WITH 88% OR SO OF THE ELECTORATE NOT BOTHERING, AT WHAT POINT DOES THE WORD ‘DEMOCRACY’ BECOME A SHAM? … HAVE WE REACHED THAT POINT?
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, SEPT. 26, 2013) — The preliminary election on Tuesday had to be the snooziest, not snazziest, in recent history. THE PLANET isn’t saying that action at the polls was slow, but it’s the first time in memory that the city gave out toothpicks to poll workers to keep their eyes open.
Only wards 1 and 3 were in play, and at that, barely. In Ward 1, Chris Yon, the incumbent finished as top vote getter, followed by Lisa Tully. In 3, Nick Caccamo lapped the field several times, overwhelming second place finished Richard Latura. Those four go on to their respective runoffs in November. Unless there’s something or someone to drop a bomb in the middle of this sleep-fest, however, not only will it not matter but no one will even notice. Ho hum, samey-same.
The most troubling and at this point in post-apathetic Pittsfield the most sadly laughable aspect of the “election” had to be turnout, which came in as a microscopic 12% or so. Think about what this means. Roughly 88% of eligible voters did not bother, for some reason or other, to cast a ballot. “Winners” captured fractions of 12% of the electorate, hardly what you would call a mandate for anyone.
THE PLANET asks a sobering, serious question in light of this pitiful showing: At what point does democracy break down? At what point can we call an “election” meaningless? At what point do we throw out the whole system and bring in martial law or some other suitably totalitarian form of government?
THE PLANET has long advocated for these election reforms:
1. Days, not Day — Rather than have Election Day, why not have Election Days — Keeping the polls open two or more days, maybe one of them a Saturday, would generate more turnout.
2. The 50% Solution: This would void the results of any election where turnout did not top 50% +1 of the total electorate. If a race didn’t draw at least 50% + 1, it would have to be repeated, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. At some point, if the electorate simple didn’t care, the offices up for grabs would be eliminated.
3. None of the Above — Having this option would generate more action at the polls. Increasingly, as Pittsfield population drops, with seniors aging out at one end and young folks moving out at the other, elections have become unpleasant dips in the same gene pool. “The usual suspects,” it has become clear, are failing to be much of a draw. There’s a dwindling subset of folks who want to run for office and an even more rapidly shrinking group who’s willing to “elect” them. This leaves potential voters with “no one to vote for.” Ask yourselves how many times you’ve heard that complaint? “They’re all the same” or “They’re all in it for themselves.” Sound familiar? Regardless of the truth of these claims in any given poll, THE PLANET knows that including a “None of the Above” option would drive up turnout.
These are but a few of the ideas that would shake up the polls. If you have others, we invite you to share.
THE PLANET SHALL BE BACK LATER, WITH MORE … STAY TUNED …
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What form of government would be more acceptable than a republic in which the vast majority of citizens do not participate? THE PLANET would recommend a benevolent dictatorship. Try and find one, though, the critics would point out, and that it true. We would respond, however, with: Try to find a form of democracy that would work in Pittsfield, Mass., or in most of the country, where apathy for the most part rules and citizen participation stands as foreign to America as most Swahili dialects.
There is no doubt that there are people who could assume total power and not succumb to thuggery. Who would such a person be?
* He (or she) would be above average in intelligence, would possess character and integrity, would possess fearlessness, and would have a heart that contained a full measure of justice and compassion.
* This person would be interested more in respect than in “being loved.”
* It would be a person who possessed a bias for just action.
* This person would welcome the tough judgments.
* This person would clean house and eliminate as much corruption in ciil service as is humanly possible.
* This person would face the haters, the reactionaries, the selfish, and the back-benchers and take their crap with a smile and would move forward. If he or she were truly benevolent, this person would have them all summarily ostracized or given two in the hat. That last part is a joke. Somewhat.
Let us pick up on here with the words of Mark Suster, a man who can be described as a philosopher-entrepreneur. This is from his blog, “The Importance of Benevolent Dictators.” Suster was talking about the Dreaded Private Sector, of course, but why couldn’t that model work for government? It could — All you have to do if find that one person in a billion.
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You’ll get your accolades. People will notice results. You’ll get public pats on the back and attaboys (girls). But you’ll have an equal chorus of, “She’s difficult to work with. She far too opinionated. Tempestuous.”
Don’t feed the trolls. Know that you signed up for this and it is why you are a leader.
I know, I know.
It’s 2013 and I’m supposed to believe in the “wisdom of the crowds.” We’re supposed to all allow side projects. 20% time. Total transparency. Everyone has a say. Free food. A chef. An on-premise masseuse.
And that’s fine.
Except that all of this “can’t we all just get along” mentality produces slow decisions. Group think. Compromises that lead to mediocrity. Avoidance of bold moves.
Think. Steve Jobs. Marc Benioff. Larry Ellison. Larry Page. Mark Zuckerberg. Bill Gates.
See any common threads?
Decision makers. Visionaries. Leaders. Chart their own course against the constant chorus of second guessers.
How many people thought Jobs was crazy when Apple first opened retail stores? How many lambasted Bezos for not delivered on profits at Amazon in aftermath of the dot com crash. He told people he was building for the long-haul and if they didn’t like the vision they shouldn’t hold the stock.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that you should make decisions without other people’s input.
My motto is “always triangulate.”
I constantly ask people their opinions about topics and listen to how they argue them. By having many views and mixing it up into a pot and then sorting it out with a logic structure that informs my decision I often feel I get better results.
I don’t believe in turning up to a group discussion to form my opinion. I believe in sequential debates with the participants before I arrive. I then have a nuanced view of everyone’s position to make the most informed decision accounting for everyone’s views.
I know I kind of have a gene missing that allows the long, slow, consensus-building required to make infinitesimal progress on what are obvious decisions in side of my head. And it’s why I can never run for public office.
And I know that for every leader with whom this post resonates I will producer others who are affronted.
If you’re one of the ones with me just have the confidence to stick to your guns.
To say the least, it’s frozen food for thought.
“We roamed, we boys from High School, / With mankind. / While Springfield gleamed, / Silk-lined.” — Vachel Lindsay, from “Bryan, Bryan, Bryan: The Campaign of 1996, As Viewed At the Time by a 16-Year-Old.” (1920)
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.