Pushing the same boulder up a hill every time

Oh, did you hear? After Tuesday’s vote, the Democrats are, like, over, man.

Just like the Republicans were, like, over two years ago.

But it’s not as if all the people who elected Obama in 2012 changed their minds or ceased to exist in 2014, any more than the people who voted for George W. Bush twice just vanished in 2008. (Some of them changed their minds, sure. But not all of them.)

In this election, as in most other conservative electoral victories, they won because more of them voted, not because more of them exist. So — why is that?

Most structural impediments to voting, such as stricter ID laws and limited poll times, are consciously designed to favor the right by targeting the poor and the young. But that doesn’t seem to explain the whole of it. Age is a huge factor, with older voters more likely to turn out and also more likely to vote Republican. But why ARE older people more likely to vote? Is it generational? Because they’ve got the time on their hands? Because their cohort does it? Because they’ve lived in the same place for twenty years and know where the poll locations are? Because voting — a square, dull, good-citizen kind of thing — is tied to emotional maturity?

I don’t know. But I do know this — I consider any ostensibly liberal, progressive, or otherwise left-leaning person who expresses a sentiment like “oh, don’t bother voting, you’re just supporting a corrupt system” to be either a secret Republican mole or a complete dupe of Republican moles.

Hey, you know your complaints about Obama? That he’s too centrist, too corporate, too willing to attempt cooperation with Republicans? Do you realize that right-leaning voters frequently had exactly the same kind of complaints about George W. Bush? Do you think it ever kept them from voting for the man? Or for any other Republican?

Of course not. Because Republicans might have no idea how reproductive biology works, but they know how political influence works. They know that voting is the start, the minimum, the first thing you’ve got to do.

I understand not being able to vote because your state or community or life circumstances make it too difficult. That’s a totally different issue, and a very important one we need to address.

But simply choosing not to cast a vote? Talking down the act of voting as a futile one for liberals? You’re doing Republicans’ work for them. Republicans love to hear you talk like that. They’re practically cackling like supervillains to hear you talk like that.

It’s a devil whispering in your ear. “Yes, yes, you’re absolutely right, progressive-minded voter. Voting won’t make any difference. Both major parties are exactly the same. A minor party cannot win. The political process is messy, frustrating and corrupt, and that renders it flawed utterly beyond redemption. You’re entirely correct to give up on it. The only possible solution is to burn it to the ground and start all over again. Go on — just keep dreaming of the glorious revolution that will surely come to save us all. Someday.”

Conservative evangelical Protestants actually do believe, literally, that we’re just marking time on this planet until the glorious second coming will redeem us all. It never stops them from voting.

If you can’t bring yourself to suck it up and vote the lesser evil, you’re helping the greater evil win. Is that what you want? No? Then vote, darn it. If nothing else, doesn’t it motivate you to know that right wingers want to keep you from voting? Don’t you want to piss of Karl Rove? I know I do.

The media narrative has, for all of my political memory, skewed heavily Republican. A Democratic win is always treated as some kind of an aberration, as if they just got lucky somehow, and inevitably accompanied with much cautionary hand-wringing about the need for “bipartisanship.” But a Republican win is always treated as straight-up “will of the people.”

Except, it’s only the will of some people — old people, white people, wealthy people, conservative people — but when those are the people who actually vote, well, what can you do? (Vote. Duh.)

The media clearly wants the conversation right now to be “So, why have literally all the voters everywhere now embraced the Republican message? Have they finally forgiven the Republicans for George W. Bush? Is it because people have jobs again after the 2008 economic meltdown which Bush in no way contributed to? How important was it that the Republicans successfully avoided making any obvious ‘47%’ or ‘legitimate rape’ gaffes this election cycle? And since obviously literally everyone has decided that Obama sucks and they all really regret voting for him twice, is it true that he should just resign right now for the good of the country, because of course that’s always what presidents do when their party loses power in the mid-terms? I mean, totally. That’s always what happens. Remember when George W. Bush resigned in 2006?”

But the conversation we need to have is, “So, why DON’T young people vote during mid-terms? Why IS US voter participation so low? Why IS the most reliable voting bloc also the most conservative, so that their views and interests are consistently over-represented in US politics, when they don’t reflect the true will of a majority of citizens?”

Sometimes it feels like electing Democrats, and then trying to get any progressive change accomplished, is like rolling the same boulder uphill again and again. Some of this is probably just the second law of thermodynamics at work — positive change is harder than destruction, and both are harder than doing nothing and letting things go to hell on their own.

Does that have something to do with why the people who would vote for Democrats, if they voted, are less likely to actually vote? Is there something in human psychology that favors destruction, and are Republicans the natural beneficiaries of that? Or does the difficulty of positive change, compared to negative change, make progressive voters more likely to get emotionally worn down and give up?

Whatever it is, I think it’s very clear that Democrats and liberals need to do a much better job with lower-profile races — state legislatures, governorships, etc. — and off-year elections. We can get people to vote for charismatic Democrats like Obama and Elizabeth Warren, but we’re never going to have people like that running for all races everywhere. A lot of Democrats are boring wonks, just like Republicans.

What happened to Howard Dean’s “50 state” strategy anyway? Can we get that going again? And expand it? Make it not only a 50 state strategy, but a thousands of counties strategy, an every year strategy, an every race strategy?

I’ve seen it suggested that one problem Democrats faced this year, compared to 2012, was the lack of Obama’s GOTV effort, which involved very direct ways of helping people vote — driving them to the polls, providing babysitting, helping them get whatever ID was required.

Is that what it’s going to take every year?

Then maybe we have to do that every year.