Response to Comments on Independent Voters

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voters-Logan Mock Bunting-getty.jpgBy questioning the presumed virtues of independent voters as a group, I was not suggesting that individual voters have paramount civic obligations to identify with either major party. Independents share Democratic perspectives on some issues and Republican perspectives on others (according to Pew,) so I'm not denigrating them for eschewing party membership.  There are also logistic reasons not to enroll in a party: I'm officially un-enrolled partly in the hope of cutting down on junk mail and partly in response to the Massachusetts primary system. 


But individual voters do have obvious civic obligations to remain politically informed and engaged as well as principled -- not whimsical or simply self-interested - when they enter the voting booth. Of course, self-interest is a powerful motivator for partisan as well as non-partisan voters, which is why presidents like to hand out tokens of their affection, like $300 tax rebates or $250 in recovery assistance to social security beneficiaries (regardless of actual need). But the less voters know, the less attention they pay to politics and policy and the less they trust the basic processes of democracy (elections,) the more likely they seem to be guided by self-interests unmitigated by information and ideals. And, (again, according to Pew) "independents score far lower than either Democrats or Republicans" on "an index of political interest and engagement." They are also "consistently skeptical about the electoral process."  
   
You can take pride in this skepticism, considering it a sign of sophistication (and when skepticism means a disinclination to believe what you want to believe, regardless of evidence, I applaud it). But you might also ask yourself why, if skepticism is on the increase, so is misinformation: facts have rarely seemed to matter less. You might regard skepticism about representative democracy with some wariness: As I suggested earlier, it can devolve into cynicism, crude situational ethics, and a tolerance for self-interested lies, none of which signals sophistication so much as surrender. 

(Photo: Logan Mock Bunting/Getty Images)
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Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional, and a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. More

Wendy Kaminer is a lawyer and social critic who has been a contributing editor of The Atlantic since 1991. She writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion and popular culture and has written eight books, including Worst InstinctsFree for All; Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials; and I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional. Kaminer worked as a staff attorney in the New York Legal Aid Society and in the New York City Mayor's Office and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. She is a renowned contrarian who has tackled the issues of censorship and pornography, feminism, pop psychology, gender roles and identities, crime and the criminal-justice system, and gun control. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The American Prospect, Dissent, The Nation, The Wilson Quarterly, Free Inquiry, and spiked-online.com. Her commentaries have aired on National Public Radio. She serves on the board of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the advisory boards of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Secular Coalition for America, and is a member of the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

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