I live in Lapeer County, a quiet community where parades feature mostly tractors (we have a lot of farmers, and they’re proud of their tractors) and fire trucks (because we’re proud of our volunteer fire departments, too). Friday night football games and school band concerts are big events here. We have soccer fields filled with kids. We’re a stereotypical Hometown USA.
Then our local paper, which usually features farm and school news, came out with an edition that almost burst into flames when I picked it up. Todd Courser, our elected state representative, has embarked on a trip to La-La Land. How did Hometown USA send this guy to Lansing? I’ll try to explain.
I’m a Democrat, so maybe you think I have no grounds to talk about a Republican official. My parents were Republicans. My mom said they first voted Republican when Franklin Roosevelt ran for his third term; they thought he wanted to be king. It also probably helped that Dwight Eisenhower was a general who helped bring my two brothers home from WWII, and he and my father shared the nickname Ike. And they really just didn’t quite trust that rich boy Jack Kennedy, so they voted for Richard Nixon. When he was elected, my dad took a picture of the TV screen showing his swearing-in.
In my 30’s I joined and became very involved with the League of Women Voters, then ran for office as a Democrat. I was sworn in as a state representative the same time as Kwame Kilpatrick. I survived a few political fires of my own. Now I’m a retired 72-year-old grandma who can look back and say, “Well, that was interesting” but I picked up some knowledge of our political process.
How and why did Courser, a self-proclaimed “gladiator” and co-author of a prime piece of demagoguery titled a “Contract for Liberty,” get elected? He’s a politician so ignorant of how to actually be effective in his position that he immediately set out to anger his own caucus. Now he seems to have grabbed a shovel and is vigorously digging himself deeper into craziness. How did this community sink to this level of representation? I believe there are three reasons.
Manipulation, expectation, frustration
First, Fox News and other ideologically tilted news media. These outlets are dedicated not to finding the truth, but flattering, or even influencing, viewers’ existing opinions. Fox in particular spreads a message that government is evil, especially government of and by those with liberal or even moderate views, whether Democrat or Republican.
This plays into the second factor: Americans love to hate their politicians. So people run for office but claim not to be politicians, particularly conservative candidates. Can you imagine your doctor telling you, as he’s about to remove your appendix, that he’s not really a doctor? Or letting your neighbor take a set of clippers and have a go at your hair?
What is more ludicrous than choosing people to run our government who don’t understand goverment? To get elected you have to get involved in the political process. By definition are a politician, and you have a responsibility to actually represent people in your district.
Finally, very few people vote and even fewer vote in primaries. So people who only recognize one amendment to the constitution and ignore rest can get elected – they only have to win a relatively small number of votes to win the primary, and in our gerrymandered districts whoever wins the primary is almost guaranteed to win the general election in November.
Why don’t people vote? Remember my dad taking that picture? By the time President Nixon resigned my parents were so disenchanted they never voted again. Some people don’t vote because they are disenchanted or don’t trust politicians. And unfortunately many who do vote depend on opinions from often biased media without taking the time to actually research the candidates.
In my League of Women Voters experience I found how difficult it is to get people to actually attend candidate forums for local candidates, and those local candidates often run for higher office. But in my experience I have found the proportion between good and bad politicians is about the same as in any other job. That’s why we have medical malpractice cases and bad haircuts.
People who want to manipulate the electorate understand the elective process very well. They have the ability to get their message out through the media they control, and they have the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money, thanks to the Supreme Court. Add it all up, and Lapeer County, quiet and generally moderate, has a state representative so extreme even his own very nice mother must not recognize him.