I can't stop thinking about what Obama said about Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl shot to death in Tucson.
Christina-Taylor, said the president, saw politics "through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often take for granted."
Those are disturbing words. But not the way Obama intended.
Obama relies on a deeply flawed assumption: that becoming cynical is an inherent part of growing up.
That's a lie. As American citizens travel the long road from childhood to adulthood to valued members of the AARP, their political system repeatedly lets them down. Cynicism is taught. Optimism is ruthlessly crushed.
People vote for politicians who break their promises. Disappointed by the limited choices offered by the two major parties, they pick one only to see it repeatedly sell out its purported principles. As year after year slips by, they watch the problems they worry about go completely unaddressed, much less solved, by their so-called representatives.
On those rare occasions that "their" government impacts their lives, it does so negatively, with taxes, fines, paperwork, parking tickets. Meanwhile, politicians fatten themselves and their cronies at the public trough (before moving on to the even richer private one).
Say you have an absentee parent who drinks up the grocery money and beats you up. To protect yourself you develop a bit of a shell. Who can blame you? When you finally stop talking to the deadbeat SOB, is it fair to call you cynical?
Hardly. You're merely acknowledging reality. You'd be a fool not to.
In researching this column I found countless articles and studies that try to explain why the United States has one of the lowest voter turnout rates on earth. Almost all suggested ways to get more Americans to the polls. None focused on the supply side of the equation: improving politicians and politics so they become more appealing to the electorate.
Ask not, Mr. President, what Americans can do to become less cynical, but rather ask what you and your pals in D.C. can do to deserve our trust.
It's interesting to ask why many Americans are registered to vote but rarely cast a ballot. (Usually whether or not a person is registered is the best predictor as to whether or not they actually vote.) A 2006 Pew Research survey found that 42 percent of these individuals were "bored by what goes on in Washington," 14 percent were "angry at the government," 32 percent said "issues in D.C. don't affect me," and 30 percent said "voting doesn't change things."
These people aren't stupid or lazy. They're cynical, and rightly so. They think the government is evil, irrelevant, or both. Lord knows politicians give them lots of reasons to hold those beliefs.
Start, for example, with President Obama himself.
In a September 2010 interview with Rolling Stone Obama claimed to have "accomplished 70 percent of the things that we said we were going to do -- and by the way, I've got two years left to finish the rest of the list, at minimum."
These politicians! Even in a line about keeping promises, the dude fudges facts. "Minimum"? You can't assume a second term when you're president. Moreover, no one who voted for Obama in 2008 wants to wait until 2016 to see the fulfillment of a 2008 promise.
Anyway, Obama has kept a mere 24 percent of his 2008 promises. That's according to Politifact -- and their assessment is generous.
Totally broken promises -- promises Obama didn't even pretend to try to keep -- include the following:
He said he would close Guantánamo concentration camp.
He said he would pull U.S. troops out of Iraq.
He said he would create a $10 billion foreclosure prevention fund.
He said he would let the Bush tax cuts expire.
He said he would eliminate warrantless wiretaps.
He said he would eliminate extraordinary renditions.
He said he would eliminate torture.
He said he would create a transparent online database related to government ethics and lobbying activities.
He said he would close the revolving door between government and private sector lobbying.
He said he would create a national, publicly funded healthcare system.
So many broken promises. No wonder so many optimistic kids turn into hardboiled adults.
Politicians lie and lie and lie. Then, when we notice, they accuse us of being faithless. Us! What about them?
"I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it," Obama said. "All of us -- we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations."
No, Mr. Obama. "All of us" don't have to do jack. It's not our job to take an interest in politicians. It's the politicians' job to take an interest in us.
-(Ted Rall is the author of "The Anti-American Manifesto." His website is tedrall.com.)
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