Author Archive Nicholas Lind

ByNicholas Lind

American Political Engagement in the Facebook Age

 

by Nicholas M. Lind

There are sixty days left until we cast our ballots, but whose really counting anyway?  Besides, it’s not as though we’re not  accustomed to the rolling charade of television ads, newspaper analyses, poll updates, and the like, right?  Of course in this cycle the whole performance is a bit different.  For the first time, the modern political campaign has fully embraced social media outlets as a method to foster support and, perhaps more often, as a platform to spread propaganda.

Now to be sure, neither the candidates nor their parties are the most active participants in the worst of the “political memes” spreading through Facebook.  While both candidates do have public Facebook profiles which are carefully managed by campaign strategists (and Obama was praised for implementing social media tactics in the ’08 campaign), most of the real leg work is completed through partisan groups that aren’t affiliated with either party.  These groups are a dime a dozen and range ideologically across the spectrum in all directions.

Plenty can be said regarding the effect these messengers have had on the 2012 election.  For one, it brings a totally new type of information into the political arena.  The meme’s are essentially digital (and viral) campaign posters with various messages.  The simple, straightforward nature of these “advertisements” is often done (as television commercials are) with absolutely no documentation to verify whatever claims may be made, which has arguably opened the door for “fact-checking” journalists to critique or affirm the ideas that are quickly spreading across News Feeds from sea to shining sea.  Furthermore, anyone who uses Facebook easily recognizes them instantly, and their reactions to the tornado of political discourse prove to be an especially striking  finding about American politics.

Facebook has brought political campaigns into living room computers, college dorm desks, browsers on workers breaks, and cell phones everywhere.  The increased exposure (when presented honestly) would ideally serve to inform voters of the issues at hand.  But although these memes have certainly generated significant discussion and debate about the facts, perceptions, and policies surrounding the upcoming election (a healthy outcome for a functioning democracy), they have also been met more recently with indifference, annoyance, and indignation.

In fact, critics have created a program that systematically hides and posts referring to political issues by allowing users to block posts if they include specific words such as, “Obama,” “Romney,” “Republican,” or “Democrat.”  The most popular browser add-on is perhaps the Social Fixer, a free downloadable service that adds custom features to Facebook.

But what are we really advocating for when we dismiss political discussion as a waste of our time or as an inconvenience not quite fit for our everyday digital lives?  A number of friends and followers have recently criticized posts I’ve personally made (not necessarily the substance, but merely the act of posting them) and I have to wonder what the effect of that act is (intended and unintended).

Now look, I understand that not everyone is as politically inclined as readers and writers of this forum, but where do we stand, as a culture, when we begin to criticize someone for simply contemplating the organizations responsible for formally organizing the world around us?  Who are we, as a people, when we turn away from those organizations, losing hope, without proposing an alternative?

It’s bad enough to ignore efforts dealing with public discourse in the twenty-first interconnected global system given the many shortcomings of socioeconomic development around the world.  It’s another matter entirely to criticize those working to find solutions.

Nicholas Lind can be reached at nicholasmlind@gmail.com 

ByNicholas Lind

Wasting Your Vote

by Nicholas M. Lind

There lies a stark contradiction within the notion that voting for a third party in American politics is essentially “throwing your vote away.”  A popular criticism of our prevailing electoral structure recognizes the inefficiencies and/or values that both Republicans and Democrats support (or simply fail to act on) but renders voting for a third party as rationally indefensible given the negligible chance that such a candidate could actually win the election.  Hence, votes for third parties are discouraged seemingly by an obsession to pick the candidate that will win rather than the candidate that supports policies that would benefit the country.

The idea as a whole is of course totally bogus because it hinges on the condition that voting for Democrats or Republicans is somehow not throwing your vote away.  Given the policies and course this country has taken in the past, it is arguably inconceivable to believe the major parties can or will genuinely work together to solve the issues we face today.  If you think they somehow will, congratulations: you have more patience than the rest of us.

Furthermore, consider applying the same logic to the major parties.  Is it intellectually justifiable for someone who holds mostly conservative values to refrain from voting for Romney-Ryan based on a hunch or belief that Obama-Biden stand a better chance at winning (or vice versa)?  What does one stand to gain from voting for the winner of an election?  Now obviously we cast our votes based on which party “promises” to benefit us and our country as a whole the most, but it isn’t as though the policies enacted by either party will only affect those who actually voted for the candidate, but rather policies impact all Americans regardless of party, political orientation, or voting record (or lack thereof), etc.

So, why is it that we irrationally overlook third parties based on their relative unpopularity?  Both Democrats and Republicans have created many of the issues alluded to in the cartoon above, so why should we sacrifice our values year after year, election after election, by voting in candidates who are failing us instead of allowing other platforms to build a record?  Voting for alternative parties would provide a strong incentive for the major parties to re-think their policies and actually begin working toward bettering the country as a whole.

The adverse effects of voting only for potential winners rather than parties and candidates who might actually turn this ship around are obvious enough, and unfortunately until we speak, write, and act otherwise, our silence and apathy will enable the cartoon to keep its title: The American People Have Spoken.  Perhaps the two-party system will never be overthrown, but unless we pressure the leading parties to work harder by threatening their hegemony (i.e. voting for other parties) our political system will continue to unravel.

