It happens every election. Uninformed voters cast their votes at the last minute for the candidate whose last ridiculously-expensive television commercial they saw, cast their votes against candidates based on gut-level emotional attacks – monumental lies, mostly – by their opponents, without ever taking the time to really examine the candidates, what they say they stand for versus what they really stand for, and what it really means for their own economic and social well-being if Candidate X wins the election.
In Washington State, we also have a cumbersome initiative process that over the last few elections has managed to confuse the public and bog down the electoral process. Unfortunately, many of these initiatives, while they are skillfully titled and worded to appear benign, cynically manipulate those who are not really paying attention to vote against their own best interests.
For example, to us progressives, pretty much any initiative proposed by our own Republican political gadfly and pseudo-Populist Tim Eyman is automatically suspect. Every one of his initiatives, despite whatever innocuous-sounding name he slaps on it ("Initiative Measure No. 1132 concerns state expenditures on transportation"), is aimed at crippling government and destroying the public's faith in it. His centerpiece, of course, was 1999's infamous I-695, which, even though it was subsequently declared unconstitutional, had – and is still having – a tremendously devastating effect on this state. His many subsequent attempts were never quite as successful, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming a master media manipulator and successful wingman for the Republican right wing. He's become such a "media darling" to a complaisant press in this state that they always know that he can be counted on to say something so borderline outrageous that, even if it makes for bad public policy, makes for good television.
Progressives, sadly, really don't really have anyone with Eyman's skills and abilities. He might be selling snake oil to the voting public, but he also makes them want to buy it. It may well be that the truth will set you free, but first you need to know the truth.
So what can be done? How about a massive educational drive designed to make voters understand what they can do to avoid these manipulations by a select corps of Grover Norquist "starve the beast" acolytes?
Sidebar: Norquist, you may recall, is a Republican operative whose most famous line was that he wanted to reduce government to a size where he could "drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the tub".
Beyond that, it is up to each and every one of us to educate ourselves on the candidates and the issues for which we are expected to cast a thoughtful ballot in November. It's also up to each and every one of us to talk to our friends, relatives, co-workers, even that stranger on the bus, and educate them on the candidates and issues. This is true over the entire country, not just in Washington State. And don't drop your guard. This year's election is only the warm-up round for next year's Battle Royal.
This is where we progressives have it over the so-called "conservatives". They won't do that because they can't. Most of them cannot successfully articulate their positions because they are among the very worst when it comes to uninformed voting. On the other hand, they have a follow-the-herd mentality which means that they don't have to think about things. We do, and we will.