Last week, Jeremi Suri reminded us about the importance of informed voting. Too many people vote for personalities instead of policy. That’s why we see the stagnation, hyper-partisanship and “public ugliness” he talks about in our politics today. But let’s talk about what your vote means.
Your vote is most important to whichever city you’re from. In "Local Elections and the Politics of Small-Scale Democracy," political scientist J. Eric Oliver called local government "the hidden leviathan of American politics."
These elections determine where your house, grocery stores and schools are. They also tax you, directly and indirectly. Property taxes are often determined by the local government and can be unrestricted. The local government also determines the business tax breaks that you’re obliged to pay for. Local politics affect you from your home to the workplace. Remember this the next time you blow off tablers outside of the SAC trying to register you to vote.
So voting is huge. Especially locally. But there are huge parts of the government that don’t work off of how you vote, either. This is where Suri and I may diverge. The rally to energize voters should be met with intense change from the top.
Consider that my influence on the system is not the same as Bill Gates’. Or Goldman Sachs’. I do not have the same political resources nor the same privileges. Corporations hold property, enter into contracts, enjoy free speech and are constitutionally protected. But when a corporation and I disagree, my interests are put in competition with theirs. And that’s a losing game.
If I’m concerned with the protection of natural resources in a way in which a corporation is not, what happens? The people decide, right? Well, no. I have nowhere near the same resources as a corporation when it comes to lobbying, media appearances, sponsoring a think tank, consulting my critics and contributing to political campaigns that will favor my policies. Corporations are just one example of the power players that set the national agenda.
There are others, many others.
What Suri is focusing on is the process; but we should take the product into account. We should encourage “lazy” voters to actually look at policy platforms, but we should be more publicly critical of the power players involved.
Shah is a business and government sophomore from Temple.