the three — Frank Ginn, Alan Powell and Tom McCall — are attentive to Madison County on local issues, such as securing funds for road upgrades.
•The Journal conducts written interviews with local candidates each election year. This is just one tool for readers in learning about their potential representatives. I’d give the award for best interview this year to Madison County state house candidate David Vogel. His answers were unusual and thought provoking.
•The passion over the presidential race was matched locally by the highly emotional sheriff’s race. Now that the election is in the books, we’ll see if the community can put the acrimony aside — at least until the next go around. That was a truly ugly year locally.
I’m glad Nov. 6 has passed. But it won’t be long until the next general election is here. Time is speeding by for us all.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.