by Jay A. McCalla
I’m reminded by the recent announcement of a congressional bid by State Rep. Dwight Evans, that the 74 percent of Philadelphians who didn’t vote in the last election clearly “get the joke”. The 26 percent who did vote are the ones sitting and staring blankly, long after the punchline has been delivered.
In this case, the “joke” is that a state rep who has spent the last three years as a mainstay of investigations by the FBI and State Inspector General is challenging an incumbent Congressman, Chaka Fattah, who sits atop of a 39-count federal indictment. As with a bad “knock-knock” joke, the discerning 74 percent can see the punchline coming from a mile away.
The joke is that this is a choice worth making. The joke is that partisans will get excited, post lawn signs and argue with neighbors over which man is best for the job. Vast amounts will be spent on mailings, robo-calls and staff to persuade the 26 percent that “this is serious business” and our future is at stake. There will be low-grade guilt trips such as “if you don’t vote, you don’t count” and “if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain.”
Balderdash. Of course, you can refuse to vote and still have the right to complain.
The sagacious majority doesn’t hide in the basement of an opium den or binge-watch reruns of Gilligan’s Island on Election Day. They go about the business of working, taking their kids to daycare, looking in on their elderly parents, visiting friends in the hospital and grocery shopping. Their time is spent productively and responsibly. They get the joke, and it isn’t funny to them.
When have Philadelphians avoided a good deal? When the Phillies or Flyers compete like champions, the stadiums are full. When they play like bums, you can hear crickets chirping. Philadelphians aren’t dumb and will happily pursue that which is rewarding.
Pols blissfully (and, understandably) refuse to connect their own discouraging performance with our nethermost participation in their game. Rather, they turn to game show gimmickry. In the recent primary, Sixth District Councilperson Bobby Henon – unchallenged – offered (1) a free ride to the polls with Mayor Nutter, (2) a cooking class with restaurateur Jose Garces and (3) a gym workout with Ed Rendell. The prizes went to kids who made a video on why one should vote.
While I’m sure this cute gambit won him some new fans, I wager it had zero impact on voting levels. I doubt it was intended to have impact. It was just further confirmation that our pols prefer to dangle shiny objects in lieu of delivering on their ritualistically mawkish promises to provide quality education and “put people first.”
Since May 19, every human being not in a coma knew Jim Kenney would be elected mayor. They also knew this lead-pipe cinch was not based on his vastly superior merit, but on the fact that Republicans fielded yet another unknown, former Democrat with neither money nor resume.
It’s time to put some serious questions to the 26 percent. What was it about the Ron Donatucci and Jewel Williams, (Register of Wills and Sheriff, respectively) that made you interrupt your day in order to keep them in power? Did you read the news articles where “Ron the Don” bragged about only hiring the politically connected? Did you read the Inquirer article detailing how Williams traded overtime pay for campaign contributions from his employees?
In this equation, nobody gets to wear The Garment of Civic Superiority. Voters vote because it is genuinely the right thing to do. It’s like saying grace before eating a meal. It’s a way of honoring our liberty and the mere right to vote. But, most non-voters (most, I say) aren’t feckless renegades and have respectable reasons to shun a scandalous system.
We can be animated and encouraged by the fact that, when the stakes are high and a president is chosen, Philadelphians routinely report for duty at more than 60 percent. Many may despair at local neglect, but we care about the difference between war and peace. We support the equality of our neighbor and desire that they have work to do and food to eat.
And so, I say let’s go easy on the 74 percent. They might not be there all of the time, but they’ll be there when we need them.