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A Portrait of the Non-Voter as an Old Man

August 16, 2010

Yesterday I had the chance to overhear my union dues-paying, social-security dependent, Democratic neighbor explain why he wasn’t going to vote for the Democrats this year.

Politicians, he has decided, are a bunch of crooks who only care about themselves. He had four major complaints justifying his decision not to vote:

1. Somerville wastes money on fireworks when Boston has a perfectly good fireworks display

2. Somerville wastes too much money planting trees along Somerville Ave

3. Somerville wastes too much money on parking enforcement, even paying officers to distribute tickets in the middle of the night

4. Somerville no longer allows him to park his car against the direction of traffic, like they do in Medford

Government, he concluded, should be taking money from the rich people and giving it to the poor. Instead they waste their time on this bullshit.

I spend so much time thinking about national policy that I forget how much more salient local government is for some people, the difference between our national military budget and the Somerville firework budget notwithstanding.

I also tend to forget how many voters aren’t at home in either party. I had never even considered before that there might be a voting bloc of small-government welfare-statists (or is it socialist libertarians?) whose operative philosophy is pretty much share the wealth and then leave me the fuck alone.


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  1. Alex R. permalink

    So interesting. I feel discouraged by the tree planting comment…it’s hard for me to understand why someone wouldn’t want more trees on a stretch of road like Somerville Ave (there is evidence also that vegetation calms traffic and–despite old-school thinking to the contrary–reduce crime, beyond all the obvious environmental and aesthetic benefits).

    Even though I do think people are too focused on and entitled by their cars, I will admit that parking against the grain of traffic is a rather nice luxury in the residential streets of Medford!

    How do you think having people engaged in local politics affects the national dialogue?

  2. I have no idea what kind of systematic effect it would have. But I guess my intuition is that when people are generally cranky (like, say, during a recession) they are just going to be bothered by things more.

    And I also think that the majority of interactions with local government are going to be negative – getting a parking ticket, having to file paperwork, new parking regulations, zoning fights, etc. (Unfortunately, most people don’t think of walking on a well maintained sidewalk as an interaction with local government.)

    So when the economy is bad, I’d guess people are just predisposed to get pissed off at their local representatives. And I’d imagine this would turn voters off of the idea of doing anything new or ambitious. The classic “If they can’t even run the DMV, how can they run health care?” or in this case, “If they really wanted to give everyone access to health care, they could if they’d just cancel the damn fireworks show.”

    Also: I love the trees on Somerville Ave! They are the only source of shade there and walking down it in summer can be brutal.

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