*During the Presidential election of 2008, I couldn’t talk to my black friends without the conversation coming around to Barack Obama. We all wanted to express both our excitement at the sheer concept of a black president, and our fears that it might not happen. We discussed everything from Obama’s campaign platform to his basketball skills.
And we talked about voting. Whether we’d voted occasionally or never, we all knew we had to vote this time. There was too much at stake.
I remember having invigorating political conversations with strangers
everywhere I went. I offered to drive a young man I’d just met in a supermarket parking lot to the nearest post office so that he could register to vote. He didn’t take me up on it (smart of him, my being a stranger and all), but told me it was the first time he’d ever discussed politics with anyone in his life. In 2008, everyone I knew shared a certain exuberance about the situation. It was infectious.
However, these days very few of my friends have said anything about the upcoming mid-term elections. They don’t mention candidates or propositions.
And they don’t say boo about voting. Not a word. I’m sure they know the importance and the power of casting a vote, but they haven’t said anything about doing so. The deafening silence leads me to believe some of them don’t plan on voting this time around.
And it’s not just from friends that I get this feeling. Among blacks in particular across the country, there seems a general lack of interest in mid-term politics. Admittedly, I make this broad assessment based on the most unscientific system ever: just a feeling, fortified by a lack of the phone chatter, political emails and Huffington Post links that used to fill my online mail box daily during the Presidential campaign year. I’m getting very little of that.
It’s as if after rising up and voting in unprecedented numbers to insure that Obama made it to the White House, the black voter sees his work as done, and has quietly retreated back to the murky depths of his dispassionate slumber as an American citizen who doesn’t always vote.
Which is ironic, considering that while Obama did win the presidency, the result of these mid-term elections will determine just how effective he can be during the reminder of his term. Hell, the elections could determine whether his administration sees a second term at all. This is no time for would-be voters to kick back and hope for a favorable outcome.
This new black voter apathy–or my perception of it–comes at a time when the country is gripped by one of the craziest and nastiest campaign seasons in modern American history. Who left the gate open? I can’t recall a more peculiar bunch of people running for public office.
There has always been dumb in American politics, unmitigated and uncut–Dan Quayle comes to mind–and there’s always been sinister, as in Nixon’s Vice-president Spiro T. Agnew. And, there’s always been kooky: Agnew, in his memoir, intimated that Nixon once planned to have him assassinated (For his part, Nixon is quoted as telling an aide that as President, he would never be assassinated because even an assassin couldn’t be so heartless as to leave the American people with Agnew).
And then there is the downright wicked: Dick Cheney.
However, some of the current crop of mid-term candidates feel like their passports might originate in Bizzaro world. There is a former dabbler of witchcraft; a candidate who openly lied about serving in Vietnam (as if no one would check); a billionaire businesswoman pining for votes who for years did not vote and a candidate whose day job is running a billion-dollar wrestling entertainment empire.
The TV and radio ads from both sides border on the surreal. The crooked slants, shameless manipulation of facts, the Oscar-worthy editing of video footage of opponents, the boldfaced lies–it all feels like an ever-looping “Saturday Night Live” skit. It would be hilarious if it weren’t our reality.
And the often spooky views these politicians hoard regarding the economy, taxes, health care, education, immigration, Social Security and the President himself–all of it glazed with a not-so-subtle sheen of racism, sexism, homophobia and ageism–are enough to send Halloween itself running off in horror.
I’ll admit, the pickings are slim all around–the off-brand vs. Brand X. Who are these people? Some of them truly scare me, the only thing more frightening being a complacent American public.
This is not the time for anyone in their right and hopeful mind, black, white or shades in between, to be sleeping at the polls. If we don’t vote, we’ll get exactly what we deserve.
Steven Ivory is a journalist/author who has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].