Frank Keegan: Blah politicians enable tyranny of the few

Opinion,Frank Keegan

Hey citizens, where were you Tuesday?

Sure, unaffiliated voters are disenfranchised in closed primaries, but even accounting for us leaves a bleak record of inexorable decline in civic participation in a free society.

That means we are at risk of losing this precious gift our ancestors bequeathed to us. It is a gift they fought and marched and protested to give to us.

It is a gift for which they endured oppression and prison.

Too many paid the ultimate sacrifice for us to just toss it into the garbage can of history.

But our obligation to those who sacrificed is small compared to our obligation to our nation and to our fellow citizens.

When we do not vote, we surrender our government to the tyranny of the few. A small, organized group can take control of government. In some races Tuesday, about 10 percent of the adult population determined who will hold office.

That is hardly a mandate, no matter what the winners tell us. The numbers are depressing.

In the Baltimore region, fewer than 20 percent of adults voted. Worse, even as population increases, fewer people even bother to register.

In Baltimore City and County, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, the rolls of registered voters have dropped by 107,000 since 2002.

Statewide, turnout peaked in the 1994 primary at about 40 percent after a dismal 33 percent in ?90. In ?98 it plummeted to 29, then clawed up to 31 in ?02.

We?re still waiting for the official statewide number for this year, but we certainly can place it ,in a specific statistical category: Not good!

These numbers show one thing: A hot contest gets voters interested. Candidates fought for both nominations in ?94. If citizens do not care enough to sign up and vote because it is the right thing to do, they should at least think about our loss of clout as a region in the state, even the nation.

That hurts everybody here right where it counts, in the wallet.

If even that is notenough to get them to the polls, then they need a good race. Experts scratch their heads about the cause of this steady decline in civic involvement.

Politicians, of course, blame the media, despite the fact that voter declines started earlier and dropped faster than news viewer and reader declines.

Editors know you don?t sell more papers or build share covering politics. Too many people have tuned out. Why?

Because politicians overall have steered toward bland, safe courses and slogans.

Do "Fairness and Opportunity," "Compassion and Cooperation," and "Decency and Common Sense," slogans from the Third District Congressional race, ring a bell? Who couldn?t be for those things?

Polls run politicians, making them afraid to say anything that will offend anybody.

They slither and prevaricate, and even lie outright, about vital local, state, national and world issues.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Mayor Martin O?Malley are in a position to do some real good and have some good old-fashioned American stump-thumping fun at the same time.

They can go after each other hard. They can take firm stands on major issues facing Maryland and our place in the nation and world.

Instead of vague image campaign advertising, they can create detailed ads on what they plan to do ? or not do ? that voters can save to hold the winner accountable when in office.

They can eschew platitudes in speeches and debates. They can do what they are supposed to do as professional politicians: Duke it out. We the people deserve a standup fight. We?re paying for it, one way or another. Give us our money?s worth, and we shall come.

Frank Keegan is Editor of The Baltimore Examiner. He can be reached at
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