Happy Post Super Bowl Everybody! What better time to turn our focus to the host state and its governor. The Bridgegate controversy embroiling Gov. Christie and his team is emblematic of the reason so many young people aren’t politically engaged, but it is also a potent example of why we must. What people liked about Christie (especially young voters) is that he reeked of a new breed of politicians; straight shooting pol that says what’s on his mind and cuts through all the childish rhetoric to get things done for his constituents. While Gov. Christie and I are not always politically aligned I’ll admit even I looked at him with a deep sense of respect and amazement for how he said what was on his mind and didn’t appear polished and unconnected. That is part of the reason this controversy cuts so deep for so many. When I finally let my guard down to a politician and trusted that maybe for once someone was elected and actually doing their job, we pull back the curtain and find that the Wiz is not at all what we expected.
After a long cry, I realized that while I didn’t shut the bridge or threaten Sandy Aid or intimidate my political foes, every one of us has some responsibility to take in all this mess. Pres. Lincoln said it best, “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent”. We consent to be governed this way. When we sit at home refusing to vote because some pessimistic voice in our head tells us our vote or our voice doesn’t matter, we consent to be governed by elected officials who don’t represent our priorities. When we consistently reward politicians who behave badly and disregard the public trust, then we consent to be governed that way (i.e. Mark Sanford). When we don’t show up for town halls or public forums for schools, zoning, or transportation changes we consent.
You can look at poll after poll and find that people are upset with the direction of the country (across the ideological spectrum) and most think we should “throw all the bums out”. I’m no Nate Silver, but I’d go out on a limb and say that most incumbents will be reelected. Now some will argue that’s exactly why we shouldn’t care; the deck is stacked against us. I’ve heard the argument that, political system is so entrenched that no change can be made and we have to just accept the system as it’s presented. They’ll argue that the special interests groups dominate the political process and the voices of regular people not only go unheard but unheeded if they are.
In my view that’s the easy way out. That’s the debate we have because we don’t want to turn the mirror on our own apathy and laziness; it’s easier to blame someone else. When citizens (especially youth) abdicate our responsibility to be an educated and involved politically we threaten our democracy and risk our freedom. Democracy has to be a give and take for it to work. It has to be a constant exchange between the governed and those responsible for governing. For too long the conversation has been one sided; from those charged with governing to the governed. It’s not a viable option to give up on the system and trust that someone else will handle it or advocate for our concerns. If we aren’t engaged and paying attention politicians will continue to behave badly because we create an environment where they are rewarded for it. If they survive the bad cycle of press they can go back to accepting bribes, handing down political retribution, and ignoring their constituents in no time. Regardless of your political leanings, youth have to be involved NOW if we want a future we can be proud to pass on to our children. When we see problems in our society, in our neighborhood, on our block, it’s not just the elected official’s job. It’s all of our jobs to care and not just care deep inside, but to care enough to do something. There is a famous political saying, “You can either be at the table or be on the menu”. The dogs are circling and hungry, ready to feed of our empathy, if we let them.