"Quanta...like spit in the dust of a baseball field" - Cody

July 12, 2004

Political Fictions by Joan Didion

There are few books that I honestly (and often) say have changed my life, by which I mean that they have significantly and irreversibly changed the way I view the world. The top two are Moral Politics by George Lakoff and A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis. There is now a new contending masterwork by a favorite author of mine. The book is called Political Fictions. In it Joan Didion reveals the hidden truth of America's national politics: voting counts for nothing.

I know it's a good book when just reading the foreword blows my mind. Didion dissects the results of the Harvard "Vanishing Voter Project" as well as the "Florida Election," and makes startling conclusions about the state of American politics:

  • Although it is generally accepted that apathy (people who don't care) is the defining characteristic of national elections, taken together, people unable to vote (due to disability or having moved and not yet registered) or alienated (people who are pissed off at the political process) make up 65% of nonvoters. It is not apathy that is the problem, it is the disconnect between citizens' concerns and the political process that is the problem.
  • Voters and nonvoters are generally very similar in their attitudes toward politics; The proportion of voters and nonvoters who agree with the following statements were all within ten percentage points:

    • "Most political candidates will say almost anything in order to get themselves elected."
    • "Candidates are more concerned with fighting each other than with solving the nation's problems."
    • "Campaigns seem more like theater or entertainment than something to be taken seriously."
    The point on which voters and nonvoters significantly differ is government expenditures: Voters tend to want tax cuts, while nonvoters tend to want health, education and welfare improvements.
  • The 2000 election was not an illustration that every vote counts, it was the culmination of a whittling down of "important" voters to an easily manipulated "target vote." What the 2000 election taught was "the immateriality of the voter against the raw power of being inside the process." To illustrate: what was the importance of one thousand votes in Broward County or ten thousand in Miami Dade, if the winning candidate's brother was governor, the head of the Florida Republican Party was Secretary of State, and the candidate's VP goes hunting with the deciding justice of Bush v. Gore. A comparison of polling before and after the election found that number of people who thought they had no influence over the government rose from one in ten to one in four.

Now I'm going to read Chapter One.

Posted by cbsisco at July 12, 2004 06:42 PM

Looking back over my posting, it occurs to me that I didn't make clear why I was so impressed by Didion's writing. Through the examples she provides, I'm realizing more and more that the reason I feel disempowered is because that is how those in power want me to feel. That my vote doesn't count for as much as it should. That I am not alone in feeling alienated from the institutions and people that have control of my life. And I don't like it.

The other reason I'm so enamoured with her writing is the clarity of analysis that she brings to political topics. Her clarity is inspiring because it shows that an easily understood message/platform/agenda, whatever it can be called, is possible.

Politicians must be more responsive to the people's expectations.

Money should not have as much influence over politics as it currently has.

Individuals should matter more than corporations.

These are the principles. Once we can be clear on those, action can follow.

Posted by: cody at July 15, 2004 10:58 PM

I spy with my little eye.... spam!!!!!

Posted by: Kristina at August 24, 2004 07:47 PM

yarg! it's my punishment for being a ghost blogger.

Posted by: cody at August 24, 2004 09:04 PM