Happy Birthday President Obama (wherever you were born)!
The ‘birther issue’ is a archetypal ‘intelligence failure’ rife in a vibrant democracy. But, maybe ‘stupid issues’ are just what the electorate needs to keep ‘democracy’ chugging along. Disenchantment is the first step to disenfranchisement.
Scott Adams writes a great piece proposing this perspective called “Birthers”…
“I think the birther issue is good for the country. A modern republic needs some simple and unimportant issues to keep its citizens invested in the process. The important issues of our time are far too complicated for the average person, and I count myself in that group. We need a few simple issues so we can be part of the political conversation without hurting anything. The last thing our system of government needs is regular citizens getting involved in Middle East strategy, healthcare reform, the budget, climate change, or anything else that might matter.”
“I’m entirely serious. It’s healthy that we average citizens have some sort of topic in the political realm that will keep us engaged while also siphoning off some of our activist energy. It reminds us that we have a role in government. It reminds us that we have a constitution. It reminds us that we’re in charge, sort of. And it gives the news media something to talk about on slow news days, which is important for keeping that vital institution in business.”
“Most citizens would lose all interest in government if there were no issues they could grasp. In a perfect world, the largely clueless citizenry, including me, would feel as if we’re part of the system while having no power to break anything important. The birther issue is sort of like letting your toddler have a toy steering wheel in his car seat. He feels as if he’s doing something useful and you don’t have to rely on him to keep you out of the ravine.”
My parents worked in the social service sector and wrote a number of pieces about the dynamics of the volunteer sector. One that I was always intrigued with was their ‘School Nurse Syndrome.’ They observed that in Town Meetings, the assembled voters would routinely vote through multi-million dollar bond issues glibly explained by some Town Manager for some piece of infrastructure like road paving or reservoir refurbishment. But when a simpler issue was floated – like raising the wage of the School Nurse from $6.58 to $7.87 – the Town Hall erupted. Here was an issue that the great unwashed could understand and relate to. Some would speak up in protest (“My sister-in-law is a school nurse in Watertown and she only make $6.47”) some would speak up in support (“I work at Marblehead Hospital and the going rate for nurses in the public sector is $8.15”), some would chime in with points of principle (“I protest this profligate government spending…I’ve had to do without a raise for 5 years.” Or “Nurses help our children in their time of need and we should be supporting them.”). The fact is that the assembled town would spend an hour debating this issue that had a net impact to the budget of a few hundred dollars, while rubber stamping millions of dollars on other more complex issues.
But as Adams says, maybe a few stupid issues is just what is needed from keeping democracy and political system from making the ballot box into a black box.