THE BLOG

Dysfunctional Electorate

11/03/2012 03:25 pm ET | Updated Jan 03, 2013

Apathetic. Polarized. Aloof. Use any adjective you like -- our electorate is dysfunctional. We try our best to mask our dysfunction by draping it in blame. We like to point fingers -- and oftentimes we point them right at our elected officials. If you did not understand how a democratic system of government works, you might swear that American citizens and our representatives have no connection beyond district boundaries on a map. We have all heard it before -- and you may have even said it yourself -- Washington is broken. The candidates who run as "Washington outsiders" utilize this theme to convince us that they are "different" and the electorate screams it from the rooftops in frustration: Washington is broken!

I whole-heartedly disagree. Do I believe that the people we elect are always the most forthcoming, honest, selfless people in the country? No. Do I believe that who we elect is a reflection of us? Absolutely. Herein lies the problem: our representatives in Washington do not magically teleport themselves to office -- they cannot go without our blessing. I take issue with an electorate that criticizes elected officials on the grounds of credibility and accountability when we do not hold ourselves, as a whole, to the same standards. If we really want to see the problem with Washington, I suggest we all take a good, long look in the mirror.

I am a high school government teacher who graduated from Centre College (home of the 2012 vice presidential debate) and now teaches in a low-income school in Kentucky, so I follow political trends and sometimes I even try to make sense of them. Some trends make perfect sense and some trends lack logic. For example, Barack Obama ran -- and won -- on the promise of universal healthcare. Now, his signature legislation is being used by the Republicans to unseat him only four years later. And, to top it off, the Republicans are running Mitt Romney, a candidate whose model of universal healthcare was used to mold the president's plan for universal healthcare. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker was very clear about his disdain for unions during his campaign. Once elected, he served as the catalyst behind the symbolic unraveling of unions in his first term. The people in Wisconsin protested in outrage over a campaign promise on which the governor followed through. They worked for a recall and gathered twice as many signatures as they needed. The recall attempt failed and Governor Walker kept his seat. Kentucky senior Senator (and minority leader in the U.S. Senate) Mitch McConnell has been quoted as saying that the main priority for the Republicans in the senate is to ensure that President Obama is a one-term president. In a recession with a high unemployment rate, I would assume that the main priority of Kentuckians -- and Americans, for that matter -- would involve job creation and fiscal responsibility. Yet, Senator McConnell currently enjoys a 51 percent approval rating. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican; conservative, moderate, or liberal -- you surely must realize the ambiguity in our political smoke signals.

What's more disheartening than the dysfunction of the electorate is the apathy of the electorate. In 2008, one of the most exciting times in American political history, less than 60 percent of the public bothered to vote. In the 2000 presidential election, arguably the most controversial election in recent time, the voter turnout barely topped the halfway mark at 51.3 percent.

There is too much information available for us to be aloof. There are too many problems to be solved -- and too many perspectives we can use to solve them -- to fall victim to polarization. There is too much at stake to be apathetic. Be accountable on November 6th by exercising your right to vote. When the candidate you elect follows through on a campaign promise, be mindful of your reflection. Washington might be broken, but whether we like it or not, Washington is a reflection its electorate.