Here’s an interesting thought: America might find the much needed remedy for its painfully evident and dangerously prevalent political apathy in… Hillary Clinton. In her Reuters article, Chloe Angyal cites a study that shows how women’s involvement in the electoral process impacts the level of political awareness on part of the voting public (especially women). A Clinton presidential bid would, therefore, help raise political awareness and perhaps reverse the US trend of caring less and less about politics and politicians. According to Angyal, the more prominent a female candidate is, the more people are expected to care. Seems fair enough, but it is my intuition that – when entertaining Clinton ’16 – Angyal is overlooking something.
It certainly does appear that the level of public enthusiasm for politics is hitting lows in the US. As Angyal points out: ” The US ranks 120th out of 169 countries when it comes to voter turnout. Just 54% of eligible voters showed up at the polls on election day in 2012, and in the 2010 midterm elections, turnout was a dismal 37%.”
I’ve always been very interested in the political effects of apathy in societies like the US; the sort of theoretical discussion that would give justice to the topic surpasses all ambitions a humble blogger may have on a fine autumn afternoon. When reading Angyal’s article, however, it may suffice to focus on the causes of the current high levels of apathy in the US. A proper enumeration of all of those causes is, likewise, a demanding task – so let me focus on one particularly obvious cause of the fact that in America, nowadays, few people care about political actors – disillusionment. It seems to me that a general lack of trust in the politicians’ integrity and scorn for the political profession is commonplace in America (and, in varying degrees, everywhere else). People think all candidates for office are the same smooth-talking, power-hungry egomaniacs.
If disillusionment is the cause for apathy, what is, then, causing disillusionment?
In an act of shameless self-promotion, I’d like to remind the reader of an opinion piece yours truly has penned on that matter for TruthOut. I’ve argued that political talk shows such as The Hannity Show and Piers Morgan Tonight erode public trust in democratic institutions and foster disillusionment with politics. Obviously, my short piece did not presume to give a definite major cause of the public distrust in politics and, in turn, the sort of apathy Angyal has written about. But, there is a peculiar point that I’ve heard Tariq Ali make in an interview for Counterpunch that might be useful for that discussion:
Counterpunch: While pronouncing that social democracy is dead, you say that an “extreme centre” is ruling most countries today? Why do you call it the “extreme centre”?
Ali: Because when you have a Centre which encompasses Centre Left, Centre Right and the traditional Centre parties, and this Centre then wages war, defends the occupation of countries, wages war on its own people at home through austerity measures then it is the home for extremism in my opinion. That is why I label it the Extreme Centre. This is the pattern in most parts of Europe. It does not matter who wins, the Centre rules. And it is creating a huge void in democratic accountability. At the level of civil liberties, you have had the case of a young woman who described a dream to a friend on email in which she saw some terrorists carrying out some action. She was arrested and charged for having a dream.
In all honesty, Tariq Ali was an unlikely reference for this post. The first problem I’ve got with the above cited interpretation is its underlying premise – a full-fledged socialist such as Ali will naturally tend to view both Democrats and Republicans primarily as capitalists, thereby running the risk of perceiving their political differences as more narrow than they really are. I suppose this ideological bias works both ways. In any case, Ali’s concept of the extreme centre is worth considering as a possible cause for disillusionment in politics – since all politicians talk and govern in much the same way, their apparent conflict seems staged and the political actors themselves may look like deceivers. “Whether you vote Democrat or GOP, it’s all the same, all the time.” Enter apathy.
Going back to Angyal’s suggestion that the remedy for American apathy might be brought about by Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2016, what would Tariq Ali say? Well, if the “extreme centre” really is an adequate model of looking at U.S. politics – Hillary Clinton personifies it more than anyone else.