As T-Jeff penned it back in 1776, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
But you, as a college-level American, already knew this. You also know that these words were not all that they were cracked up to be. Though they claimed to apply to all men, they only applied to white landowners in the countrys first years, and they only applied to men of color after the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870. Women had to wait a half-century more, the promise of these words not extended to them until 1920.
By 1920, however, the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness more correctly defined as the pursuit of wealth had truly become a promise for all. Provided the protection of this promise, every American is able to pursue the mythic American Dream. And though rare citizens might decide and have, in a few cases such as Waco to buy a heap of guns and get all mavericky (thanks, Gov. Palin), the responsibility of protecting these rights and really doing little else lies with the government.
Observably, our now-monstrous government does a great deal more sometimes good and sometimes bad than merely protect these rights. But the idea is that whatever government does, we citizens should be its priority, and we can hold it accountable. We do so through our most important role, consenting to government actions by choosing who we want to represent us and our interests. Put more simply, we vote.
Without voting, we would have a government that could act anarchically or at least more anarchically than it does perhaps going so far as to erase our inalienable rights. Yet, though knowing this, an astounding portion of our population and no, I am not talking about illegal immigrants, prisoners or sub-18s do not vote.
As Kim Smith, professor in the Greenlee School, said and vast U.S. census data confirms voter turnout over the last fifty years has hovered between 50 and 60 percent in presidential elections, and it has remained in the low forties in midterm elections. In the recent past, the Census reports that 60 percent of eligible citizen-voters voted in 2000, while the number jumped to 64 in 2004. Equally important, 70 and 72 percent of eligible citizens were registered to vote in 2000 and 2004, respectively.
These numbers are still staggeringly low. Michael Bugeja, director of the Greenlee School, gave the following remarks as to why America, the so-called land of democracy, is not the land of voters.
As he said, I often believe that Americans, contrary to popular belief that every vote counts (and sometimes it does!), feel their own votes wouldnt change much at all. And why shouldnt they feel that way? Big business breaks by the Republicans and big government mandates by the Democrats have made the typical citizen feel small. Now add to that the mean-spirited campaigns that are the norm. Those attack ads combine with lack of faith in government in setting the psychological agenda for apathy.
We can likely all empathize with the feeling that our votes may not make a difference, especially given our countrys maintenance of the electoral college. While the system may have made sense back in 1776, when only a slice of the approximately 2.5 million population was eligible to vote, a decisive popular vote would do muh to further the feeling that my vote matters.
The lack of faith that Bugeja points to is undeniable as well: The Washington Post reported Bushs most recent approval rating at 30 percent perhaps surprisingly, Congresss most recent approval rating stood even lower, at just 23 percent.