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Passive democracy, yawn




October 22, 2003








In 1948, Harry S. Truman boarded a train and began a whistle stop tour that would take him deep into the heart of the country. No village or town was too small for a stop, a speech, or just taking questions from the crowd. On some days, Truman made as many as eight speeches to receptive audiences of both Democrats and Republicans just waiting for old Harry to give Ďem hell.


When it was all over, and despite the premature claims of victory for the more complacent Dewey, Truman won the election. And he won the election because he knew that in order come out on top he had to connect with the voters. He had to go directly to the people, tell them what he stood for or against, and convince them that he was their man. In other words, for Truman the concept of campaigning was an active one, one that required his going to the voters, as opposed to expecting them to come to him.


Not so today. These days the very word ďcampaignĒ has become so besmirched and besotted with passivity that you wouldnít know there was anything going on in an election cycle if events werenít arranged by outside organizations for those who allegedly pass for candidates.


Where would Dormant Norment, Marginalized Minor, Retro Rapp or Barlow the Blasť be without the League of Women Voters to set up debates for them?Or how would they ever function without the party operatives and well-heeled hornblowers who are constantly arranging tea parties on their behalf?


Do they really think that going to fund-raising soirees where the faithful choir assembles to croon ďYouíre the One for MeĒ constitutes campaigning?


Do they really think that showing up for debate after debate where the same canned questions are asked and the same rehearsed answers are given constitutes getting their message across?Do they have any idea how utterly boring this gets after a while?


I canít tell you how proud I was of my delegate, Melanie Rapp (R-96th), who told Philip Forgit to buzz off when he asked her to participate in five debates. Five debates? What on earth for?What are you going to debate for five hours, if your accomplishments as adelegate consist primarily of forcing the Yorktown trustees to commit hara-kiri and mucking about with rental properties in Williamsburg?So kudos to Rapp for sparing us from five hours of totally banal blather.


On the other hand, the now not-so-forgettable Forgit may well have solidified my vote, if only because he actually showed his face in Toano and asked for my bubble.


Donít get me wrong. I really donít think thereís much difference philosophically between Forgit and Rapp, but the very fact that Forgit at least made an effort to take his case to the voters and actively conduct a campaign out here scores mega points with me.


What donít score mega points are Forgitís negative, jump-at-the-jugular fliers. We had enough of that nonsense during the sewage-driven rat race featuring Jost and Norment.


Iím really not impressed by Forgitís hot dog-eating contests. Nor do I care that he thinks Rapp has a gas problem. In fact, itís rather far-fetched and naÔve to expect one delegate to solve the transportation mess in Hampton Roads.


But for the most part, Forgitís campaign is about the only one thatís on the right track.


The point is that all our so-called candidates should be visiting the neighborhoods in their districts. They all should be holding either well advertised town hall-type meetings or smaller local gatherings at which they are willing, by themselves, to face the voters, clarify their platforms, and take questions from those whom they would represent. In short, they should become active campaigners.


Yet I have no reason to believe that Iíll ever see Tommy Norment, Mary Minor or even my own candidates for supervisor sit down with the voters and press their cases without the interference of moderators, handlers or fund-raisers. While they all talk of grassroots campaigns, itís obvious that in most cases the roots have become unhinged from the grass and replanted in the mutant meadows of TV land.††


So lured have our candidates become into thinking that pre-arranged and pre-rehearsed debates constitute campaigning that they seem almost fearful of going out amongst the people on their own. Rather than leave the warmth of the friendly womb, they are content to plaster the roadsides with signs, post their pusses on CNN, and speak directly to the people only when some moderator tells them they have five minutes to present their views.


This, I submit, is not campaigning. It is passive democracy at its worst. It may also be the reason for the utter apathy that attends so many elections. And it is certainly the type of political puffery for which Harry would give these lackadaisical bush beaters big time hell.††



































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