I like Missoula very much. After living here a few years, though, I have also concocted a theory of Other Missoula, home to the approximately 40,000 people who wear sweatpants to the mall. Those of you familiar with the Problem of Others are likely beginning to suspect that all my theories are products of wounded solipsism, and you are probably right. I would like to point out that Other Missoula is a real and terrifying thing, however, as demonstrated in this year’s Missoula Independent Best of Missoula poll. Best Athlete? Jordan Johnson, the indicted, suspended and now reinstated Griz quarterback who did not play this year because he was busy being acquitted of rape.
Oh, democracy. It’s hard to argue that Johnson won Best Athlete on the strength of his great performance on the field, since he was kicked off the team before the 2012 season began. It also seems unlikely that Indy readers voted Johnson Best Athlete for his performance the previous season, since last year’s Best Athlete was UM point guard Will Cherry. Cherry came in second to Jordan this year. Not much changed in their relative performances, except the guy who won stopped playing sports entirely and was acquitted of rape.
Apparently that is a more impressive athletic achievement to Indy readers than, you know, participating in athletics. Either that or democracy is weird. I’m inclined to go with the second explanation, because the first makes me want to stand in the grocery store and whip lemons at people.
Say what you will about Jordan Johnson; he got a lot of publicity this year. When the good people of Missoula filled out their Best Of ballots, he leapt easily to mind. In this way, he resembles a Herman Cain or a Rick Santorum—candidates who enjoyed success in certain votes not because of who they were, but because of how widely they were known. That advantage is especially powerful in a multi-person race, where the winner is likely to win by plurality rather than majority. When no one candidate is likely to get more than 20% of the vote, being the guy whom the 10% of uninformed voters have heard of is a huge strength.
That’s a depressing way to look at democracy. When we reverse-engineer Johnson’s victory in the Best of Missoula poll, we are forced to consider whether people voted for him because A) they sympathize with his being wrongly accused of rape, B) they are thrilled that he got away with rape, or C) go Griz! Option (A) is perhaps the most anodyne, but it’s still unsettling given the facts of the case, last year’s NCAA investigation of the UM athletics program, and the Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation of UM, the Missoula police department, and county prosecutors. And that’s the best-case explanation; options (B) and (C) remain too awful to contemplate.
When you look at it that way, democracy seems to be—in the words of one prominent Combat! blog commenter—the science of fools. A system that declares the Best Athlete to be a guy who didn’t even play this year because he was defending himself against felony charges is a flawed system. It might even seem to reflect a flawed electorate. I reject that conclusion, though, because it appeals to my cynicism more than to my sense.
Who knows why Johnson got more votes than any other athlete in town? Maybe his friends organized a skillful get-out-the-vote effort. Maybe his name was better known than that of any player on the 2012 Pioneer League champion Missoula Osprey. Maybe there are 20 times as many Osprey, and they split the vote. My point is that an election tells you who got the most votes, but it doesn’t tell you why. I am tempted to think that Johnson won because of the massive, stupid force of Other Missoula, but I live here and I don’t think that’s true.
The people of Missoula are neither mean-spirited nor stupid. They are terrible drivers and may love the Griz a little too much, but they are essentially good. I think it’s bullshit that a guy who didn’t even play sports this year won Best Athlete over a graduating senior athlete who was not acquitted of rape because he was not accused. I think it’s bullshit that a woman can say she did not consent to sex and a jury will believe the guy who said she did. I briefly wondered if democracy was bullshit when I saw the Indy poll. But there are plenty of possible explanations for that result. I refuse to believe that people are bullshit, because what other choice do we have?