Tag Archives: Voters

Media color the image of “Out There” Americans

In recent weeks I have been confused, nay aggravated, by the myopia of the press, the fresh-faced millennials upon whom we depend to report the news and views of the people “out there.” My confusion comes from the dubious distinction of “out there’.” On the one hand, I recall that, in my youth, “out there’” referred to life, albeit alien life, in outer space. At the same time, I deduce from its ubiquitous use that “out there” now refers to the distant state or region that is the native home of potential primary voters who may play a role in determining the direction of the nation. So I checked a recent slang dictionary for the contemporary definition and use of the term “out there”. What I learned was unexpected but somewhat explanatory:

out there    (adjective) unusual.

His ideas are really out there.
Pay no attention to Wyatt – he’s really out there.

In today’s media parlance “out there” refers to any community that exists, citizen who resides, or idea that flourishes outside the Atlantic corridor. ((Paranthetically, voters and campaigns in New Hampshire are “up there” which is clearly distinguished from those who are “out there”.)

The epitome and essence of “out there” is Midwest oriented; potential voters who live “out there” are frequently portrayed as uncultured, uneducated, probably unwashed Americans whose intellectual and cultural mores are not only “out there” but “other” from East Coast sophisticates.  By definition, the ideas of the unwashed masses “out there” are at best “unusual”; the ways of the denizens of “out there” are generally unfamiliar to media sophisticates whose circle is presumably “in there” – as in “Inside the Beltway.”

Of course the media wouldn’t think or know about – much less send reporters to – the far reaches of “out there” were it not for the Iowa primary. Because the results of the primary will tilt next moves in the presidential nomination process, the media bird dog the candidates and heed corporate directions to parrot the voices of “out there” voters.

There is a bit of cognitive dissonance in the reality that some notable politicians have caught the collective ear of the voters “out there.” Candidates count crowds while the rookie press corps observe, then interpret and report with observable disdain, the thoughts and politics of the local rubes.

These asteperious* reporters/conveyors of the message personify the dictionary dictum to “pay no attention” to the speaker on the grounds that “he’s really ‘out there’”

As a voting resident of “out here” America I take umbrage at this not-so-subtle geographic classism. As I see, hear, view and read the breathless reports of these vapid reporters, I chortle, then critique, then ardently wish there were an authentic – and readily accessible — way to capture the unfiltered voices from “out there.” It would help me to understand the thoughts of the good people who care, who have something to say, whose voices must be heard, even if they are the humble voices of people who live and vote “out there.”


*Note: “Asteperious”, a favorite word that is not in my spoken vocabulary, conveys the thought: http://arnoldzwicky.org/2009/10/22/asteperious/)


Election Day Musings

Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.

Coco Chanel

The occasion to quote Coco Chanel does not arise often. Still, her pithy wisdom illuminates the paralysis that has gripped the American electorate during this season’s political campaigns. Though we the people hold to the conviction that we are the ultimate deciders of our political and social fate, we are adrift in a sea of information overload, bombarded by misinformation, doomed to operate from a position of information skepticism.   Our instinctive desire for authenticity is thwarted.

It is no wonder that we have lost control of our most valuable resource. Information is implicit, an invisible and ubiquitous thread that’s woven throughout the fabric of our environment, a force that frames the politics, economics, and social forces that shape our lives. Though we cannot see information pulsating through the channels that bombard the world around us, we need to understand the sources and the impact of this unique human resource.

A primary responsibility of the government is to produce and make accessible the information that Americans need to make good decisions. It is, then, the primary responsibility of the people to hold the government accountable to act in the public interest as determined by the electorate and their representatives.

Bottom line: We the people depend on our elected representatives and on government agencies, federal, local and state, to harness the power of information and telecommunications technology to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It is incumbent on us as citizens in a democracy to understand the sources, the politics, the economics, the flow and the character of information, this nation’s natural and renewable resource.

In these hard times our priority must be to demand transparency, to hone the skills of access, and to feed our instinctive desire for authenticity.




Handy Guide for Mixed-Up Minneapolis Voters

Minneapolis voters, their friends, family, colleagues and neighbors, carry a heavy challenge this season – trying to unravel the complexities of ranked choice voting while faced with a roster of candidates that would befuddle the most ardent observer of the election process.

E-Democracy has created a handy tool that might ease the pain, or at least steer the hapless voter in the right direction.   The voter guide is a gateway to the process and to the candidates themselves.    It provides links to the candidates’ websites, a listing of voter guides, issues discussions online and the basics about voter registration and voting sites.   All you’ll need is time to do the research, read the materials, think about it and decide!  This will make the job easier.

