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It's just like a cruise

Jack Balshaw 2/5/2003


I've been trying to understand what's happening in elections lately and came up with the analogy that the public evaluates elected officials and their programs the same way as they would evaluate a cruise.

Once on the cruise, they have little or no control of what happens to them until they're back in homeport again. The cruise company determines the food, ports of call, and entertainment. The weather can impose itself on everyone. At the end, the total experience was either worth repeating or not.

Similarly, once a governing body is constituted following an election, there's not much the voters can do until the next election comes around. The voters can complain, but unless they're organized in sufficient numbers, there will be no significant changes made. Smaller numbers may do the job at a local level, but once politics rise to the state and national level, the governmental body is almost immune from direct voter pressure.

I first thought of this when I mentioned in a recent column that, when council members Keller and Hamilton (who voluntarily chose not to seek reelection) weren't replaced by persons sharing their views, it was the views that were rejected. A similar situation occurred when Cader-Thompson and Maguire weren't re-elected and also weren't replaced by people sharing their views. At the time I noted that their defeats weren't necessarily personal but ideological. The public just didn't like the ideology they championed.

For news and political junkies like myself, each new individual occurrence or political action is viewed as to how it fits into whatever else is happening. I think John Q Public ignores these daily, weekly and monthly happenings. He's vaguely aware of what's going on but doesn't think about it very much. Then, after a year and eleven months past the last election, he makes a broad-brush decision as to whether or not he wants to continue with the present organization. In the analogy of a cruise, he's evaluating the net results of the many parts and deciding if he liked the cruise and would take another.

I find myself more and more thinking that this might not be a bad way to view state and federal government. There are always programs put forth by people you might not have voted for which seem to serve a good purpose. And there are programs that don't. Taken in the aggregate, the results are either positive or negative.

I'm pretty unhappy with what's going on nationally, but there's little I can do to change anything. This is frustrating in that we've been led to believe that government is responsive to the people. In fact, government isn't responsive, only our representatives might be responsive. And even they, only to that portion of the electorate who elected them.

So by the time you slice and dice the various players and their options and impact, the net result is the public can do little to change things until the next election. John Q public has probably picked the most efficient way to select his government.

At the local level it's a bit different. Because we're so close physically to our government body I think we can relate more easily and quickly to what is being done. Also, we definitely feel they're doing it with our individual tax money and that gets our attention much more quickly than state or federal legislation might.

Our ability to go to council meetings or watch them on local public access TV presents the opportunity for activists to more easily become involved in government actions. This creates action, which creates news, which generates more local interest. This at least provides the chance to make government more responsive at the day-to-day level.


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