When asked the question of what is most valuable about our democracy, most of us will reply either freedom or liberty. These are the most fundamental values of our democracy. The problem is, however, that barely half of us exercise one of the greatest gifts this freedom provides us: the right to vote.
The ability for people to choose and hold accountable their selected leaders is the hallmark of any free country. Our unrestricted freedom in government participation, or lack thereof, has proved a double-edged sword. In 2008, only about 57 percent of the voting-eligible population turned out to vote in what was commonly held to be one of the most significant elections in the last few decades. Turnout for the three prior presidential elections to the 2008 election was even worse, with the turnout in the 1996 election implying that only 49 percent of voting Americans care about who the president will be.
Needless to say, in a country where government is said to be ‘by the people and for the people,’ a continuing of these trends could prove a slight problem.
Presidential campaigns are exorbitantly expensive affairs that would make any humanitarian who wasn’t aware of the costs weep in a corner over how many third-world problems could be solved with the millions of dollars used in campaigning to attract the attention of around 50 percent of Americans.
This begs the obvious question. If the million dollar expenditures on what amounts to an ad campaign showing off a shiny, packaged candidate can only attract 50 percent of our voting-population, how then do the much smaller congressional elections fare?
Horrible would be the right answer to this question. In a poll conducted by ABC News in mid-January, Congress’ approval rating had slipped to 13 percent. This train wreck of an approval rating, while almost hilariously bad could be considered a lofty height in popularity.
According to a poll by the New York Times in late October 2011, Congress had the dubious distinction of having its approval rating in the single digits at 9 percent.
This situation is quite bleak. Voters, however, most of which seeming ever determined to not participate in government, have created a laughable and saddening situation in regards to congressional elections.
In theory, a democracy whose legislative body has lost around 60 percent of its prior support in the span of a decade would have been voted out. The opposite seems to be true for our Congress, which, while having approval ratings hovering dangerously close to slipping into the single digits, has undoubtedly enjoyed it’s consistent incumbent reelection rate of around 80 percent.
Our democracy’s two greatest gifts are our liberty to freely live and our freedom to choose who will represent us, in good faith that they will preserve and improve our state of freedom.
At present, the latter is being utterly wasted for no excusable reason. It is one of the most important and urgent crises in our country, and must be dealt with lest we forget that we the people control the government, and not the other way around.