President Obama held a post-election press conference yesterday. The AP says he struck a “defiant” tone; another report says he laid out a “centrist” agenda. These days, it seems, everything is characterized differently depending upon the perspective of the reporter.
I won’t join in that parade, but I did find one of the President’s comments interesting. He said: “To everyone who voted, I hear you. To the two thirds of voters who chose not to participate yesterday, I hear you too.” To my knowledge, no reporter in the room asked the logical follow-up question, which is — “well, what do you think they are saying?”
How do you interpret the meaning of the act of non-voting? Are non-voters saying that they are so turned off by the political process that they want to have nothing to do with it, or are they saying that they just can’t be bothered to do what many of us consider to be our civic duty? Is there any message to be heard at all? Or is the President suggesting, instead, that the results of Tuesday’s election are somehow not meaningful or even legitimate because a large number of people didn’t vote — even though early voting, voting by mail, and other options make voting now easier than it has ever been before?
Any argument that President Obama should be guided by his personal interpretation of the unexpressed wishes of the non-voters is uncomfortably reminiscent of President Nixon’s stubborn insistence that his Administration was supported by a “Silent Majority” of Americans. Shortly after he was first inaugurated, President Obama met with Republicans and reminded them that “elections have consequences” and he was the winner. He was absolutely right then, and that sentiment remains correct now.
Actions speak louder than words — or inaction. If people didn’t vote in the election, after being repeatedly urged to do so by the President, by Republicans, and by hundreds of millions of dollars of TV ads, it was because they didn’t care. Efforts to discern positions they chose not to express are a waste of time. The President would be better served by attending to the message sent by those people who cared enough to cast their ballots.