American democracy cannot survive unless it has an informed, educated, and concerned citizenry actively involved in the political process. Apathy must be overcome. The idea must be eliminated that "what difference does it make who is elected?" -- that "politicians are all crooked, and no matter which party wins the people always lose."
There are eight steps which could be taken now to reduce the apathy that threatens to underwhelm us.
1. National election days should be made national holidays, so that no citizen would have the excuse of his job as an alibi for not voting. With the enthusiasm created by a holiday, more volunteers would work for the candidates of their choice and stimulate their neighbors to go to the polls.
2. We could consider rewards for voting. In communist countries there are penalties for failing to vote. America already provides income tax deductions for contributions to political parties. It would be easy to prvide every voter with a receipt when he votes to submit with his income tax return entitling him to a $1 or $2 deduction on his tax.
3. The enthusiasm of children is an untapped source of great potential in the cause of democracy. We should indoctrinate these voters of tomorrow about the importance of voting. Educational kits and talks should be arranged in every school to explain the values of freedom and encourage children to take a stand in its defense. Children have been forceful persuaders to get their parents to stop smoking cigarettes. They could be roused to become ardent missionaries to make sure their parents register and vote.
4. An all-out attack on the No-Vote Party is essential. We need to make voting the patriotic thing to do. Window cards with a gold star on each proclaiming that "everyone in this house is a voter" could be distributed by block captains who would see that every home displayed one in the front window. A house without a voting card would be made to seem a house of apathy bearing its own sign of shame.
5. Shorter election campaigns will help. The 1980 campaign has been running for two years and has cost Americans millions of dollars. John Connally spent $ 11 million to win one delegate in the Republican convention and withdrew from the race. Other candidates are spending even more, and because of matching federal funds the American taxpayer is footing the bill with tax dollars that could be used for more vital services. We need to reduce these staggering costs and the length of each election campaign. The answer is the revival of the old-time spirit of volunteer civic activity in a short, hotly-contested campaign that would rouse Americans from their ennui.
6. Party loyalty is diminishing in America as the differences between the two parties become less obvious. Issues have become subservient to the personality and charisma of the candidates. Party organizations need to be revived to take clear stands on issues, to work the build from the percincts once again and develop grass-roots involvement in getting out the vote, instead of relying too much on the passive avenue of television commercials to sell the candidates.
7. Political action committees of business, labor and other organizations need to spend their funds on local block work to get out the vote instead of making blanket contributions to candidates who follow the easy way of buying exorbitant amounts of media time and space. Television advertising is fine, but it should not replace active persuasive work in every precinct of America. In our larger cities political machines use their tens of thousands of government employees to work their home precincts before each election. Illegal as it may be, it has proved its ability to keep party organizations in power. Companies should use their political action committee funds to encourage their employees to work in their own precincts to counteract the political work of government employees.
8. Lastly, we need to encourage better men and women to become candidates for office. We cannot afford the belief that all our candidates are so weak and vacillating that they are not worth our vote. Change can be achieved only when government officials and politicians truly embrace the idea that public office is a public trust, when scandals and corruption are reduced, and new and mutual respect is once again engendered between thepublic and our leadership.
Tomorrow there will be more than 157 million Americans of voting age. If past experience holds true only 84 million of them will bother to go to the polls on election day.
Will the other 73 million remain in the huge third party -- the No-Vote Party? Or will an enhanced sense of these perilous times arouse the silent ones to stand up and be counted in defense of that unique experiment in government of the people, by the people, and for the people?