I watched the Fox sponsored “debate” along with a group of local Democrats. I’m not sure which was more depressing: the debate, or the room of aging liberals with whom I sat. As one might expect, the gathering applauded the “debaters” with choruses of guffaws, harrumphs, and snickers. I wasn’t unsympathetic. I felt pretty much the same way, but I also listened to the cheers of loud approval coming from the convention center crowd. The more repressive the hyperbole mouthed by candidates, the louder the cheers of approval. I don’t think my Democratic friends understand what that means.
Those cheers, I believe, were echoed by the majority of voters in our part of the state, because the far right wing political ethos that has come to dominate electoral politics around here has convinced most voters to be scared, suspicious, and certain that their way of life is being taken from them. They see themselves as rugged individualists who want their freedoms guaranteed by a strong military through an authoritarian government that will squash those who are threatening those freedoms. They are frightened by out of control government spending that is not out of control. They are frightened of the mushrooming growth of a government that is not growing. They are fearful that our security is jeopardized by the weakness of a heavily guarded southern border, and by the declining power of a military that is the largest in the world. They are infuriated at the lack of economic opportunity, yet oppose any effort to regulate corporate abuse. They want us to be more competitive in world trade, but don’t want any trade agreements. They are afraid that the military they adore might be used against them. They are terrified that unless we bomb someone else into obscurity, someone else will do that to us. They deny any kind of systemic racism, and can’t stand the idea of a black president. They detest his dictatorial executive orders, but don’t know what an executive order is, and can’t name more than one, which they think has something to do with granting illegal immigrants citizenship.
You have to take that seriously. Guffaws, harrumphs, and snickers are not an adequate response. Moreover, I said that I believe such views are held by a majority of voters, not a majority of the people, and in an election it is the voters that count. Public polling indicates that the majority of the public in our part of the state leans toward a more traditional, pragmatic conservatism that, oddly enough, values most of the progressive ideals espoused by Democratic candidates. But most of them are Republicans. Why? Because they have always been Republicans, and what that means is that the majority of potential voters don’t vote. What might be called center right Republicans don’t vote because they are not persuaded by the far right extremism of the so called base. Center left Democrats don’t vote because what’s the point in such a conservative region. Statewide figures indicate that about 73% of eligible voters are registered to vote. In the last general election about 54% of them did vote. It means that a little over a third of the voting age population decided who was in and who was out for all the rest.
So who are they, the ones that vote? The frightened neo-fascist gang on the far right, and the smaller group of aging socialist hippies on the far left. OK, that’s a gross exaggeration, but unless more progressive minded folks can find a way to make their message heard in a way that appeals to the pragmatic, show me, majority of potential voters who have quit voting, our region will continue to elect far right candidates who can do little good and a great deal of damage.