In “Lions to the Ballot Box” Mr. Blow reminds us that much political power plays out on the state and local level, so it’s negligent to stay home when legislatures are being elected. It’s beyond negligent… Mr. Kristof thinks we need to do some more meddling. In “Moldova, the Next Ukraine” he says the gutsy government of this neighbor to Ukraine and Romania needs Western support as Russia gets poised to make a move. Great. Let’s have France and Germany step up to the plate this time. In “Meet Me at the Fair” Ms. Collins says fifty years after the 1964 New York World’s Fair, many predictions were not that far off. Here’s Mr. Blow:
The time for complaining is at an end. Action must be taken. Accountability must be demanded. Muscle must be flexed. Power must be exercised.
Ballots must be cast.
It’s important to vote in presidential election years, to make sure that the leader of the free world is truly representative of the country. But presidential politics is only part of the political apparatus — the part furthest from most individuals. Much of the rest of the political power has a much lower center of gravity, playing itself out on the state and local level. In fact, the more local an election or ballot measure, the more powerful the individual votes, because the universe of all voters shrinks.
This is what more voters must be made to understand: It’s negligent at best, and derelict at worst, to elect a president but stay home when the legislatures with which a president must work are being elected. Apathy insures enmity, as the president and the legislative branch both rightly proclaim that they have been sent to Washington at the behest of diametrically opposed voting populaces — the president by a broader, more diverse (in terms of race, age, income and ideology) demographic group, and many members of Congress by a more narrowly drawn one.
In far too many cases, our representatives simply aren’t representative. Midterm elections draw a much older and whiter group of voters than do presidential-year elections. And that is only counting the people who bother to show up.
As Pew put it in the lead up to the 2010 midterms:
“Turnout in midterm elections typically is less than 40 percent of the voting age population (in 2006 it was 37 percent), and there is no reason to expect that it will be dramatically higher in 2010.”
In fact, nearly 42 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in 2010.
Still, that means that most Americans who are eligible to vote don’t vote in midterm elections. And Democrats constituted 54 percent of the nonvoters. Thirty percent were Republican. That’s why “nonvoters generally express more liberal views than do likely voters,” according to Pew.
This is where the rubber meets the road. We know the kind of government we want. We know that we want to address economic inequality and tax-code reform. We know that we want to address gun violence. We know that we want to stop and reverse the raft of laws enacted in states across this country aimed at restricting women’s reproductive choices. We know that we want to expand the right to marry to all people in all states. We know that we want to pass comprehensive immigration reform. We know that we want to halt and reverse the corrosive effects of big money on our politics.
It’s all doable, but only when voters realize that if there is a surreptitious us-versus-them fight between the cloistered money classes and the Everyman and Everywoman, then there are more of us than there are of them.
And yet as Pew found, the nonvoters are those who most need to have their voices heard. Forty-three percent of all nonvoters make under $30,000. Another 30 percent of nonvoters made $30,000 to $74,999. Those who made more than that represented only 13 percent of nonvoters.
Single people made up nearly 6 out of every 10 nonvoters.
People 18 to 29 were a third of nonvoters, while people 20 to 49 were another third.
As the report explained:
“Reflecting their low incomes, many more nonvoters (31 percent) than likely voters (14 percent) describe their personal financial situation as poor, and fully 51 percent of nonvoters say that they or someone in their household was out of work and looking for a job at some point in the past 12 months. Among voters, 36 percent had this personal experience with unemployment.”
And Hispanics made up 21 percent of nonvoters but only 6 percent of voters. Part of this, of course, is related to citizenship status, but part is lack of participation. In fact, a Pew report issued this month found that both Hispanic and Asian voter turnout in midterm elections has fallen, somewhat consistently, since 1986.
This is particularly disheartening since the proportion of Hispanics in the population is expected to nearly double in the next 50 years and the portion of Asians is projected to increase by more than half.
The growing majority must decide that it will no longer be silent, that it will no longer acquiesce, that it will no longer settle. We are the majority, not interested in social Darwinism and a social paternalism, but rather in a fair shake in a truly free society, where government works for the people and not for the plutocrats.
