“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” ? Abraham Lincoln
In one of the most scurrilous articles I have ever read was published in National Review by Kevin D. Williamson. It is sexist; it is condescending; it is dishonest. It disparages a crucial civic duty, and it is intended to undermine the very thing it purports to extol and defend. This article is called – “Five Reasons Why You’re too Dumb to Vote.” If Mr. Williamson had deliberately sought to defile something for which many have fought, suffered, and died, he could hardly have done worse.
He begins by characterizing the arguments made by a voting advocate as reflecting a “national commitment to permanent, asinine, incontinent juvenility.” The argument that young people should vote is said to make “a fetish of voting.” Mr. Williamson calls voting “the most shallow gesture of citizenship there is.” He goes on to opine that “As a procedure for sorting out complex policy issues, voting is of distinctly limited value.” He disparages the act of voting by asserting that “checking a box is the most trivial accomplishment imaginable.” Mr. Williamson concludes by suggesting all manner of people he disrespects “should not vote.” He then opines: each vote “vote is statistically unlikely to affect the outcome of an election, and there are many much more meaningful ways to serve your country.” It is masterful the amount of drivel and scorn Mr. Williamson managed to cram into just over 1.000 words.
The level of venom and fiendish skill notwithstanding, one must ask why reactionaries generally and Republicans in particular go to such lengths to discourage or even prevent voting. Could it be that Emma Goodman was unintentionally signaling the reason when she quipped: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” This is reinforced by the candor of reactionary strategist, Paul Weyrich, who said in August, 1980:
“I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
This level of candor is uncommon among reactionaries and it has not been equaled since. Nonetheless, those who would be our rulers rather than our representatives got the message Weyrich sent and have been carrying it out ever since. This interpretation is confirmed by the insight of Larry J. Sabato: “Every election is determined by the people who show up.”
The plutocratic oligarchs and their Republican stalking horses want to be the people who show up so they can determine the outcome of this and every other election. As Weyrich admitted, reactionary leverage in elections goes up as the voting populace goes down. This is amplified if the decline of the populace comes about because likely Democratic voters are discouraged or prevented from voting.
The Republicans and other reactionaries have whipped up hysteria around voter fraud, which is virtually non-existent, in order to justify impairing or impeding voting by millions of Americans. The media frequently reports on reactionary voter suppression efforts, but they rarely acknowledge the underlying cause – “Republicans have a better chance of stealing elections when fewer people vote.” This is the driving force behind the GOP’s nefarious and draconian voter ID laws and their efforts to limit early voting, block voter registration drives promote challenges to voting, and reduce commitment to voting by young people, minorities, and Americans of modest means.
In the United States every couple of years, citizens recurrently face times that try their souls. This is due to our representative form of government which is the worst ever devised except for all the others. Charles M. Blow has truly remarked: “Voter apathy is a civic abdication.” Whether it is a mid-term or a presidential election – they who stand their country – earn the love and thanks of man and woman. As Daniel Webster, the great orator of the Union cause, declared in 1853: “Impress upon children the truth that the exercise of the elective franchise is a social duty of as solemn a nature as man can be called to perform.” Despite the distractions that plague us and the obstacles which impede us, voting is the essential first step in making representative governance a reality rather than a pretext. It is the inherent responsibility of every citizen vote and to insist that no other citizen be deprived of the right and opportunity to vote. If all or nearly all of us vote, then we elect to be governed and we never consent to be ruled.
Let all Americans of modest means regardless of shape, shade or size understand that any person or party that seeks to dissuade or deter voting by others can direct the fury at them at a moment’s notice. No citizen’s right to vote is secure when any citizen’s right to vote is imperiled.
Under a representative system of governance, voters choose officials, not the other way around. Legislators that enact and Governors who sign restrictive voting laws that require hard-to-obtain forms of identification or diminishing voting days and hours show themselves to be unfit for office in a representative system. President Eisenhower correctly observed: “The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.” When people in positions of power seek to seize control from the hands of the electorate by thinning the ranks of those able to vote, those officials and the people behind them are attempting a coup. If the electorate is illegitimately diminished so reactionaries have greater influence, the form of our system may be maintained, but its substance will be hollowed out.
If voting does not matter, those who would be our rulers would not try so hard to keep it for themselves. In all the frenzied propaganda about voter fraud and similar nonsense, not a single suggestion has been made to limit or impede wealthy, white, mature males from voting. Only the relatively less powerful young, female, poor, minority members of the electorate have been targeted. This is no coincidence. The oldest and most continual threat to representative governance in American history has always been posed by white, wealthy, mature men who consider themselves the rightful rulers of a population which tolerates neither monarchs nor aristocrats.
America’s plutocrats and their minions have always been afraid of representative governance. This fear was conveyed by Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remark, and even more pointedly by the quip from Paul Ryan that the 60 percent are dangerous because they are ‘takers,’ who get ”more from the government than they pay in.” As Paul Krugman says: ”No matter how well conservatives do in elections, no matter how thoroughly free-market ideology dominates discourse, there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy.” Would be oligarchs and political elitists fill their minds with paranoia and disseminate” propaganda that the real problem in America is “runaway redistribution.” This is, however, not the case. As Krugman observes: “All advanced nations have had substantial welfare states since the 1940s — welfare states that, inevitably, have stronger support among their poorer citizens. But you don’t, in fact, see countries descending into tax-and-spend death spirals — and no, that’s not what ails Europe”. In reality the main problem with the welfare state is not the destruction of the economy but, that the wealthiest of the wealthy have to pay higher taxes, which cramps their conspicuous consumption a bit.
That is, of course, unacceptable to those who would rule us. The solution they turn to is an all-out propaganda war, beginning with ongoing fiction that tax cuts will help job creation. Next they make the most of racial, class, and ethnic divisions — government aid just goes to “Those People” and liberals are effete snobbish elitists who hate America. Next reactionaries strive to ensure government programs fail, or never come into existence, so that voters never learn that things could be different. Finally, because these propaganda ploys are not 100 percent successful, act to suppress the vote!
Ponder the torrents of blood spilt, the deluge of tears shed, the waves of pain and anguish endured, the hordes of noble men and women wounded and killed so that each and every citizen might have a say in the nation’s governance. Honor the sacrifices made that the Republic might truly live. Vote. If ordinary citizens are deprived of their vote, they are without protection for all their other rights and liberties as Americans. We must not forget what President Johnson said: “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” If we fail to protect and use the vote then this failure will prove to be the greatest threat to our representative system of governance and all put the privileged and powerful will be subjects rather than citizens. Let us find the commitment and take the time to do what people all around the globe have died trying to do – go to the polls and vote! Never think that simply because citizens fail to take an interest in politics that politics will fail to take an interest in them.