THE OTHER CAMPAIGN
Why should we want lazy idiots to vote?
BY CATHERINE SEIPP
Friday, October 15, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT
With every election season comes yet another flurry of what I’ve come to think of as Nurse the Vote stories. You know the type: suggestions that democracy is undermined when people who can’t figure out whom to vote for, or even how to get to the polls, choose to stay home. The solution, the voter-outreach panderers propose, is hand-holding and nagging. But why should the lazy-idiot demographic be encouraged to influence society even more than it already does?
“I am not disengaged, I’m worn out,” a Michigan State University senior named Traci E. Carpenter wrote in a Newsweek essay explaining why she and her peers are “not necessarily available Nov. 2.” Traci had won a contest for college journalists sponsored by Newsweek and MTV’s college channel, MTVU. MTV also sponsors the Choose or Lose youth-vote campaign; thus the topic of the winning essay.
“Sometimes I feel that no matter how I vote, there will still be war, crime and poverty,” Traci continued in what read like a dead-on parody of adolescent cluelessness and self-absorption, except she wasn’t kidding. “And I have other things on my mind. I am worried about skin cancer, drunken drivers, eating disorders . . .”
I saw the dimmest minds of Traci Carpenter’s generation, destroyed by watching too much MTV, nodding their heads and thinking: “Dude, like, I know! They tell us to vote, but when we do, it still doesn’t stop war and skin cancer and eating disorders. That’s so totally harsh!”
It seemed that nothing could beat this for sheer dopiness, but then along came a toy creator named Ken Hakuta and his Adopt-a-Vote campaign, which aims to give the underage set a voice in the 2004 election. His idea: Parents could promise to vote according to their children’s wishes as long as the kids have done their homework.
Right, that’s what we need in this campaign–more bribery and condescension. A better lesson for parents to teach their children might be that, while many things in life are hard, voting is not one of them. Compared with getting your DSL or cable TV fixed, in fact, it’s easy.
Speaking of bribery and condescension, Michael Moore is now touring the country offering first-time voters joke prizes like ramen noodles or clean underwear in exchange for promising to make it to the polls. “Underwear” and “Michael Moore” are two concepts I’d hoped never to have to consider in the same sentence, but life is full of disappointments, as winners of youth-vote essay contests haven’t quite realized yet.
The grande dame of shameless youth-vote pandering is Madonna, who in 1992 wrapped herself in an American flag for a Rock the Vote ad even though (as it turned out) she herself had never bothered to register. Still, voting is important, Madonna told the Rock the Vote Web site last year, especially now that “anybody who has anything to say against the war or against the president or whatever is punished.” Punished? How? And for speaking out against the war and the president or for just, you know, whatever?
Rock the Vote has now sunk even lower, with its current campaign to get out the hoax-believers demographic. Never mind that a stagnant bill to reinstate the draft was just rejected, 402 to 2, in the House and that neither President Bush nor Sen. Kerry supports conscription. Rock the Vote ads still insist that the draft is “one of the many issues that could be decided this election.” In a similar spirit, a University of Southern California student told the Los Angeles Times this week that she thinks Mr. Bush might reinstate the draft even though he has repeatedly said otherwise. “People lie,” she said. They sure do. My 15-year-old daughter follows election news closely, without the benefit of Michael Moore (whom she can’t stand) or MTV commercials (which she doesn’t watch), but I’m still not handing my vote over to her. No matter; she feels that she is voting anyway. As she explains it: “There’s such a thing as voting mentally, Mom.”
All those do-gooders rallying ’round the youth vote might consider this concept for a moment. Perhaps nascent voters should be encouraged to vote mentally–through actually informing themselves–before voting physically. And anyone telling others to get to the polls might practice a few mental exercises first. This could avoid fiascoes like Cameron Diaz’s announcement, on Oprah’s “voting party” show, that “if you think rape should be legal, then don’t vote.”
Maybe Ms. Diaz was simply channeling the fear message of rap impresario Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’s Vote or Die campaign. But then maybe not. Ms. Diaz is a movie star, and there now seems to be a Screen Actors Guild contract clause that prevents members from speaking in public about voting unless they say something absolutely embarrassing.
Remember when Ben Affleck, who had worked on getting out the youth vote in the 2000 election, began telling interviewers he was thinking of running for Congress and it turned out he hadn’t voted in 10 years? At least P. Diddy voted in the 2000 presidential election, though not since. When asked during a Vote or Die rally at New York University this summer why he hadn’t voted in the New York City elections of 2001, he explained that he had felt “just as disenfranchised as the younger disenfranchised voters.”
In Hollywood, we’re used to this sort of thing. Once I was sitting next to a TV producer at some function, listening to an actor at the dais go on and on, when the producer reached over and wrote on my notepad: “Actor minus script equals incoherence.” “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, whose movie “Team America: World Police” opens today, are equally cynical about celebrity political opining.
Commenting to Rolling Stone on the Vote or Die effort, Mr. Parker said sarcastically: “Hey, 19-year-old who doesn’t know anything–you choose!” Mr. Stone had this to say about the voter-effect of “Team America”: “If anyone walks out of this movie, or a Michael Moore movie, thinking about voting a certain way, then they’re . . . stupid and shouldn’t be voting.” Such comments brought the pair an angry letter from Sean Penn (the puppet version of whom is in “Team America”). Mr. Penn thought that Messrs. Parker and Stone shouldn’t mock youth-vote campaigns because (a) they themselves are too young to know better (”You guys are talented young guys but, alas, primarily young guys”) and (b) they haven’t personally visited Jordan and Iraq the way Mr. Penn has. The actor signed his letter, “All the best, and a sincere f— you.”
Now, celebrities are one thing. But I expect more from someone like journalist Ann Louise Bardach. When I saw she had written a Los Angeles Times op-ed last month headlined “How Florida Republicans Keep Blacks From Voting,” I thought: Gee, that sounds awful. Let’s see what she means.
What she meant was that Florida (like several other states) doesn’t let ex-felons vote, and most ex-felons in Florida are black, and . . . well, let’s just hope Cameron Diaz doesn’t hear about this.
Ms. Seipp writes the column “From the Left Coast” for National Review Online.