To Feel Better About Elections

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Apathy.

It’s like the unruly kid that has the run of the house. The house, in this case, being New York State.

Can’t we put him to bed without any supper for six months or so? Say, until after the November election.

Many New Yorkers won’t. But a few do give it a try. You can see a couple of examples from – of all places – those on the campaign trail.

Take Tom Suozzi.

The Nassau County Executive wages this fight for governor against a candidate that seems to have already been given the job. Often Suozzi hears about polls that have him behind Eliot Spitzer by some ridiculously high amount. A couple of weeks ago, Suozzi didn’t even address the state Democratic Convention, which gave Spitzer its designation.

But he continues on. He runs on a platform of reform, against the establishment. Opponents say he’s posturing. And to some, he’s opportunistic – just trying to make a name for himself.

This week, State Democratic Chairman Denny Farrell seemed almost helpless when a reporter asked him if Suozzi should stop. Farrell wanted to brush aside the question, but then an answer came bubbling forth – yes, Suozzi should quit.

And yet Suozzi carries on.

How could he be with all the evidence telling him to drop out?

Suozzi is not the only one soldiering on.

“I am not naive,” KT McFarland told the Republican Convention in late May as she announced her continuing campaign to take a senate seat from former First Lady Hillary Clinton. “I know Mrs. Clinton has considerable resources and advantages and that the race ahead will be formidable. Let’s face it, at this point she’s probably better known in Albania than I am in Albany.”

Heck, forget Clinton. McFarland didn’t even get the designation of her own party to run this uphill battle (although she did get enough votes to automatically get on a primary ballot against former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer).

Why bother with this? In an interview after the convention, McFarland trotted out the names of Washington (who thought he would defeat the army of Great Britain) and Lincoln (a year before his run, who thought he would win) and Truman (no one thought he’d beat Dewey).

“That’s why you have elections,” she said. “In this day and age, with great uncertainty and great change… anything can happen.”

Those in the know will opine differently. Mc Farland says she ignores all that talk.

To some it must sound delusional, or naive.

To others, a touch divisive. State GOP Chairman Steve Minarik asked McFarland to step aside for the good of party unity, just as he did with William Weld in the state governor race.

Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, agreed to get out and cede the Republican nomination to John Faso.

But McFarland stays the course. She could defeat Spencer (she does lead in the polls). But then she has the Clinton juggernaut to face next.

Those who benefit from a sense of inevitability (think Spitzer or Clinton) would love nothing more than to fuel that belief. They would like a race ended before it even begins. And so the campaigns put forth a message that communicates a frontrunner’s much larger campaign reserves or overwhelming poll leads gets pumped to the voter.

The hope is for the voter to buy into the inevitable. Then they get lazy. They let apathy run amok (not to mention apathy’s best buddy, cynicism).

Say what you will about Suozzi and McFarland, or even those who are running for statewide offices on third party lines. You can agree with their political positions or not.

But you have to admit these folks are anything but apathetic.

Imagine if voters joined these quixotic candidates. Not support them, just join in a bit of their zeal. Just agree to suspend the preconceived notions and the conventional wisdom. Just forget the horserace polls and the money chase stories.

Just open up the mind enough to take a campaign season to learn, to listen, to form opinions on platforms and get actively involved in democracy.

Give that apathy a timeout.

In the end the frontrunners might still prevail.

But wouldn’t you feel a touch better about the whole process?

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