To be sure, voting is only one action we must take, but that’s a topic for another time.

Nicholas Lind can be reached at: nicholasmlind@gmail.com
ByNicholas Lind

The State of the Vote: 2012

By Nicholas M. Lind

Some in Washington perceive the upcoming charade in November as the most ideological election in years.  But while the heightened media obsession favors a melodramatic polarization, Americans are more interested in other aspects of government.  They are more interested in simply having it work.

A rational constituent, tired of slamming one’s head against a wall for the past half-century of American politics, might consider skipping the big dance altogether.  Indeed, a compelling argument can be made that our political mechanisms are so ineffective, so corrupted, and so out-of-touch that boycotting them in protest is perhaps the most appropriate way to respond.  The Fat Cats in office ought to get the message when no one shows up in support, so say the protesters.

Of course the reality is that despite the fact that Congressional approval currently ranks at the lowest rate since Gallup began compiling the statistic, their reelection rate has consistently hovered over 80% (with very few exceptions, exclusively in the Senate) since the 1960s.  Additionally, it is no secret that already only about half of the voting-age population casts a vote for President and far fewer weigh in on local or Congressional decisions.  Indeed if contemporary history is any measure of how effective our de facto boycott has been, I would urge (non)voters to reconsider their decision to stay home from the polls.

Still though, the perceived judgement between the Randian individualism of the Republicans and the hopeless status-quo of the Democrats simply misses the point that both parties are reconciled by their ineffectiveness at actually benefiting Americans.  Romney pioneered the practice of sending jobs overseas at Bain Capital while the recent addition of Paul Ryan to the campaign circus has been met with extensive commentary (the most genuine of which notes his absolutely bogus budget plan and the contrast between his voting record and his claims as a principled “fiscal conservative”).  Meanwhile Obama has failed to follow through with a long list of campaign promises and has only extended G.W. Bush’s foreign policy, especially by emphasizing reckless (and illegal under international law) drone warfare.  Furthermore Obama has signed the (seemingly underestimated by the national media) National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) allowing military detention without due process for:

(Any) person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.

It is worth noting that although Obama has insisted it would not be used to indefinitely detain American citizens, an amendment to formally exclude citizens failed in the House and critics argue that the ambiguity of the law would enable future Presidents to implement it differently.  Public dissidents and intellectuals known as the “Freedom 7” have already brought suit against Obama regarding the NDAA and journalists have also criticized the administrations restrictions to civil rights.

 The unfortunate truth is that neither major political party is able or willing to lead this country in a manner that is acceptable to us.  A complex mixture of corporate ownership, gerrymandered districts, environmental and economic disaster, competing values, political cronyism, etc. ultimately culminate in an intertwined, bureaucratic, and gridlocked mess we call the United States Government.  The status quo has proven itself to fail time and again as neo-liberal economic principles continually doom the middle class, global warming wreaks havoc across the globe, and insiders predict yet another war (this time with Iran).

No, we do not need nor deserve another President from either major party to (despite the polarizing rhetoric) essentially continue the policies and path this country is taking.  Unfortunately, the process of change is slow, and we will undoubtedly observe either the Democrats or Republicans back in the White House next year.  But is that reason to abandon the process altogether?  We have already witnessed the fact that abstaining has no positive influence on our policies and the apathetic nature often embraced by removing ourselves from public affairs certainly will not benefit anyone either.

What is needed, as Ted Glick recently pointed out here, is a Third Force.  This cannot simply amount to a third party in American politics because the current system is too strong to overcome and a third party will probably split either the liberal or conservative vote (sometimes allowing the least desirable party to win the election).  In the short term however, I believe voters should aggressively support third parties because enough backing will encourage the Democrats and Republicans to adopt similar principles in order to sustain bipartisan hegemony.  This will obviously result (in the short term) with split-vote electoral mess, but with enough support candidates from the major parties will be pressured to accommodate toward the demands of the electorate.

While this is far from an ideal situation, it seems to be the most efficient method to reclaim our political system.  Yes- the two-party system has its flaws, but if we push both parties to adopt acceptable policies the drawbacks are limited.  Also, it’s a welcome alternative to the “scrap-the whole-government” approach commonly adopted by some.  Most of all, it’s not that unlikely to work or difficult to enact.  Did you know, for example, that Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party are already both on the ballot in enough states to theoretically collect the 270 electoral votes necessary to be elected President?  If enough voters opted to support either of those parties (and more people actually voted; see the turnout figures) major parties would eventually be forced to listen.

The unlikeliness of this happening is obvious enough; I can already sense the criticisms.  But what are we really advocating for if we fail?  And truthfully, aren’t parties more likely to embrace appropriate policies when we actually criticize them by voting for other parties than when we continually support them and thereby sustain the perceived approval of their policies (despite the “lesser-of-two-evils” mindset that so many of us really espouse)?

This is the decision we face as we cast our ballots on November 6th (or sit on our couches in protest).  Before making your decision, consider the potential we have to positively shape the politics of this country if we rationally contemplate what we are supporting and working toward with our votes.

 

Nicholas Lind can be contacted at: nicholasmlind@gmail.com