what we’ve come to.
I saw this ad riding by bike through Chinatown the other night – I think it demonstrates just how much appeals to vote have failed in America, becoming a politically impotent guilt trip rather than a serious political project. Seriously: for young people in particular it comes from all sides. You have teachers chiding you about voter registration, parents telling you that you have no ‘right’ to complain if you don’t vote, and a protracted media effort (Rock the Vote, Vote or Die, other bullshit) trying to boost engagement, but eventually coming off as merely condescending.
Under this type of assault, voting becomes akin to piousness, a losing proposition for anyone actually concerned about encouraging voting. One of the least effective ways to persuade someone into acting is to make it feel like an act of submission to a higher obligation – aiming a piety/obligation-themed message at *18 year-olds* is a particularly stupid idea. Noone should have to confess of not voting as a sin, particularly considering that there are a huge variety of political decisions that have little to do with representative government.
Civic guilt marginalizes so many other forms of political expression – I can’t count the number of times I’ve had serious political discussions trainwrecked by overzealous piety on the question of voting – folks will admit to me that voting doesn’t really matter that much, but still dismiss me politically for my failure to do so. (note: Considering the overwhelming evidence of fundamental corruption in our voting system, this seems like a particularly dangerous move) Voting is no more than a hurdle for political legitimacy, no matter the real real implications of the act.
One of the remarkable things about Barack Obama’s campaign is his ability to mobilize voters without fear or guilt tactics. His success among young voters shows the real way out of our problems with a lack of civic engagement: doing conventional politics in a way that encourages participation on its own, without recourse to emotional/political intimidation that demands people vote for voting’s sake.