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'Passive Nation' Actually Active

TO THE EDITORS

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Poor Daniel Altman. He was born too late. His heart yearns for the "activistic" [sic] '60s. Those were high days; ours are low and apathetic, he writes ("The Passive Nation," column, May 1, 1995). But are they?

Altman thinks most Americans are uniformed about important political issues. This is the fault of the media, who keep us in the dark by plying us with trashy entertainment disguised as news. What we need is five minutes a day of reporting on Congress, something that could be required of every network, Altman proclaims.

Nonsense. Altman may spend his time watching "The Gordon Eliot Show" or Connie Chung's latest deceptions, but the rest of us get more news than we can stand. Every hour on the hour nearly every radio station gives us all the latest from Washington, D.C. and Beacon Hill. And then we have the nightly news, reporting on the latest political events every evening. I swear if I have to hear any more about the Contract With America I am going to bust. Or maybe change the channel. The last thing we need is a mandatory five minutes of Newt and Dick's Majority Adventures.

If Americans are uninformed about politics despite the endless blather, it may be because they have better things about which to worry. Many of us believe that life is not lived best by paying close attention to the events in Washington, but by paying close attention to our families, friends and neighbors. We live on a human scale and refuse to let the television fool us into thinking that this scale has become global. We cannot know or care about very many more people than our grandfathers knew or cared about. We act locally and think locally, because we live locally.

Altman thinks this means that we "are content to let others make decisions for [us]." The facts are just the opposite. Americans want to take power back from Washington so that we can make our own decisions. We are tired of the national government deciding what prayers our children may say in school, what sorts of people deserve our compassion and what means we can use to defend ourselves from criminals. Learning that there are more important things than the national government is the first step in taking back control of our lives. Altman may think this view myopic; the "passive" nation he writes about wishes people like altman would quit trying so hard to look over our fences, into our schools, churches and homes.

Altman's other program to make Americans into hypermetropic policy wonks is compulsory voting. "A democracy shouldn't have a 'right not to vote," he argues. Furthermore, "passive" Americans who do not vote do not have the right to dispute the decisions of elected officials. This is what most Americans learn in basic high-school civic education, but it is exactly wrong. When we vote we tacitly agree to abide by the outcome of the election; when we don't vote, we make no such agreement. Personally, I do not think any Americans should lost their right to argue with elected officials; but if Altman is right, and voting takes away some group's rights, it's the voters, not the "passive" Americans.

When the political contest is between Yale College's George Bush and Yale Law School's Bill Clinton, why should we be burdened with voting? Altman's arugment assumes that elections offer us meaningful choices. Sometimes our system does, sometimes not. Voluntary voting allows us to decide whether we have been offered a meaningful choice. Compulsory voting would force Americans to choose between the lesser of two evils. This is what Boogie Down Productions' front-man calls a choice "between the mumps and the measles." Decent people do not vote for evil, and when offered a choice between a greater evil and a lesser evil, they walk away. Low voting rates may be the best indicators we have that our elections are the sort that decent people want no part of. Altman's plan would conceal this problem while doing nothing to solve it.

Americans are not passive. If we do not vote it is because we actively reject the measuring of our worth by our participation or support for centralized government. Real activism is always local. It begins at home and within onself. Sure, people do not necessarily know what is best for them, but this only reminds us that people are much less likely to know what is good for others. What has Altman so mixed up is that we are taking charge of our lives without seeking to be in charge of other people's lives. To a centralist who does not realize that compulsion is the antonym of freedom, this is baffling.

Altman the activistic atavist is too in love with the idea of forcing people to be free. He envisions a 'brave government' shaping a "passive people." Get real. Americans are a brave people who want a passive, limited government. The era of American support for centralized activism, whetehr a war on poverty or drugs or whatever, is long past. As Brutus warned us long ago, standing armies are inimical to liberty. Americans are rejecting war as a domestic policy, and with it the centralization of life's most important decisions. All the compulsory programs in the world will not turn back the clock. John Carney   Visiting Undergraduate

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