That is a simple and noble yearning, but it requires more than dreaming: It requires action.
Those struggling, unconquerable in their dignity and holding fast to the idea of equality, will one day roar, but only when they shake loose the lie that these lions are weak and sickly and divested of their power.
Now we get to Mr. Kristof, writing from Chisinau, Moldova:
If there were an Olympic competition for bravest country in the world, the gold medal might well go to Moldova. Wobbly politicians from Europe and America should come here to get spinal transplants.
Think of Moldova as “the next Ukraine,” for Russia may be about to take a bite out of this little country, nestled beside Ukraine and Romania and often said to be the poorest country in Europe. Russia already has bullied Moldova mercilessly for trying to join the European Union, imposing sanctions such as a block on Moldova’s crucial wine exports. Russia is even threatening to cut off the natural gas on which Moldovans depend.
“We hope that you will not freeze,” one senior Russian official publicly warned Moldovans.
Yet the valiant Moldovan government refuses to buckle. It is determined to join the European Union and forge bonds with the West.
“There is no alternative for us but to pursue European integration,” Prime Minister Iurie Leanca, a former diplomat, told me in perfect English in his office here in the capital, Chisinau. “We are European! No one should contest this.”
Moldova’s love for the West is unrequited. Washington barely notices it. No sitting president has ever visited. Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Ukraine this week would have been a perfect moment to drop in and show support, but it didn’t happen. After all, Moldova has a population of less than four million and no obvious strategic significance.
With a few modest gestures, President Obama could reward Moldova’s grit. Instead, in the face of American obliviousness, President Vladimir Putin of Russia may formally annex part of Moldova, Transnistria, in the coming weeks.
Transnistria is a Russian-speaking enclave within Moldova, armed by Moscow and protected by Russian troops. Transnistria claims to have seceded and established an independent country, and, in a troubling omen, its government (which Moscow controls) appealed this month for Russia to annex it.
So Russia could soon swallow both Transnistria and a chunk of southern Ukraine, including Odessa, to access it.
Transnistria remains a police state, so I slipped across the border as a tourist, and the area feels just as the old Soviet Union did. Indeed, Transnistria should market itself as an open-air museum of Soviet rule, complete with Lenin statues, Russian troops on the roads and an intelligence agency still called the K.G.B. The propaganda department is in overdrive, with countless billboards celebrating patriotism and past Russian triumphs.
“You must be proud of your country!” one billboard declared.
Transnistria’s military memorials complete with a tank or armored personnel carrier praise the heroism of local people and denounce those killed “by fascists” in fighting with Moldova’s military in the early 1990s. One giant collection of posters celebrated Russian and local heroes and praised “those great men who contributed to our culture.”
Transnistria’s apartment complexes are dilapidated and identical, and, despite large Russian subsidies, the economy is a mess. But a vast modern sports complex is the pride of the region. The atmosphere was such that I expected to run into the crusty old Soviet leader of the 1970s, Leonid Brezhnev.
“For people here, Putin is a hero,” one young woman told me.
It’s true that the Moldovan government in the past was sometimes heavy-handed or threatening to Russian speakers, and, just as Moldovans had the right to leave the Soviet Union, people in Transnistria should have the right to secede from Moldova. But that should happen when Russian troops are gone and people have the right to speak freely.
Moldova, which is Romanian-speaking, is rural, relaxed and green, but the economy crashed after the collapse of the Soviet Union and perhaps one million people fled the country to find work. In some Moldovan villages, it is difficult to find young women because so many left for jobs abroad. According to human rights monitors and United Nations officials, these women were tricked, raped and trafficked by organized crime into brothels across western Europe.
In recent years, the government has tried to build a pro-Western market economy, and the country is rebounding but still fragile. Many fear that Putin will now direct his “masked warfare” of infiltrators and provocateurs to turn Moldova into the next Ukraine.
It may be too late to deter Putin in Moldova, but, whatever happens, we should back Moldova’s plucky government. The United States can help by supporting infrastructure for Moldova to import natural gas and electricity from Romania, making it harder for Putin to freeze Moldovans into submission. We can nudge the European Union to embrace Moldova’s desire to join.
