Web Letters

Web Letters


Harrisburg, Pa.



Harrisburg, Pa.

In response to the article on Eminem, whom I have never respected, you missed a crucial part of his video. His “army” was never being assembled for violence, they were always going to vote. As Eminem and his battalion of urban foot soldiers march through the rain-soaked streets, there is a sense that an epic battle is imminent. He rallies the troops–“let us…set aside our differences, and assemble our own army, to disarm this weapon of mass destruction that we call our President”–but his army eventually shuns violence for the voting booths. His “army” was going to vote; the “epic battle” is the election.


Portsmouth, N.H.

Graham-Felsen says this about Eminem: “Never before has he advocated for political change.”

This is flat-out wrong, and The Nation should be ashamed. Eminem’s last album was almost entirely political, a point I made in a letter to your publication when you were touting the “new political voices” in music by trotting out lame retreads like Chuck D and Kathleen Hannah.

Just sit down and listen to The Eminem Show. Look at the street date: May 26, 2002. Keep in mind that the songs must have been written months before that. What is this album all about? The war in Iraq. How did he know what would happen in Iraq? How did he even know we’d invade? Because Eminem is politically astute. Wake up, Nation. You endorsed John Kerry, who supposedly had no idea what would happen in Iraq in May 2002. Eminem knew exactly what would happen.

Give Em some props. From his first album to now, he’s stood up for the little guy, the guy working long hours for no money. Long before Nickel and Dimed, Eminem gave us songs like “Rock Bottom” and “If I Had.” His music has always been overtly political, and The Nation, of all magazines, should know that already.


Cambridge, Mass.

I applaud Sam Graham-Felsen for his exposition on Eminem’s new hit video, “Mosh.” I would like to see more attention in The Nation to the effect of such cultural expression. For the first time in his career, Eminem has broken away from the war against ideas that pervades today’s MTV/pop/manufactured hip-hop culture. Rather than encouraging materialism, misogyny and political apathy (as many manufactured hip-hop artists do nowadays), Eminem has rejected this trope. “Mosh” makes few novel critiques of the Bush Administration; but the overall sentiment of the video–that popular disillusionment can beget collective mobilization rather than apathy–is inspiring and empowering. This is not a message that youth often receive. Perhaps “Mosh” will embolden other established pop stars to follow suit. One easy way to make a statement: Buy the record!


Harrisburg, Pa.

I’m among the young and the angry, not to mention poor. Although I’ve never been a fan of Eminem’s, there is no denying the power of “Mosh”–well, that is, if it wasn’t just talk. The young have such power, only if we didn’t just complain but mobilized for real social change. I really can’t speak to Em’s motivations behind “Mosh,” if there are any to speak of. But if he was seeking confirmation among his target audience, well, that’s easy. But the anger present among the young frankly isn’t good enough. Major decisions are made every day that affect us. We have to educate ourselves and our peers. I want to know when my generation will rise to the challenge of not only being heard and commanding attention but getting things done. Failure to take an active stand against injustice is a crime in itself.



Toronto, Canada

Patrick Mulvaney mentions some excellent ways of reforming US elections. But he forgets the 800-pound gorilla of presidential elections: the antiquated, undemocratic Electoral College. This uniquely American artifact has completely failed to live up to the hopes of the Constitution’s framers.

In several elections it has given rise to huge problems: In 1876, a deadlock in the College brought a “compromise” that wiped out civil rights for Southern Afro-Americans for almost a century after they had been “freed.” In 2000 there was a narrowly avoided move by the Florida legislature to nullify the votes of millions of people and substitute those of state legislators.

The Electoral College reinforces the undemocratic distribution of seats in Congress, so that voters in small states like Wyoming have many times the clout of voters in states like California. It relegates “safe” states to the sidelines while “swing” states and their issues receive almost all the attention of presidential campaigns.

When the undemocratic effects of the Electoral College are combined with the gerrymandering of Congressional districts and the massive influence of money in US elections, Americans’ right to choose their leaders democratically is left barely breathing.

Democracies around the world, rich ones and poor ones, are able to run clean, transparent, fair elections that yield clear results quickly. Why not the “greatest democracy”?


Sydney, Australia

I read with interest your article on US voting. For what it is worth, here are a few comments from an Australian.

First, in this country attending a polling booth is compulsory, by way of a law passed by our federal parliament in the 1920s. It is not, as some would have it here, compulsory to vote. It is compulsory to attend a polling booth and have your name marked off the voters’ roll.

Once you do that you can take your ballot paper and screw it up and throw it away if you want. At every election thousands of people decline to actually cast their vote once they attend and often write very amusing and pithy comments on their ballot paper!

The point is that this system insures very high turnout at every election (upwards of 95 percent of people actually vote). This in turn insures that, up to a point, the openly arrogant contempt for ordinary people that the political class of the United States (be it Republican or Democrat) appears to hold for the electorate must at least be decently obscured in Australia if a party or candidate is to survive.

I suspect compulsory voting is part of the reason that no political party in Australia could so openly propose such appalling policies with such terrible consequences for ordinary working people, as those implemented in the United States. It is not that Australian politics and economics don’t strain toward the arrangements pertaining in the United States; it is just that the worst edges must be decently concealed, or sometimes openly disavowed even if conservative parties want to be elected.

Second, our polls for federal, state and local government elections are held on a Saturday. While that is still difficult for the large and growing numbers of people who must work on Saturdays, it makes it a little easier for those who work Monday through Friday to attend the polls, and therefore the needs and requirements of working people in a democracy are given appropriate recognition and respect.

Third, in our system every (valid) vote cast is counted. The process of determining which votes are valid is undertaken by an election commission, staffed by public employees, in the presence of people appointed by every party who contested the election. The basic standard applied to the determination of whether a vote cast is valid is the simple principle of ascertainment of “voter intention.”

Fourth, every vote cast is done so in a polling booth, with a pencil on the end of a piece of string, and the completed ballot papers are placed by the voter into a ballot box.

Fifth, voter registration is a matter for individuals, but from time to time the Electoral Commission sends out papers to every household asking its residents to check their registration if their names do not appear on the electoral rolls. It is the responsibility of the citizen to insure that he or she is correctly enrolled.

Sixth, absentee ballots may be cast by electors from anywhere in the country and most parts of the world if they can contact an Australian consulate/embassy, or make arrangements before leaving the country.

So why is it that US citizens must fight not only to register to vote but to get to the polling booth on a working day, to get to actually vote, to have their vote recorded and to have that vote counted? Why is it that the political class in the US has been so successful in shielding themselves from the “decent opinion” of so many of their own citizens? Forget about the rest of the world–what would we know?–but just what is it about the United States that makes the exercise of rights and entitlements taken for granted in every other country so difficult? How come US pundits, whether “liberal” or “conservative” in US terms, never think for one minute that maybe, just maybe, other democratic countries may have it right, and the US may have it wrong?

Just wondering.


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