It’s election season again, and the politicians are inundating radio and television with their tired political ads. If they’re not promising to bring jobs and money and manna from heaven to their district, they’re probably accusing their opponent of lying, cheating, stealing, and summoning evil demons to smite us all. I wonder if anyone actually pays any attention to these anymore. I can’t see how any intelligent, thinking person could take political ads seriously. Have we really reached the point as a civilization where mudslinging and pandering pass for intelligent discourse? There is little more depressing than watching grown men and women who are supposed to be the best of us, chosen to wisely lead our nation and civilization, behaving like school children calling each other names, trying to impress everyone into liking them better. Those who know me know that I don’t vote. That’s not particularly unusual. It’s considered great turnout if 2/3 of people vote. What is unusual is that I proudly declare myself a non-voter.
What is voting after all? It is, first and foremost, an act of free expression, expression of our political opinions. If we agree with one candidate or another, we go and vote for them, signaling our confidence that they would make wise choices, or that we endorse their views. In this respect, I feel that my non-voting is just as valid an expression of my opinion. If there were a candidate I liked, I might go and vote for them. If I thought that either candidate would make the choices I would make, I might vote for them. Still, time after time I see the same candidates, arguing over the same issues, many of which are, in my view, meaningless and distracting. I could go deeply into an analysis of why I think the nation is so divided politically and why we end up shouting at each other about things that probably don’t effect 90% of us, and perhaps I will later. For now, I’ll just try to explain my political opinion, and why I express it through non-voting.
Our country is often described as a democracy. It was, in fact, not founded as a democracy, but as a republic. Voting rights were much more limited in the beginning, with only landholders allowed to vote in most states. Senators were not elected by voters, but by state legislatures. Of the offices of the federal government, only the members of the House of Representatives were directly elected by the people. Now, only the judicial branch is not popularly elected. The Senators, the President, and almost every level of state and local government is a popular election. We even vote directly on the law itself, in the form of referendums at the state and local level. We are a far more democratic nation than we once were. Moreover, the media, often called the fourth branch of government, tracks the opinion of the voters on every issue and every politician’s popularity. The most important numbers to politicians are not budget deficits, unemployment figures, or the national debt, but the numbers of their opinion polls. One would think that in such a climate, it would be near impossible for lawmakers to pass laws in the face of overwhelming popular opposition.
Nevertheless, that is precisely what happened in the 2008 bank bailout. The bank bailout was passed easily with broad bipartisan support. We were told that it was for our own good. We were told that if these banks failed, the economic consequences would be dire. I don’t claim to know one way or the other. What I do know is that a lot of very wealthy and influential people would have lost a great deal of money. Maybe the politicians were right, and every American would have felt the ramifications of the bank failures. Then again, maybe they weren’t, and they simply said what they needed to say to justify using the taxpayers money to bail out their Wall Street friends. If the politicians were lying, then they committed perhaps the most cowardly act of greed ever participated in by an American government. If they were right, they still ignored the will of the people.
Furthermore, this was no isolated incident. Both liberals and conservatives opposed Obamacare. While they had different reasons for opposing the law, almost no one believed then or now that the Affordable Care Act will truly address the issues of making health care more affordable for all Americans. Whether it went too far or not far enough, the law was widely opposed and is still highly unpopular. Nevertheless, it passed, and there seems to be little chance of repealing the law. Americans broadly support expanded offshore drilling for oil, so that we might lower our fuel prices, stimulate our economy, and reduce dependence on the politically unstable Middle East. Yet, minority groups have successfully blocked such expansion. The auto bailouts were not popular outside the rust belt states where the industry is centered. In a recent development, our government, for reasons that are not entirely clear to this observer, has failed to block air travel from the west African countries where Ebola is out of control. The government ignores the will of the people, and policy is tailored not to serve the American people, but to appease interest groups, protect favored corporations, placate labor unions, and keep incumbents in power.
The fact that a government that claims to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, can so casually dismiss broad public agreement on any issue should give us all pause. In a democratic, or even a republican, form of government, the power of the government is supposed to be derived from the consent of the governed. This is what our founding fathers believed, and when they set up our American system, they attempted to ensure that the rights of the people and the will of the people would always be the primary focus of our legitimate government. They knew that when a government is able and willing to ignore the will of the people, then a condition of tyranny exists. It does not matter what system put these men in power if they so quickly forget that their power is derived from the will of the people. It did not matter that the King was a monarch, or that the colonists couldn’t vote for the members of Parliament. The founding fathers still made many appeals to these institutions to address their grievances, and avert a conflict. Had these institutions simply respected the will of the people, there would likely have been no revolution. It is not how power is obtained, but how it is used, that determines whether any government is a just government, or a tyrannical one. I wonder if, in our reverence for the founding fathers and the forms of government they left us, we haven’t lost sight of the fact that they were revolutionaries before they were lawmakers.
I personally believe that we have reached a point where the political problems we have as a nation cannot be resolved by simply voting one party or another into power. I am of the opinion that the institutions themselves, the political parties, the regulatory agencies, the bureaucracy, etc., are corrupted beyond what can be repaired through elections alone. So, I express that opinion the only way I know how, by not voting. Instead, I wait for a real possibility to really make changes in the way this country is governed and break the logjam of interests that protects the dysfunctional status quo, be it a revolutionary party, or a grass-roots popular movement, or simply a visionary candidate with real leadership skills. When and if, that happens, I will speak my opinion at the polls as well as here in this blog. Until then, I’m just waiting for the world to change.