If recent trends hold up, only about one of every three eligible voters will show up at the polls this fall. Inevitably, many will conclude that Americans have once again failed as citizens. The problem, however, may not be individual failure so much as our contemporary conception of how democratic citizenship ought to work. Nothing puts that conception into clearer perspective than changes in the act of voting over the past 200 years.
of television's impact on democratic debate has given rise to a
list of remedies: longer soundbites on the evening news, new
making presidential debates more illuminating, more diverse
broadcast formats for
questioning candidates, even nationwide electronic town meetings.
public discourse is a worthy cause, but will it cure the massive
ills of modern
democracy? Is the problem with our politics, at its root, a
On January 31, 1990, when McDonald's opened in Moscow, Soviet citizens seemed stunned by the politeness of the people behind the cash registers who smiled and said, "May I help you?" They were delighted at the efficiency of the service despite a wait of two hours; many took home their McDonald's logo-laden refuse as souvenirs. Tongue in cheek, The New York Times wrote of hope-starved Soviet consumers won over to "delectable materialism." The Washington Post, similarly jocular, painted a portrait of a factory worker standing beneath the golden arches and said of him, "He had seen the future -- and it tasted good."