Opinion » Ted Rall

Killing Our Inner Child

Blame politicians' lies, not apathy


LOS ANGELES--I can't stop thinking about what President Barack Obama said about Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl killed in Tucson, Ariz.

Green, said the president, saw politics "through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often take for granted."

Those are disturbing words, but not in the way Obama intended.

Obama relies on a deeply flawed assumption: that becoming cynical is an inherent part of growing up. But as Americans travel the road from childhood to adulthood, their political system repeatedly lets them down. Cynicism is taught.

As years slip by, they watch the problems they worry about go unaddressed by their so-called representatives.

On those rare occasions that the government impacts their lives, it does so negatively: with taxes, fines and paperwork. Meanwhile, the pols fatten themselves at the public trough.

I found countless articles and studies that try to explain why the United States has one of the lowest voter-turnout rates. Most suggested ways to get more Americans to the polls. None focused on the supply side of the equation: improving politics so they become more appealing.

Ask not, Mr. President, what Americans can do to become less cynical, but rather ask what you and your pals in Washington, D.C., can do to deserve our trust.

It's interesting to ask why many Americans register to vote, but rarely cast a ballot. A 2006 Pew Research survey found that 42 percent of these individuals were "bored by what goes on in Washington," 14 percent were "angry at the government," 32 percent said "issues in D.C. don't affect me," and 30 percent said "voting doesn't change things."

These people aren't stupid or lazy, they're cynical. They think the government is evil, irrelevant, or both. Lords knows politicians give them lots of reasons to hold those beliefs.

Start with Obama himself.

In a September 2010 interview with Rolling Stone, Obama claimed to have "accomplished 70 percent of the things that we said we were going to do--and by the way, I've got two years left to finish the rest of the list, at minimum."

You can't assume a second term when you're president. Moreover, no one who voted for Obama in 2008 wants to wait until 2016 to see the fulfillment of a 2008 promise.

Anyway, Obama has kept a mere 24 percent of his promises, according to Politifact.

Broken promises include the following: close Guantanamo, pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, let the Bush tax cuts expire, eliminate warrantless wiretaps, eliminate torture, create a national publicly funded health-care system.

Politicians lie and lie. Then they accuse us of being faithless. What about them?

"I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it," Obama said. "All of us--we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations."

"All of us" don't have to do jack. It's not our job to take an interest in politicians. It's the politicians' job to take an interest in us.