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We Have Met the Enemy, and It Is Us

If partisan gridlock continues in Washington, we have no one to blame but ourselves

We're holding an election in spite of ourselves. The League of Women Voters has shut down its voter registration efforts in Florida, and Souls to the Polls, a fleet of buses that has transported Floridians from churches to polling places since 2004, is grounded. That's because 12 years after its hanging-chad fiasco, Florida has decided to tighten voter access and threaten, with stiff fines and possible jail, groups that help voters register.

See also: Can we still vote?

Florida is not alone. Nine states now have laws requiring government-issued photo ID cards to vote. Five made registration harder, and five have reduced absentee and early voting. All this in the name of fighting voter fraud that has yet to appear.

These initiatives target the poor and the older voter — as many as 8 million people over 65, for example, no longer drive or lack approved ID forms. As egregious as these barriers may be, though, the more daunting obstacle to voters this year is self-imposed.

We have become casual citizens. We have never had easier access to more information. Too often we're caught in a cycle where we're more inclined to ignore information available to us and instead seek views that reaffirm what we already think. Academics call this "preference-consistent news," and the result too often is misinformation.

In the face of a still-sluggish economic recovery, income disparity, a record national debt and a paralyzed federal government, citizens have become discouraged, distracted and, most of all, uninterested. Structural problems facing Social Security and Medicare have festered for years. We talk about new initiatives in education, health care, space travel, new military adventures or new weapons systems as if they were menu items at America's free lunch counter. But there is no free lunch.

We all want lower taxes. But where do we have the debate about what we want our government to do and then how to finance it? We must do better.

Andrew Bacevich is a thoughtful retired Army officer, author and Boston University professor. He is pessimistic about the ability of the president — any president — or a dysfunctional Congress to surmount institutional straitjackets or partisan politics. But he's optimistic about the role citizens can play.

If we engage.

"Yesterday's civic obligations," Bacevich says, "have become today's options." We can do better than that.

As Americans 50 and older, we likely will constitute the majority voting bloc in November. We must look beyond our comfort zone to study the issues important to us with fresh eyes and new energy.

Fight the obstacles. Replace today's civic options with our civic obligation.

Also of interest: AARP asks court to hold fast to ruling on voter ID law.

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