Post-Election Apathy? Or All The Time Apathy?

In the aftermath of this most recent election, I’m left with a feeling of inevitability. Some people will be celebratory on Facebook and in conversation. Some people bemoan the state of affairs and talk about hopes for the next time around. I’m left feeling strangely apathetic. While other people were watching votes on a national map, I was studying the mayoral election in my home town where the slightly creepy guy who owns the local tire and lube was running against one of the garbage men. And honestly, I felt like that was more important. I feel more distressed that Terri Lynn Weaver still won the state legislature seat even after her black-face debacle than I do about the amount of red or blue covering the country.

The fact of the matter is that I believe in local politics in a way that I can’t seem to muster up about politics on a national level, and I think I’ve discovered part of the reason in the New York Times coverage of the post-election mayhem on Facebook. Consider this status update that went along with the link to a story about how hard it is going to be for Obama to work with the new House of Representatives: “Republicans rode a tide of voter discontent to take control of the House of Representatives and expand their voice in the Senate in elections Tuesday.” When I googled for this exact phrase in the last three days, it showed up an overwhelming 961 times, indicating that this is the popular metaphor for this election. What I take issue with this phrase is that voters are a “tide;” they flow in and out, sometimes they crash into things, they can’t be controlled, but they can be anticipated. Just like we can plan for ocean tides, candidates can plan for which way the American people are going to flow and perhaps edge them one way or another.

Or consider this phrase, also from the New York Times Facebook page: “Palin’s 2010 Investment May Pay Well Off in 2012.” Winning an election is no longer about striving to be the voice of the people; instead, it’s about making the right “investment” at the right times. What I find particularly interesting about this instance is that Palin is portrayed as a savvy business woman while she seems so set on constructing herself as an outdoorsy type who’s just like you. At the same time, the American people don’t have any real control over who gets elected. It’s all about money.

I celebrate the power of the individual vote, and I really truly believe in that vote (especially when choosing between tire-and-lube guy and garbage man for city mayor). However, it’s frustrating to me that the news coverage of elections isn’t framed in terms of individuals; individuals have nothing to do with national politics. Even the candidates aren’t individuals! They are these weird amalgamations of party loyalties and building alliances and special interest groups, and it just makes me feel slightly ill. So I’ll continue caring about who’s running my town, my county, even my state, but I don’t think I’ll get so worked up about the rest of the country.

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2 Responses to Post-Election Apathy? Or All The Time Apathy?

  1. mwatts1280 says:

    As someone who also watches what is happening back home in the political scene rather closely, I like your observations about the politician as individual vs. the politician as “weird amalgamation of party loyalties.” I’m forever fascinated by the ways that my home state, SC, can put itself on the national political map, largely through its array of politicians who capitalize on their individuality and celebrate their break from the Washington political “machine.” Let’s make the narrative about person vs. machine. John Henry vs. the steam engine. Brilliant.

    Joe Wilson gave the U.S. the wonderful “You lie!” outburst, breaking codes of conduct during a presidential address (Joe’s not a politician. He’s a straight talker.)

    Lindsey Graham forever appears on TV as John McCain’s special BFF. (Lindsey’s not a politician. He’s a war veteran’s friend.)

    Jim DeMint’s “staunch support of the family” has motivated a values voter organization to launch a “pray for Jim De Mint” campaign as he fights against sneaky gays and their agenda. (Jim’s not a politician. He’s a good Christian family man.)

    Mark Sanford-well- “walks the Appalachian Trial.” (Mark’s not a politician. He’s a husband and father who wants to sleep with a sexy Argentinian who is not his spouse, just like the rest of us.)

    These politicians are all good characters first, political amalgamations second–at least that’s the way they are often characterized in the media. I think the emphasis on character obscures, though, the scripted political expectations behind the fascinating individual. (I’m having a Willie Stark moment.) There’s perhaps more room to be an individual, not a politician, because the political clime is rather set, at least in my home state. The alliances have been made. The state is going to light up red on the map. I wonder if there is a correlation between the cult of the individual and the consistency in which a state lights up blue or red. Do we get more “political amalgamations” in swing states and national elections where blue or red is a toss up?

    So who won, the garbage man or the tire and lube guy?

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