“The Sunday Political Brunch” – September 21, 2014, by ABC6 Political Reporter Mark Curtis

 Dr. Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for WLNE-TV ABC6 Providence, RI

(Providence, Rhode Island) — I love politics. I’ve been a “political junkie” ever since watching the President Johnson-Barry Goldwater election coverage in 1964. At the same time, I realize politics is not everyone’s “cup of tea.” I know that not everyone has the same passion for it as me, but the extent to which people are completely disconnected has always troubled me. I often wonder why? So, let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Where Is Everyone?” – Voter turnout has always disappointed me. For all the media coverage – and office water cooler debates – I am always stunned at how few people actually vote. Take, for example, our recent primary election in Rhode Island. The turnout was a paltry 21 percent, even though there were contested primaries in both parties for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and for one of the seats in the U.S. House. If you listen to talk radio, it’s all that people were chatting about, but when push came to shove, only 1 in 5 voters cast a ballot.

“It’s the Economy, Stupid!” – The famed mantra from Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 upstart campaign still rings true in 2014. By a wide margin, the economy remains the top issue in federal, state and local elections. But I suspect the inability of politicians – in both parties – to successfully deal with that issue, just adds to voter frustration and apathy. But people want jobs with benefits for themselves, and for their kids coming out of college – if they even can afford that. People want to own homes; have health care; and, a decent retirement. Many feel that “American Dream” eludes them because of government inaction or interference.

“Media Matters” – I wonder how much of this is due to the tenor of the media culture nowadays. In my lifetime, I have never seen such a partisan divide, at least when it comes to national news coverage. With Fox on the right, and MSNBC on the left, and CNN operating with no apparent compass, it’s no wonder the public is highly skeptical. Partisan media becomes little more than an echo chamber, with people tuning into often one-sided “debate” that simply reflects and affirms their own viewpoint. Yes, it’s a turn-on to listen to your own side, but a turn-off to listen to your opponents. It doesn’t foster a healthy debate (or democracy), and I wonder if that clouds our individual and collective decision making.

“Money Matters” – I believe one of the big political turn-offs is the amount of money it takes to run – win or lose. For example, in the recent campaign for Rhode Island Governor, over $10 million dollars were spent on TV and radio ads (and believe me, we broadcasters love that). One candidate even gave his campaign over $3 million dollars of his own money, (and he lost). For the average person who might want to donate $20, they are simply scared away feeling their contribution has no voice attached to it. By the way, this is dead-on true for both parties. The notion that Republicans are the party of the rich is nonsense. The wealthy come in all political stripes, and have a dominant megaphone in both parties.

“High Expectations” – While I have railed on some of the outside influences for disenfranchisement, part of the problem lies with the voters themselves. Many people have become so enthralled with the, “What’s in it for me?” part of government that expectations are high, but the delivery of the goods is low. People want something for their money, I get that. Let’s take the health care debate. Yes, some people will get coverage they never had; but others will complain about the high cost of their premiums or the fact that many procedures aren’t fully covered as they had hoped or believed. Still others won’t get to keep their own doctor, even though they were promised. Then, there is the 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina syndrome, where people want their government to protect them, and it doesn’t.

“You Actually Can Fight City Hall!” – As a nation, we have our perception of political power all backwards. We view things from the hierarchy of the President and Congress and on down. In truth, it doesn’t work that way. Change in Washington, D.C. has always been slow and incremental. The Founding Fathers – through “checks and balances” – designed it that way. Actually, the most responsive politicians, (relatively speaking), are at the local level. If you really want to make change, or make a difference, go to your local Town Council or School Committee meetings, because you can actually have an impact there. But, watch a Cable TV access show of one of you local meetings. You could fire a cannonball through City Hall and not hit a soul. Local meeting attendance is abysmal. So, people often have their hopes – and priorities – in the place where it’s least effective.

“Why All This Matters!” – I’ve always said, “Democracy is nothing more than the marketplace of ideas!” Politicians can pass good and bad initiatives. But the public has a vital role, and so often average people don’t exercise their authority. Election Day turnout of 21 percent is hardly a ringing endorsement of participation. But let me point out one small, but powerful example of what I am talking about. Last year in Providence, the city ordered a community pool at the Davey Lopes Recreation Center closed due to high maintenance costs and low attendance. The pool is in a heavily minority populated area. So what did the seemingly powerless residents do? They organized; they rose up; they raised money; they pressed the media; they stepped on powerful toes; and, they fought back. They empowered themselves and overruled City Hall. Today the pool is back open; the people won! See, you can make a difference, if you want to!

Are you turned off by politics? If so, why? Let us known by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

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