Though I’m no longer Professor Paine as a matter of professional title, having left academia to focus my work on the good people who lead our cities and serve our citizens, I’m still Dr. Paine. Perhaps more importantly in the present context, I have a long history and generally positive reputation with the press corps in the Tampa Bay media market. That means that, from time to time, I get a call from a reporter asking for my analysis on some political development in our fair state.
Today’s call was prompted by two events the TV news reporter wanted discussed: a just-released Bloomberg poll indicating that Donald Trump had a two-point lead over Hillary Clinton in Florida among likely voters, and the scheduled appearance of Secretary Clinton at a rally in Tampa.
As the videographer was preparing the mic and the shot, I asked if I could insert an answer to a question that was not quite central to the reporter’s inquiry: does it make sense for us (meaning, we the members of the voting public) to pay a lot of attention to the polls?
I was granted the privilege of answering my own question (for which I am grateful; I hope the soundbite will survive the editing process).
What I said was that obsessing over the polls is like the team member in the lineup sitting in the dugout obsessing over the current score when his/her team is on the field. Forget the score; get out in the field and play!
Or, in terms of this (or any) election: Forget the polls, voters, and get out and vote!
Every one of us who is eligible to vote in this election in this state (or in any other state, for that matter) is a player in the lineup of this critical game in the long series of political contests. The primaries eliminated a slew of other “teams” from this final game, but, oddly, it didn’t eliminate the vast majority of the players. Because we, the voters, are those players.
This is, of course, where my simile breaks down. When a candidate is eliminated, the candidate’s campaign organization, at a minimum, assumes a different role and, more often, drops out essentially completely.
But we, the voters, don’t . . . or at least shouldn’t.
The other place my simile fails (badly) is the notion of the team we are on, and our place on that team.
Naturally, whenever sports metaphors are invoked, most of us think of the Republicans as one team, the Democrats as another (and, for those who think about other parties at all, those other parties as other teams). Heck, these teams even have mascots!
That relegates those of us who do not engage in partisan politics beyond our formal party registration, perhaps, to the role of spectators. In practice, that imagery sticks most citizens of Florida (and most American citizens) in the stands. Actually, it’s worse than that. We’re relegated to the bleachers, drowning in the downpours of ads everywhere we turn and broiling to a sunburned crisp in the blazing, vitriolic tone of candidate and surrogate rhetoric.
Other folks, some with official positions in the team’s management, some in expensive boxes with air conditioning and on-demand food and beverage service, decide how the game will be played.
Democracy is not a spectator sport. The selection of the officials who will serve in office and the parties who will organize the government is not about which team gets the pennant. It’s about the present and the future all of us will experience. The “trophy” doesn’t just sit in some office somewhere to gratify the team who won it. Our economic opportunity, our social relationships, our fundamental liberties, are the actual prize . . . not to be won by any team for any team, but to be enhanced and protected for all.
So forget the polls. And forget the notion that voting is about deciding who wins this tournament.
We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be stuck in the bleachers. Indeed, we shouldn’t even think of ourselves as merely players in this game called democracy.
We, the American people, are the owners. We have a right to demand of those who seek to play on our team that they play by our rules and pursue success for our team, not just themselves and their personal managers. We are, after all, one team, one people, with many different ideas, one nation, made up of many nations, trying to figure out how best to navigate a complex global reality for the good of all.
Voting is only part, though a necessary part, of changing the way this game is played. But it’s a great place to start, and now is the time.