The Daily Banter Mail Bag! Mandatory voting! Jerky Romney voters! Dumb Americans!

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Welcome to this week's edition of The Daily Banter Mailbag! Today, Bob, Ben and Chez discuss voting laws, self-righteous narcissistic Romney voters and the dumbing of America.

The questions:

1) I live in Australia and voting is mandatory here. In fact, my wife and I just had to vote this last weekend in council elections. It's not like they'll arrest you or anything -- they'll just fine you. Do you think mandatory voting in the United States could lead to viable third (or even fourth) parties in the future and what do you think it would take to institute mandatory voting? Do you think it would go down with difficulty among the populace? Do you think anybody would even TRY to introduce the concept?
--Thomas

Ben: I'm not so sure you'd have a different outcome if voting was mandatory in this country, at least not while money was so deeply entrenched in the process. The fact is, the Republicans and Democrats aren't really all that different in the scheme of things, and that's a direct result of corporate interests seeping into the process and essentially buying both parties out. While both parties are able to raise sums that are now reaching the billions, third parties still don't have a chance unless they too sell out to monied interests. Then they would become Democrats or Republicans. In terms of implementing it in America, it's not even worth discussing to be honest. Americans would see it as government tyranny (or at least that's how the Republicans would frame it) and it would be about as popular as banning guns. It just ain't gonna happen unfortunately, no matter how good an idea it is.

Chez: Despite voting being a civic obligation, I can't see anyone in the United States ever pushing to make it mandatory. First of all, if anything there's a certain segment of the available electorate that the GOP absolutely DOESN'T want to see vote, so much so that it attempts to disenfranchise the group at every turn. Also, politicians know that forcing people to do anything in this country just doesn't work -- it'd be a losing battle to even try and it would end the careers of those who did (plus it would get them called commies, big-government demagogues, whatever). I think if people were forced to vote, it would certainly change the political dynamic and might lead to more viable options since so many people would be voting and not simply those stridently behind one party or the other. I do, however, think that in a country the size of the United States it would lead to a mess.

Bob: No way to everything. Mandatory voting will never happen here, though we ought to be expanding early voting so that it's as easy as buying the usual shit we don't need at Target 24-hours-a-day. As for third parties, I'd rather not see viable third parties. I don't want a president who was elected by 10 percent of voters. And while I think a lot of fringe state legislators would try to suggest mandatory voting, it will never pass here.

2) I'm a staunch supporter of Barack Obama and I've already cast my vote for him. My husband is a staunch Romney supporter and not only does he intend to vote for him but he looks down on me condescendingly, as if I'm a well-meaning little kid who just doesn't understand how the world works, all because I'm not Republican and won't vote Romney. Any thoughts on how to handle my situation?
-- SB

Bob: Okeedokee. You're still married to this smug prick after he treats you like an ignorant child? Wow. He clearly has control issues and more than a little narcissism, which is a cocktail of dickishness that must be impossible to live with. I tell you what, direct him to The Daily Banter and ask him to read our columns, posts and essays here. Personally, most of my columns are written with people like your husband in mind. I intentionally seek empirical facts to back up my opinions and I gather them from sources like Factcheck.org, The Wall Street Journal, the Congressional Budget Office and other sites about which your husband would have a difficult time playing the "liberal bias" card.

Ben: That's a tricky one. I've dated people with opposing political views and it's always difficult. Most of the time it's because I'm doing the condescending bit though.....I seriously don't get how anyone could believe that Romney was a better choice for President than Obama and actually be condescending about it. No disrespect to your husband, but he's out of his mind. In terms of how to deal with it, I'd just avoid politics like the plague when it comes to discussions. It will all calm down after the election so you probably only have a few more days of grief. Honestly, there are worse things to disagree on than politics. How to raise children, views on marriage, respect for your partner and other people etc etc are far more important in my view and if you have all those things in common then you'll be fine.

Chez: Kill him in his sleep? Honestly, maybe it's because I'm as passionate in my opinions as I am -- as much as I hate politics sometimes -- but I can't fathom any two people staying together who have diametrically opposed political viewpoints. I legitimately don't know how you do it. For the record, while I don't detest the conservative worldview across the board, I've definitely seen what you're referring to and it's infuriating. For whatever reason, even rational, smart moderates whose politics lean slightly to the left are often looked at patronizingly as wild-eyed dreamers by today's Republicans, being that they've been taught that selfishness and greed are good business and what makes the world go round. Let me guess, when he talks to you it's as if he's saying, "Aw, that's cute that you think that way. Now me and the grown-ups will take care of everything while you and your little friends play at changing the world." It's such horseshit. And in your case, while I don't mean to disparage your marriage, it sounds more than a little patriarchal. My advice: just be the vote that counters his, tell him he's full of shit when he is, try to keep the peace otherwise. If he really is voting for Romney, though, keep him away from your kids or be prepared to do a lot of reprogramming.

3) Given the accessibility of information in our current times, in light of how disparate the two candidates, and yet with the election/polling this close, is it safe to say that Americans are as willfully ignorant as we have ever been in our history?
-- Jason

Chez: Oh, we're fucking dumb. Dumb as a bag of rocks. The main reason is that with the prevalence of media outlets willing to cater only to the specific biases we already hold, we never have to break outside our epistemic bubble if we choose not to. It just reinforces the stupid.

Bob: Absolutely. The fact that Romney can bungle and botch his way through six months of general election campaigning and turn it all around with 90 minutes of TV time when he doesn't necessarily choke on his own tongue (but lies the entire time) is testament to our collective American Idol-ization. If you're good on TV in prime time and you look the part, you tend to get the benefit of the doubt. I fear for our future.

Ben: Depends where you are Jason. In big cities -- no. In the rest of the country it's a slightly different story I'm afraid to say (wow, that sounded condescending -- apologies to any of our more rural readers). That isn't exclusive to Americans either - you find some seriously backwards thinking all over other countries outside of cities (the UK, where I'm from is full of them), and I think it's because, 1) People aren't exposed to different cultures on a regular basis, and 2) Schools tend to be better funded in cities.

I do think that willful ignorance is somewhat more extreme in America though, and that isn't the fault of the average person. You've have decades of chronically underfunded public education, and a curriculum that is designed to produce workers for the 1960's, not the 21st century. You've also got a corporate news media system built on addictive trash that is designed to boost ratings and sell ads, not inform people. Americans have suffered at the hands of the wholesale erosion of public institutions and the increasing influence of commercial media, and as a result, they make worse decisions. Like voting for Mitt Romney...

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