Doubting democracy on election day - Daniel Silliman

I'm going to spend part of the day Tuesday, in doubt about democracy. I can feel it coming on.

I'll vote. It's not that. I always vote, and I'll encourage people around me to vote, too. But wrapped into that civic service will be a crisis of personal disbelief.

Do I really believe the best government is the one chosen by the people?

I don't know.

It's not that I have any better ideas, any alternatives to democracy, but it still strikes me as a crisis if this system is as irrational and emotional as it sometimes seems.

I was looking at all the ads out for all the campaigns and I was thinking, the other day, about what the ads say about what the candidates think about the voters.

Some of these ads are from people I like. Some are from candidates I support. Others, I don't know anything about the race or the issues. A lot of them, though, left me deeply disturbed.

They told me the candidates think of the people as fools, as small-minded men and women making insupportable, snap decisions. They implied the people are racist, who believe in guilt by association. They implied the people are celebrity-happy, even if the celebrity is clearly photo-shopped into the spot next to the candidate or has absolutely nothing to do with the issues of the election. They implied people pick candidates with less consideration than they pick a flavor of ice cream.

The thing is, what if they're right?

It's hard to muster any confidence in masses. It's hard to contradict the picture of people, the faceless electorate, as infantile, impulsive and fickle. What evidence do we have of the wisdom of majorities?

We always complain about pandering, but surely politicians and would-be politicians pander because it works. Fact-free attack ads must make some difference, in elections, or they wouldn't be mailed out, every time, in expensive, colorful mass mailings.

It's tempting to just say this is local politics, like somehow small-town campaigns are expected to be cheap, gaudy, classless affairs. But it's not just small towns. On CNN, on Monday afternoon, a panel's debate about presidential candidates' economic theory turned into 30 seconds of just saying "stupid."

The one professional talking head said that anyone who agrees with his opponent's point is stupid, and then the other guy said, "No, you're stupid."

What's making me worry is that maybe we all are.

I tried to figure out who I was voting for, this weekend. I looked up all the online maps to figure out all the district lines and where I fall. I read through all the news stories about each candidate and I looked up some of their platforms, and yet, still, there were a couple of races where everyone was frustratingly vague and no one had any opinions on anything I cared about. I tried to educate myself, but in the end, I felt like I was going to just close my eyes and point.

And even the other ones -- the races where I'm confident I know who I want to vote for -- really, what do I know about these people?

How do I know I made a good choice, an educated and thoughtful choice? Maybe I'm just a small-minded racist, an impulsive and infantile voter. Maybe I just thought someone wore a sharp suit, had nice hair, or I liked the way they sounded.

Do I really believe the best government is the one chosen by me?

Daniel Silliman covers crime for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at dsilliman@news-daily.com.