Democracy: More Than a Word

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes so can a statistic–in this case three, which were published on the front page of USA today a few days ago (in an article unrelated to democracy).

  • The U.S. voting age population consists of 206 million
  • There are 173 million registered voters
  • In 2004, 122 million cast their votes

When I compare these numbers to the much touted 35 million votes cast for both Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton, I am no longer as impressed. Maybe a lot of new voters have indeed been added, but oh there’s a long way to go. While this long way applies to the presidential candidates’ individual campaigns, I believe it applies even more to democracy. We like to use the word, but perhaps we’re so busy using it, we forget how to practice it.
If there are 173 million registered voters and 206 million people of voting age, that means 33 million people are not registered–almost as many as those who voted for the two main Democratic party candidates.
If 122 million cast their vote in 2004, and there are 206 million of voting age, even if adjusting for population growth one were to say in 2004 there were 200 million people who could have voted, that means 78 million did not either vote or register.
One can go on and play with these numbers, but the bottom line would be the same: How democratic are we when a large percentage of our eligible voters do not participate in the system.
These are numbers that ought to give humility to presidential candidates. The percentage of the voting age population, and even more that of the population as a whole, who is supporting a given candidate is such a fraction of the whole. Let’s hope this inspires both to send a compelling message urging people to participate, or be resigned to accept a victory that is hollow and superficial, representing but a sliver of the real majority the word democracy would imply.
Of course we can’t put it all on the back of the candidates, we need to bear some of the responsibility. We need to do our part, be informed voters and vote. And if this seems too much–for it often is in a system so dominated by politics–then we must be willing to make whatever little sacrifice in order to ensure that democracy is more than a word.

Airplane Security, Anger And Common Sense

Like many U.S. citizens I’ve traveled several times since 9/11 including abroad and I’ve accepted whatever security measures were in place or oddities of the system–like the time an arm brace I had to sleep with was in a carrying tote and was singled out by the security guard who held the bag at arm’s length as if it was something repugnant and said in a rather accusing voice, “whose bag is this?” But today as I’m getting ready to go to Texas, I am angry. I will only have an hour to change planes in Houston. Were that flight to be a little late, it would be hard to transfer my bag to the other plane and I would be separated from it for who knows how long, since there is no guarantees if I have to take a later plane I would be on the same flight as my luggage. ‘Been there, done that, this has happened to me. The best thing to do, I believe, is to just wheel my little black bag on the plane with me. Maybe it’s best but it’s not easy. I was planning to take my sister, whom I am visiting, several food treats. She’s in a nursing home and isn’t able to have what she likes all that often. According to government security guidelines (, however, what I was planning on taking is a no-no. The pistachio halvah she is waiting for will not arrive with me. I had to mail it separately. The English lavender body lotion I wanted to give her is in a bottle that is way too big–over 3 ounces. All these packages are sealed and transparent, nevertheless, they are according to the rules, security risks. Maybe real terrorists would know how to blow up a plane with halvah and lavender lotion, I don’t think I’d know even if they taught me how.
Somewhere the rules have to make sense. There comes a point where the concept of security isn’t enough. There is need for a bit of common sense, and adjustments could be made. Couldn’t there be, for example, some supervisor on site to decide on iffy items, or be entitled to make decisions in context of the individual, the purpose for the trip and the like. Or, what about having certain items turned in to an airline attendant? In fact laws are continually being revised. In an effort to prevent would be sleeper cell terrorists from entering the U.S., people coming from countries like the U.K. where a visa isn’t required, will, as of next August, have to start registering. The need for that new law may be sad, but it seems wise. Why then couldn’t a little bit of wisdom be transferred to other areas of security, such as what can and cannot be taken on board.
I got angry today. Someone else got angry yesterday. And someone will get angry tomorrow. Normally anger is not constructive but as I was struggling with mine,I realized it was highlighting a problem, it was telling me something was wrong. With the experience of the last seven years the Homeland Security Administration ought to be better at serving the public. Rules that seem arbitrary, or that are based on fear and hold little if any common sense are not a way to build real security. The public has been accepting but in light of other constraints when traveling these days–late planes, crowded conditions–it may be a matter of time before people start asking a whole lot of whys?

The Best Health Care In The World

Senator Ted Kennedy is said to already be walking the halls of his hospital. The operation they said was a success and he’s ready to go from North Carolina to Boston for radiation and chemo. His courage and fighting spirit have been mentioned, and so they should be. In fact it seems to me they are a trademark of everyone I’ve ever known to fight cancer–as if in a way they were pre-requisites, and perhaps they are for studies do show how important attitude is in relation to the success of cancer treatments.
But so far no one has mentioned another important factor, his ability to obtain the best health care available for this condition, perhaps in the world. Given his position and connections Senator Kennedy was and is in a position to find out and have access to the very best of anything. Going to North Carolina may have stopped some, but he had the means. The surgeon’s schedule may have been a problem for some, but if you are Senator Kennedy surely it is easy to have concessions made in your name even if they were not asked for. Congress has some of the best health coverage in the country, on top of which the Senator is in a position to have out of pocket expenses many could not handle. There are those who would not know how to research the best surgeons, the best hospitals, whose doctors may or may not be willing or able to guide them through the maze it can be. Again Senator Kennedy’s position must have made a difference.
The result is that the Senator was able to have a delicate surgery performed under optimum circumstances for someone of his age and his type of malignancy. The problem is not that Ted Kennedy is getting the best treatment possible, why shouldn’t he, and certainly not that his life is undoubtedly being prolonged, albeit who knows for how much longer. The problem is that I who is among the few to have decent health coverage would probably not have this kind of care available were I to have this kind of cancer, and neither would anyone I know.
I am quite sure the Senator himself is aware of this discrepancy, and it may be behind the reasons he has championed health care causes for decades. It all adds to the irony that he is now an example of the difference between the health care haves and health care haves-not. Still the lesson for us is the vivid reminder of how often the inequality in health care access is a life and death matter.

McCleland v. The Press Corps

I am sure that former presidential press secretary Scott McCleland expected an uproar with the publication of his book. I wonder if he expected to have no ally. That’s what I find far more interesting than the revelations of the book. Most interesting of all is the reaction of the Washington press corps. They apparently looked up to him while he was at the White House podium. Now, they question his motives. From what I’ve heard and read the content of the book hasn’t been the topic of discussion, rather the question on the mind of several different kinds of reporters from several different kinds of TV channels has been, if he toed the line for seven years, why is he coming out now? All seem incredulous, all seem to not quite believe McCleland, all indicate their skepticism in a number of ways, some disparage him openly. Transpose the situation: If someone had been in a difficult marriage for seven years, and put on a good front until one day he or she filed for divorce and then the beans would be spilled with great gusto, people may wonder why this or why that but basically they would understand a shift that only seems sudden to outsiders. While an issue may be elevated when it involves the White House, people are people, and high or low, certain human traits apply. If one is to give Mr. McCleland the benefit of the doubt, and why shouldn’t we, then whether through this or some other scenario, there can be more than one explanation for his unburdening himself.
The men and women of the Washington press corps are savvy, clever, hard working, intelligent, driven, energetic, knowledgeable among other laudable qualities, but their job does come with occupational hazards. In this case, as it seems to have been at the beginning of the Iraq war, it is not being able to draw a hard enough line between sincerity and spin, falsehood and fact, even understanding and naivete. There is much talk about ethics and the role of loyalty, so much in fact it makes a listener recall Mr. Shakespeare’s “…the lady doth protest too much.” Regardless of whether this applies or not, it does seem that being hard nosed doesn’t always serve the public interest.