A system that repulses

There probably weren’t that many people who noticed, but last week the two-week period for filing for public office closed. We now know whose names will appear on our primary election ballots this year. We also probably know who the candidates for president will be.

So, it’s begun again. It’s truly amazing that so many good people still are willing to get into these races and run for office, given what a snake pit politics has become. Even the Nevada Legislature, which for many years avoided the kind of polarization Congress experiences, is now deep into it.

Of course, when we say many good people are willing to run, that’s doesn’t account for all the candidates. Some people get into these races to make trouble, commit mischief and subject the public to their ideological warfare.

Then there is the arrogant journalism. For this, we need look no further than the Reno Gazette-Journal’s demonization of the Washoe County School Board. The newspaper went into full attack mode before finding out all the facts about the advice the board received from its attorney on open meetings. The message to folks in the community was clear—even school boards are not safe from shallow, malicious news coverage.

Jennifer Lawless, coauthor of Running from Office, says a survey shows nine out of 10 young people want nothing to do with running for office. And there are plenty of people at other ages who have no interest in it, either. The result is that those who do run for office aren’t always the ones we might want. Who runs? “The kind of people who are currently in office,” Lawless told Time. “People that actually do not think that government is a way to bring about positive change, people who are more interested in their own power than public policy, people that are antagonistic and confrontational and value partisanship over output.”

But it doesn’t stop with running for office. It is becoming more and more difficult to make the case that citizens have a duty to vote. Why should they? The system is now so in the grip of money and power that individual votes are like slips of paper in a whirlwind in their impact. Our politicians bewail low turnout but also behave in ways that drive people from the polls. In other nations citizens withhold their votes to protest corruption or dictatorship. We’ve heard about how U.S. House members must raise thousand of dollars every week they are in office to have any chance at reelection. A system so wringing wet in money is not one that commands confidence, and staying away from the polls in protest is as legitimate a choice as any.