Who or what’s to blame?
If elected officials and policymakers truly want to understand the ideas and opinions of Marylanders, they need only work the Republican (or Democratic) booth at the Maryland State Fair.
It is better than gas station politics because it spreads across the entire spectrum of political thought from those who are horribly naive to the academics who are just too theoretical to understand the practicality of political thought.
This year the most common theme, within the masses, is "throw the bums out!" Applying equally to Republicans as well as Democrats... if you are there (in office) you need to be gone. Citizens are not happy with government on many levels. They are upset, tired of excuses and are holding everyone accountable.
Marylanders seem to be tired of politics as usual. They are tired of taxes, the state of current economy and tired of the fact no one is making an effort to change what is happening. When you explain to them that in Maryland it is the Democrats who hold the majority and the GOP members are out voted consistently, the man on the street is allowing for no excuses. They are talking about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Much of the desire to "reboot" government comes from the fact that many feel there is no real and consistent communication between elected officials and their constituency. A giant percentage of people actually have no clue who they should hold accountable. Few can name their congressman, state senator or delegates. They have no idea of voting records – so they lump everyone in the same pot.
Many of the registered Democrats who visited our booth (and we have a surprising number of them) are shocked to hear the voting records of their Democrat representatives. Many think we "GOP partisans" are lying. I just challenge them to look it up. Some do and return a day or two later to talk about what they found. Then they gloat "they knew all politicians are crooked." They think they have won the argument.
Perhaps a conclusion concerning communication is that many elected Democrat are silent or avoid communication on the big controversial issues where they followed lock step with their party leadership. A sort of a “don't ask – don't tell” relationship. Perhaps too many Republican elected officials are too soft in communication, wishing to avoid finger pointing and looking overbearing or ultra partisan.
Communication to the masses is the key to better understanding. Better communication is something everyone agrees with, in some fashion, as they lodge various complaints. Most complaints do have a partisan theme.
I have had dozens of older people come up to the booth and tell me they are proud Democrats. Many go even further and report they have never voted for Republicans. When asked why, they mostly don't know. Often the story continues by lamenting that they do not understand why their party has changed. Few, if any, ever switch parties, but it is interesting how they have no hesitation walking up and asking questions of a Republican partisan hack like me, hoping for an answer.
Typically I politely tell them: "Well, you voted for them, not me." Unless they are farmers or wearing cowboy boots them the answer is: "My grandfather told me once – 'if you fall asleep in the hog barn, you don't smell too good in the morning." That one always gets a smile. (After all we are at the Maryland State Fair.)
The other big complaint is the "parties never give any choices for candidates – it's always the party favorite." When I ask what they would like in a candidate, it is always a long answer. And when asked who they supported in the past with their contributions or campaign efforts, the subject quickly changes.
(By the way we are having this conversation before any primary elections and standing in a Republican booth with one foot square pictures of 12 GOP presidential candidates less than 10 feet away! Pretty ironic.)
The flip side of communication, however, is the public's desiring and paying attention to candidate information. Few do. As much as the general public complains about partisan politics, they still have the desire to blindly vote the party line – only to later blame the party for lack of choice. Few can recall ever doing any homework on any candidates.
The bottom line is that the death spiral of politics is fed by all involved – candidate, party and voter. None should solely shoulder the blame. Candidates want to get elected at all costs; parties have limited control over candidates and desire them to be in power as much as the candidate; and, last, but not least, the public is overall disinterested and lethargic in its due diligence and their turnout at the polls is normally low.
Each of us shoulders the blame to some extent. Our system of representative government may not be as our forefathers planned, but I wouldn't trade our inherent right to continually harm ourselves for any other form of government anywhere – nor would I trade our right to complain about all of it!
Bring your complaints... see you at the Fair!