From now until Election Day, you'll be hearing about all kinds of efforts to increase voter turnout, especially among the young. Newspapers will lecture you about your democratic responsibilities and make concerted efforts to boost civic involvement. Much ink will be spilled and airtime filled with stories about how to Rock the Vote.
A few months back, I was chatting about politics with—name drop alert—Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. He was saying that he didn't think that much of the enthusiasm whipped up for voting at politically inspired concerts carried over into life outside the mosh pit—which I suppose is good news considering Vedder was touting Ralph Nader in 2000. What we need to do, Vedder mused, is somehow make voting "cool." That's been tried, but so far, from a marketing perspective, voting is about as successful as New Coke. The youth vote, in fact, has been declining. It's older people who vote. How do you make that cool in a youth-obsessed culture? You don't. And let's please remember that "cool" isn't always a good thing in politics: The Hitler Youth's appeal was in part due to those "cool" Hugo Boss uniforms they were wearing—I kid you not.
Among city newsweeklies, many of which target the so-called younger demographic, the get-out-the-youth-vote effort will be particularly vigorous. A recent article on the Web site of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (aan.org) was headlined "Election coverage aims to inspire the young to vote." The story surveyed how some of the weeklies are covering politics this election year. The Santa Fe Reporter, for example, isn't satisfied with merely reporting stories; they've developed their own voter registration campaign targeting first-timers called the "Hip Hop Voter Project."
All this reminds me of parents trying to get their surly teens to clean their damn rooms. You can tell them cleaning their room is "cool." Yeah, right. You can bribe them with a concert ticket. Or you can scream until you mess your pants about "responsibility" and "consequences." You have to do that kind of thankless stuff if you're their parents. But for media outlets to attempt to socially engineer people's voting habits is nanny journalism.
It's not the job of the media to try to improve voter turnout. Our job is to inform, not implement. In this country, you're free to vote or to not vote. And Americans want it that way. An ABC News poll in June asked voters if they liked the idea of a small fine being imposed on people who don't vote, like they do in some countries. The results: 72 percent said such a law would —what's the technical term?—suck. That's right. Our right not to vote is sacred, too.
Besides, shouldn't it be the accuracy and quality of the vote that concerns us, rather than the amount of voting? More voting doesn't necessarily mean better government. And youth voting certainly doesn't. Richard Nixon lowered the voting age to 18 and guess what? Young people voted for Richard Freaking Nixon. Every time I hear some bozo talk about the importance of the youth vote, I remember that fact.
If you're reading this column, I have to assume you're a literate, discriminating, and highly intelligent individual, and have I told you how good-looking you are? You've lost weight! You are also prone to vote. That latter characteristic has always been a quality of our devoted readers, and personally, I'm pleased that's the case. It means you wield some small amount of personal influence and likely care a lot about your precinct, neighborhood, city, state, country, and planet. But I also have to assume that if you don't vote, you have your reasons. At this point in life, our job is not to give you a civics lesson, let alone drag you or anyone else to the voting booth. Let the political parties do that, or the unions or the churches or your conscience.
I know this year I will certainly be guided to the polls by my otherwise inexpressible rage. I will fill in those dots until they're blacker than black. I will vent my frustrations on the legions who clog the ballot with their names and initiatives. For me, voting this year will be fun, like a vicious game of dodgeball— a chance to wreak some of the unholy democratic wrath that has been building inside of me since 2000. In fact, it would suit me if everyone stayed home this year—let me do all the voting. America would be better for it.
In the months ahead, our paper will attempt to inform you about what's going on in local politics and offer some national commentary. We'll continue to cover black-box issues and matters of importance related to how we vote, like our state's stupid new primary system. We'll also do our usual intensive election research and endorsements. We love to tell you how to vote, even if you don't always hear and obey. (Testing . . . testing. . . . Is your implant working?) We'll share our conclusions about the choices on the ballot, guidance that is the result of the Editorial Board's highly sophisticated internal polling system that involves thoughtful discussion and brute force. We'll even remind you when the election is.
But after all that, you're on your own. How cool is that?