Click here for the E-Democracy election guide:



Eroson of Voters’ Rights – A Slow Rising Tsunami

The elective franchise, if guarded as the ark of our safety, will peaceably dissipate all combinations to subvert a Constitution, dictated by the wisdom, and resting on the will of the people.   (Thomas Jefferson)

Over time the founding fathers, women, Native Americans, African Americans, felons who have paid their debt to society have placed great value on the hard won right to vote.  In the wake of the Voting Rights Act the electorate focused on exercising right rights;  good government groups and state officials  moved on, focusing on getting out the vote – voter registration drives, collaboration, poll watches, elimination of barriers ranging from the responsibility of employers to allow workers leave time to accommodations for language or physical impediments to voters’ exercise of their Constitutional right.

That was the calm before the storm.  Today we are experiencing a sea change in voter rights – actually not so much a visible tsunami as a mighty undercurrent that scoops up the debris of race and class – even age – discrimination.   Largely dispersed beneath the relative calm of the electoral process, voter suppression surfaces as “white caps” – primarily state-level initiatives that are, in fact, a determined drive to purge  those whose vote might stem the tide favored by the have’s.

In its waning days the Minnesota Legislature passed the law that places the Voter ID Amendment on the ballot for November.  In spite of valiant efforts on the part of good government groups such as the League of Women Voters, church groups, the AARP and the ACLU – even Jesse Ventura – the Amendment failed to set off storm warnings among the well-credentialed populace.   The subtle campaign to winnow voter ranks was maneuvered in large part by State Representative Mary Kiffmeyer (IR Big Lake) whose years as Secretary State taught her just how to steer the voting process.

At this writing several groups (ACLU, LWV, Jewish Community Action and Common Cause Minnesota) have petitioned the state Supreme Court to strike down the proposed Constitutional Amendment; the opponents argues on the semantic confusion that the ballot question falsely declares that the state will provide free ID to eligible voters.  Far more pernicious is the implicit presumption that the Amendment, if approved by the voters, will threaten hard-won voter rights such as same-day registration and possibly restrict voter registration initiatives.

Precedent abounds.  Aggressive limits in a host of states sound the alarm that voter suppression, clothed in the innocent garb of voter ID, is a driving and coordinated force.  Florida lives up to its justified reputation for election shenanigans, well-earned in the Gore-Bush debacle of 2008.  The ruckus in Florida swirls around the diabolical initiative to halt voter registration drives while 180,000 Floridians have learned from authorities that they are off the roles because they are not citizens.   Though Florida takes the lead in voter suppression it is a bellwether of national campaign that is well-organized, coordinated and financed.  At close view it looks a lot like a tsunami in slow motion.

In truth this is not about voter ID but “electorate cleansing.”  The effort is insidious, implicit, ubiquitous and amorphous.   A serious probe of the depths of the well-orchestrated campaign exposes Minnesota as more of a pawn than a player.  Showing an ID at the polls is not much of a bother for the have’s – until we see it as the tip of an iceberg that shuns the sunshine of an open process.

In Minnesota voter rights supporters can find countless refuges in the storm.  It is useful, if risky, to cite but a few;   — the state and local League of Women Voters have decades of experience and a local presence for voter information and support.  The Voter Participation Project sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits educates and promotes through their network of nonprofit organization. Faith communities are taking action across denomination lines to defend voters’ rights.

As always, the Secretary of State is the pivotal player in organizing and monitoring the electoral process.  Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie will launch MCN’s 2012  “Promote the Vote” campaign on Wednesday, June 13, 2:00-3:30 p.m. at the Wilder Center, 451 Lexington Avenue North, St. Paul.  Free and open to all.

Kick the Can – Diversionary Tactic to Distract from “Reform” Strategy?

One thing about kicking the can down the road, it’s a public occurrence and it’s noisy.  So I’m thinking the Minnesota Legislature is not really kicking the can down any road.  That’s a diversionary metaphor constructed to keep our eye on the can and definitely not the true game plan.

Word on the streets is this: one of the reform bills in the legislative hopper creates a Commission to review all state programs to determine if they should continue to exist. This Commission is to be exempt from both the Open Meeting Law and the Data Practices Act.

No attribution at this point so it’s conjecture based on keen observation and long experience. Still, after the closed sessions – and buildings – of the past few days, Minnesotans should be afraid, be very afraid.

The Data Practices Act and Open Meeting Law of the State of Minnesota are models based on and reflective of Minnesotans’ deep held conviction over time that elected officials are representatives of the people – all the people. Laws and regulations are not arbitrary, capricious or whimsical. relics of another time that can be disposed at will by political powers and/or pawns.  Laws are laws that apply across the board, even to those who find them onerous and annoying….

