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Empowering the American people

Posted by idealistagain on 2008.10.20 at 17:58
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Tags: , ,
The 2008 presidential election has been unlike any campaign I can recall seeing. People are actually paying attention to this one. Millions of people are registering to vote for the first time. But I've heard it asked: Is it such a good thing that so many people are taking a sudden interest in voting? What about the people who don't seem to know much about how our government works? And does voting make a difference at all?

The mathematicians can show you all sorts of mathematical wizardry to "prove" that one vote doesn't mean a thing. The not-so-mathematically inclined often point to example after example of races in which one vote or ten turned out to be the difference. Of course, there's room for endless debate. I don't think anyone would argue that it would make no difference if all of the supporters of Candidate A turned out to vote while all the supporters of Candidate B stayed home. Better to be safe than sorry, I always say.

Less clear is the question of whether our elections--with the electoral college, winner-take-all state-by-state races, and Diebold voting machines--actually reflect the will of the people. Solutions have been proposed that run the gamut from proportional distribution of electoral votes to some sort of preferential ranking system where an individual's second choice would matter. That too is another endless debate.

What we have to understand is that true participatory government demands more from the people than just showing up to cast a ballot on election day. Government is more responsive when people are actually paying attention to what Congress and the President are doing and write letters and otherwise make themselves heard. While corporations, unions, and other faceless entities often run multi-million dollar lobbying efforts, the voices of small business owners, farmers, teachers, scientists, doctors, truck drivers, and yes, Joe the Plumber, are all too seldom heard.

The 21st century brings with it a lot of challenges and we haven't even seen the hardest of them yet. In this new world of advanced computers, the Internet, and biotechnology, information is not only the foundation of power, it is power. That means it's more vital than ever that people understand not just the issues but how the mechanisms of government work to shape those issues. In many cases, we may even need novel 21st century political mechanisms to keep up with the ever-increasing rate that our society is evolving.

This, more than anything else, is what USA 2020 is about: the idea that we must arm ordinary people not just with the vote, but with knowledge and information of how their government works (or doesn't work) and the options to make it better. Facing the challenges of the future demands government that is more democratic, not less, and far greater transparency. And the power lies not within the Washington Beltway, but within our own hopes and dreams.

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