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Opinion

The fate of America is in the hands of inattentive voters

With election day just one week away, the fate of the nation -- or at least control of the U.S. Senate -- may rest in the hands of independent-minded voters, with the phrase “independent-minded” being a euphemism for oblivious.

Most of the people who actually pay attention to elections made up their minds about how they would vote long ago. That is because those people who are most intensely engaged with politics strongly favor one side or the other, just like they favor either Fox News or MSNBC.

Typical swing voters, on the other hand, more likely spend their time glued to ESPN or E! while occasionally drifting to CNN when there has been a mysterious plane crash or really nasty weather somewhere in the world. For a lot of them, news of the impending election comes as a big surprise.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties are pouring money into major get-out-the-vote efforts because, with many states and the country as a whole so closely split politically, turnout will be the deciding factor in several major races. Senate contests in Alaska, Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana and New Hampshire could go either way and how they go will decide whether President Obama should try to get any legislation passed or go golfing for the next two years.

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We live in a compartmentalized society. Where once everyone read the same newspapers and watched the same TV news, now many Americans sequester themselves in ideological media bubbles that reinforce their biases. Those are the folks who routinely vote. For the rest, there are a thousand different ways to elude information about current events. The political parties are desperate to grab the attention of a few of those tuned-out folks and get them to complete a mail-in ballot or crawl off the couch long enough to drive to a polling place.

If one is a staunch Republican or Democrat, this has to be a bit demoralizing. You already assume that everyone voting against your side is an idiot, if not a traitor, and now you realize the fate of your cause rests in the hands of a few inattentive independents who, at best, are dumb enough to be swayed by a barrage of mendacious attack ads.

Winston Churchill famously said that “democracy is the worst form of government, except all those others that have been tried.” Those “others” rely on the dubious wisdom of a lone despot or a ruling elite. Democracy relies on the wisdom of the people, which is its strength, but also its biggest weakness if the people are too busy tweeting, texting, gaming and channel surfing to pay attention.


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