Though some lament that the public doesn’t speak up, the reasons are obvious. The public is angry – an intense, deep anger that eats away rather than inciting to action.  The public is weary – literally.  Working 2-3 jobs, bearing the brunt of increased productivity, commuting through insane traffic, lack of control over today, much less tomorrow, worry about kids not getting an education, living to old age with no income, losing a house or a car or a job – these things make mere mortals weary. The fact that there is nowhere to turn, makes us feeling powerless – the vacuum invites anger..

The public is also hurt, betrayed by individuals and a system in whom we had put our trust – not just elected officials but the press, education, the over-reaching conquest of big business.  Hurt leads to anger.   Repressed anger breeds lethargy.  We grasp at ways to escape the overwhelmingness of our lack of power.  Pain thwarts positive action necessary to alter what seems inexorable.

Anger, hurt, betrayal; loss of hope, weariness, worry – all lead to apathy.  Powerlessness and lack of hope render Minnesotans ill-equipped to “take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.”  Individuals feel like Davids against the impervious Goliath(s).  Collaborative efforts crumble as organizations themselves experience the impotence of funding cuts coupled with stony silence from decision makers – fueled by dread fear of political retribution that quells any inclination to advance a controversial position.

The first step is to admit there is a problem.  Incontrovertible evidence abounds.  Individuals and organizations – nonprofits, advocates, communities of faith, the press, small business, farmers, local officials and a host of others need to admit a shared problem:  lack of access to know, much less get involved with, what’s going on.

The next step is to claim the common ground – including a legacy of good government – develop common language, strategies and a united front that serves not special interests but Minnesotans.

Open government is the sine qua non – a manageable and immediate priority.  Minnesotans have experienced and assume the open government model; we have laws on the books;  transparency transcends borders whether they be based on political party, geography, income, ethnicity, citizen status, gender or creed.

Maybe we should let the short-sighted politicos kick the life out of their little can.  The committed will take the higher  road  – they will not kick  but will recycle that can, extract its true worth, reclaim the inherent value in the principle of open government.  Kick the Can should go back to being a game played by idle juveniles while the public moves on to behaving like grown-ups with the will and spirit to claim our rights, beginning with the right to know.

Those Who Can’t “Kick the Can”

All sides use the same macho male term to describe what just happened at the Minnesota Legislature – the other guys “kicked the can down the road.” Girls generally conjure  more elegant and precise terms to describe the political escape tactic.  At the nub, kicking the can down the road is a rudimentary way to delay the resolution of a problem in the hope that it will either disappear or, better yet, come back to haunt the incumbent in next election.

When I realized that hearing the phrase one more time would drive me round the bend, I took therapeutic action.  English major that I am I often seek solace by tracking the origin of an expression that is inane, inaccurate, or and just plain ugly.

Though the game Kick the Can has long kept poor kids out of serious trouble, use of the term by the elite is relatively recent.  (One can only surmise how the phrase migrated up the classes.)

One observer holds that the expression first appeared in print in 1988 in William Safire’s “On Language” column in the New York Times.  Safire quoted the use of the metaphor by arms negotiator Max Kampelman.  Five years later Safire brings it up again:  “A reporter asked US Secretary of State Colin Powell, returning from a trip to the Middle East, about the ‘road map’ agreement.  “Isn’t it just kicking the can farther down the road, putting off the most difficult issues, particularly settlements?

As always, Powell was ready:  “At least we have a can in the road,” replied Powell, reared in New York and familiar with the children’s game.  “The can is in the road now, and we will start moving it down the road, perhaps with little kicks as opposed to a 54-yarder.”

From there on the metaphor goes mainstream – when President Clinton wanted to resolve Middle East problems sooner rather than later, he lamented that for “some foreign policy problems the answer is to kick the can down the road and wait for them to get better and hope time takes care of them.”  Jim Lehrer wrote that he was “too old to play kick the can anymore.”  Diplomats found kicking the can an easy shorthand phrase.   In 2005 political analyst Ross K. Baker uses, then defines, the term: “They kicked the can down the road.  They basically postponed a crisis and set up the predicate for another one in the future.” (Washington Post, May 24 2005

President Obama came out of the chute armed with the recycled image.  Referring to his efforts to seek a bipartisan solution to Social Security solvency the President stressed “What we have done is kicked this can down the road.  We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further (New York Times,  2-2-23-2009

In this political crisis, Minnesota solons have embraced the metaphor as they have eschewed the burden of can possession.  Their over-use of a cant expression suggests a lamentable degree of diction-deprivation (diction accurately defined here as choice of words.”

Language matters.  The kick the can metaphor is hackneyed and meaningless.  Could we change the political dynamic by drafting a resolution to make “Kick the Can Down the Road” the Official Metaphor of the State of Minnesota – we’d probably never hear the phrase again – for one thing, we would spend eons determining the road down which the can would be kicked…