And if President Obama could visit this gutsy country for a few hours, people would cheer him as he’s never been cheered — and he would see an example of gold medal grit that we can all learn from.
And now here’s Ms. Collins:
Let’s talk future.
This week is the golden anniversary of the opening of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, when visitors flocked to Queens to see exhibits that included a guy flying around with his jet pack, Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” the brand-new Ford Mustang and Walt Disney’s animated figurines singing “It’s a Small World (After All).”
I am not quite sure we needed “It’s a Small World.” Nice sentiment, terrible tune.
There were computers on display, performing exciting tasks like — looking up a date. (Peering forward, people almost always overestimated the possibility of flying cars and underestimated the potential of computers.) “You will be able to ask for the news of any date that you like,” enthused a woman at the I.B.M. pavilion, where visitors could experience what was supposed to be a futuristic information search. Participants got to write a date on a card, which they then stuck into a box about the size of two refrigerators. Then, after a little wait, a little electronic ticker tape would announce that on Oct. 29, 1950, King Gustav of Sweden had died.
When the fair opened, Isaac Asimov wrote a piece for The Times conjuring up a “Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014.” He was remarkably prescient on some points. He foresaw Skype, although he imagined we’d be doing it with our friends on the moon colonies. He was pretty darned close in predicting population growth and appropriately dubious about robot house cleaners. He knew we’d be going to 3-D movies, but was overoptimistic about how much we’d like them. (If you’re going to be a futurist, there’s no point in looking ahead to a world with an exceedingly high level of technology that’s dedicated to “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”)
The way people see the future can define their present. A century or so ago, when Americans were trying to imagine the year 2000, the talk was about ending social ills. The best-selling novel “Looking Backward” told the story of a man who fell asleep and woke up in a world where crime, unemployment and mental illness had virtually vanished, where college was free, and laundry was cheap and people ate their stupendously delicious meals in communal dining rooms. It sold millions of copies and spawned both progressive movements and a long line of novels with heroes who fell asleep and woke up at the next millennium.
In 1964 at the fair, everyone was thinking about building stuff. General Motors presented a model of a 300-foot-long atomic-powered tree clearer that would be able to wipe out jungles and lay down expressways in a matter of hours. There were underwater houses! Underwater hotels! “In the early ’60s, progress always seemed to be about cars and skyscrapers and gadgets to make your life easier,” said Joseph Tirella, author of “Tomorrow-Land: The 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Transformation of America.”
And what about our visions of the future now? Imagining things 50 years in the future, our novelists and scriptwriters generally see things getting worse — civilizations crash, zombies arrive, the environment implodes. We’ve certainly got problems, but it seems a tad over-negative.
Maybe it’s because we’ve lived through decades of amazing technological revolution and been disappointed with the payoff. Ralph Nader — who published his classic indictment of the American auto industry “Unsafe at Any Speed” in 1965 — remembers going to the 1939 World’s Fair as a child and racing to the General Motors pavilion happily crying “G.M.! G.M.!” The exhibits he saw back then, Nader recollected, were better than anything that ever hit the market: “super electric cars, turbine cars. Just a lot of hope springing eternal.”
And who would have imagined 50 years ago that we’d get to the moon and then give up on it? Microwave dinners really did arrive. But, like 3-D, the thrill is limited.
We can’t even hold onto the things we thought we’d locked down. Just this week, The Times reported that Canada may have outstripped the United States when it comes to middle-class wealth. That seemed like a double-whammy. First, it was still more evidence of growing income inequality. Second, the Canadians didn’t even seem all that excited. Trish Hennessy, of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said besting the American middle was “like comparing ourselves to a sinking stone.” Ouch.
It’d be nice to go back to the old utopian futures. Dream you fell asleep in 2014 and woke up 50 years down the line. What do you want to see? Re-imagine the schools and the housing and the public enterprises. Don’t concentrate on computers. The computers will take care of themselves. Also, no more highways. If we’re going to talk transportation, let’s work on those transporters they have in “Star Trek.”
Think positive, or move to Toronto.