Despite my deep respect for Tim Penny and Tom Horner their recent commentary in the Star Tribune is further evidence that politicians of every stripe are going to try to “gimmick” their way to solving the perceived electoral woes in America.
Creating confusing new ways to count votes, suggesting that there is some fancy way to keep big money out of politics and demanding that the Republican and Democratic Party give up control of their “infrastructure” sound like wonderfully wonky and clever ideas.
They are also just another way of keeping us from confronting the truth about our political system in America.
If we want to know who is responsible for the system we have I would direct each of us to walk to any mirror of any size in any location where you might be situated and look at it.
That person looking back at you is the person responsible for the mess we are in.
Want to know why we ended up with the candidates for President we had in this cycle?
It wasn’t because of some sinister Russian plot, the proliferation of “fake news” or the failure of the media to “do their job.”
We, the People, did not do our job.
If one were to use the grading system that my kids have at school as whether we pass or fail as Americans when it comes to the exercise of our right to vote we would fail miserably.
This year alone only 58% of Americans eligible to vote voted.
In 2016 it is estimated that 134 million Americans came out and voted.
Sounds impressive, right?
Given that 232 million Americans are actually eligible to vote that means nearly 98 million Americans didn’t vote this year.
I didn’t vote for either Trump or Clinton. But, my decision to avoid casting my vote for them began months before the November election.
Which, whether we like it or not, is when the candidates we get in November are being chosen months before we have the opportunity to vote for or against them.
Or, in the case of 98 million of us, don’t bother to vote at all.
Elections, like life, belongs to those of us who actually show up.
I know it is comforting to point fingers everywhere else for what ails us today in our political system and process but the nasty little truth is that we are making ourselves sick by not bothering to participate.
Yes, I get the fact that we’re sick and tired of the influence of big money in politics. I get that we are fed up with politicians telling us one thing during a campaign and then doing something completely different after they get elected.
The truth is; however, nothing changes unless we change it.
It starts with showing up.
It starts with ending the notion that Congress sucks but our own member of Congress doesn’t suck.
It starts with realizing that in Congress today there are dozens of members of the House and Senate that have served in their position for 20, 30, 40 or more years.
Want to wonder why there is a lack of diversity in public office today? Look no further than our own State Legislature, County Boards, School Boards and other local offices. How many St. Paul and Minneapolis legislators have held office for 20 or 30 years?
In St. Paul there has not been a woman or a person of color elected Mayor since its incorporation in 1854.
Or, how about this: Per the New York Times “… the median net worth of a member of Congress was $1.03 million in 2013, compared with $56,355 for the average American household.”
That means that at any given time more than 270 members of the 533 members of Congress are millionaires.
In a nation of over 300 million people is it possible that there is nobody around to serve in public office today that wouldn’t be just as good, and quite probably better than, those who currently hold office in Congress?
Recent stories in this newspaper cite the fact that there are hundreds of positions at every level of government in Minnesota where there are no candidates to run.
Elections and politics aren’t rocket science.
That politicians, consultants, pollsters, media analysts and others who make their living off elections and politics want you to think it is may be, in fact, one of the reasons why people run away from politics and government like the Vikings run away from the Super Bowl.
Fixing this is not that complicated. We need to stop believing those who tell us it is. We need to stop blaming what’s broken on everybody or everything else.
Most of all we need to stop telling ourselves we can’t make a difference.
We can. You can. I can.
98 million Americans who didn’t believe they could have made a difference could, in fact, have made a difference.
It starts with showing up.
It starts with making our rights as Americans a priority in our life.
After all, it’s our county.
What we do with it, or don’t, is our choice.