I hold this truth to be self-evident: That fewer and fewer of us are bothering to get involved in self-governance. Forget working for and contributing to the candidate of your choice. How about just registering and then voting? OK, just voting. I won’t get picky about registering. I used to live in Chicago, where election reform consisted of making sure that all the dead people who voted were in fact registered.
Mind you, many of us certainly aren’t shy about taking part in the Gross National Whine. We all want the best national defense, medical care, roads and schools; plus lower taxes and a reduced national debt. Of course, as comedian Will Durst once noted, we also want drive-through nickle beer night, and we want to lose weight by eating ice cream. But right now I’d settle for us just wanting to help choose our candidates for public office.
I’ve long argued for a bienniel national lottery — 51 of them, in fact, in each state and the District of Columbia. Every two years, I think we ought to give one million dollars to one person who actually votes in each state and DC. Given our love of gambling I think this could hike voter turnout 5%. And to those who say that this would be the least motivated, least informed part of the electorate, I reply: probably. But I consider turnout so dangerously low these days that I’m prepared to take a chance on the ignoramus vote in hopes that they’ll get in the habit of voting and maybe later get interested enough to actually — oh, I don’t know — read a newspaper or something. Call me Pollyanna.
And now comes something to warm the cockles of a citizen’s heart (if your cockles overheat, consider rubbing them with dry ice): That recent CNN democratic presidential debate in Charleston, SC, at which all the questions came from: You-Tube! What a brilliant idea! I’ll guarantee you that debate had people tuning in who had never before bothered to watch anything so political. Granted, it was unorthodox. Just think: a future president of the united states may have actually been questioned by a talking snowman.
But some of the questions hit meaningful issues of the day, and none of those selected wallowed in inside-the-beltway questions of process, or used carefully contrived words to play gotcha. Best of all, it served to jumpstart people from their lethargy and indecision on these nearly two dozen would-be, could-be, wanna-be, might-be presidents.
Personally, I’m ambivalent about indecision, but not about the state of the electorate, nor about possible ways to improve things.
We might expand on that lottery idea and simply have one registered voter selected at random from each party to be granted public funding and a chance to run his or her own presidential campaign. A Joe Blow sitting up on the stage at these debates could add a breath of fresh air to the stale discussion.
And we might consider changing more than the participation. How about rethinking the ways we choose a president? Instead of one more primary or caucus, why not have the candidates play poker for those delegates? New Hampshire hold ’em, we could call it, with PACS or better to open. Again, people would certainly watch. And who’s to say that bluffing isn’t a needed summitry skill?
As long as we’re willing to pander this much, let’s hand out some delegates based on a singing competition. Imagine John McCain on stage crooning "Who Can I Turn To?", or Hillary Clinton warbling to us in a stunning low-cut gown? OK, forget that last one. In view of the job prospects for most of the candidates, we could call this show "American Idle". Or we could have "Dancing with the Candidates". Every president needs to know how to dance a bit…around issues, if nothing else. And how far removed is this, really, from Bill Clinton whipping out — sorry — reaching for his saxophone and playing on Arsenio Hall?
Not that reality shows have to be divorced from reality. We could always have our presidential candidates take part in competitions which either show their qualifications for the job or familiarize them with some of the issues. In the latter category, since not many candidates (or presidents) have shown much willingness to tackle this issue, how about a new reality show called "Borderline President"? In it, candidates would be given a map and a canteen of water and turned loose in Mexico. First one to make it back to U.S. soil is the winner. What a great way to hand out delegates in the Texas primary!
One of the most popular forms of entertainment these days could form the basis for a presidential candidate competition: "Wrestling with the Issues" could feature the contenders in steel cage death matches. This would be worth it just for the possible Fred Thompson-Dennis Kucinich matchup.
Game shows might offer some possibilities: Imagine "The Price is Right": "And now, going up for bids — IT’S A NEW FEDERAL EDUCATION PLAN! The bidding starts at 50 billion dollars"…
Or how about Family Feud? With the democratic team: Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and Barak Obama….versus the Republicans: Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Rudy Guliani, and Mitt Romney! Who knows, we might even get Richard Dawson to come out of retirement, provided he didn’t have to kiss either Clinton or Pelosi.
Since we value one on one communications skills in our presidents, we might consider resurrecting the old "Match Game" with new rules. Have a randomly chosen voter question three candidates seated behind a screen. The voter might ask, "Candidate number one: How would your medical insurance plan rock my world?" "Well, voter, my single payer program would strip bare your bank account with all my new taxes."
These are just a few ideas to get the discussion going. When we pose the question, "Which is worse, voter ignorance or voter apathy?", the answer shouldn’t be, "I don’t know and I don’t care".