November 6, 2008 1 Comment
I have been reading a lot about the election this year, largely from blogs and forum posts, where the ignorant masses sound off about their beliefs and feelings about the electoral process. Here are some thoughts on elections. Please note that none of this is aimed at a particular candidate or party, just at some ignorant, selfish and/or stupid statements I have heard about the process of electing a candidate.
Every Vote Should Count?
I have recently heard a lot of claptrap about the founding fathers’ intention that every person have a vote and that vote would count. I have yet to find that intention in any documents written by any of the founding fathers. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite.
In the colonies, there were requirements that you had to be a landowner to vote. The negative side of this requirement, of course, is that women were ineligible to vote (a right not acquired until 1920 – 19th amendment), as were free men of color (right acquired in 1870 – 15th amendment). The positive side of this requirement, at least in theory, is the voters would have a stake in the game.
It is unrealistic to go back to a system like this, as it would remove rights from a large segment of society. At the time these laws stood in place, it was much easier to get land, often through lottery type systems that still existed well into the 1800s. Today, a large part of the populace do not own any land.
The founding fathers also felt that one should be educated about his choice. The current trend in this country is to attempt to get everyone to vote, regardless of whether they actually understand the issues or the candidates’ stance on the issues. Many of these people are voting based on small amounts of information and perception, often false. And some very intelligent people are supporting the idea of people voting on false perception, as their candidate is elected. In the push to get everyone voting, we are allowing an ignorant electorate to decide the fate of the nation. This goes counter to intent.
I am not stating that we should disenfranchise anyone. I do believe all people have the right to vote and should exercise it. The danger, however, is summed up in this quote from Benjamin Franklin.
"When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic."
Just recently, I saw a forum post where one person felt Stephanopolis’ comments on Good Morning America were racist or at least supporting a racist idea. His quote was "1% of black voters voted for McCain, and it is surprising that he got that many". In answer, another poster stated:
Why is voting for a person that you feel will do the most for you
automatically racist? Given the assumption that a black person will
automatically strive to improve the lot of other black people, then why
not call the decision to vote for that person "altruistic" rather than
I am not concerned right now with the racism angle, but the inherent allusion in the diea that we elect a government that will "do something for us". Do we really want a government that is a mom, babysitter, nursemaid or our big brother. Let that sink in a bit, as you do not get someone who ensures your every "need" without oversight. So much for the ideas JFK expressed in his inaugural address:
And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
We know some choose a particular candidate based on perception rather than reality. This concept is encouraged by the politicos on both sides of the aisles, albeit in different ways. It should not, however, be encouraged by logical, thinking adults, just because of the outcome ("My" candidate wins). Benjamin Franklin’s idea was best summed by the Scottish lawyer Alexander Fraser Tytler:
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been about 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: ‘From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage."
Electoral College and other topics
This brings us to another topic, the electoral college and the set up of the Congress. In 2000, there was a lot of talk of banning the electoral college. The push was driven by those whose candidate lost the election, despite getting the majority of the popular vote. Why would the founding fathers set up a system like this? Here is another quote from Benjamin Franklin:
"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!"
Or perhaps Thomas Jefferson:
A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.
The founding fathers formed a Republic, not a Democracy. The intent was that sovereignty would lie in the states. The electoral college was designed with this in mind, as each state decides a winner. Their winner is added to the winners from the others states and a President is elected. The fear of mob rule was a great reason for the electoral college.
The electoral college has its flaws, of course. As one only needs to get 270 votes to win, it is possible, although currently not probable, to win the Presidential election with only 11 states out of 50: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, New Jersey and North Carolina. The map looks like this image:
It is for this reason we see more campaigning in the larger states (by population) than smaller states. It is also why one candidate will stop campaigning in states where the polls have slanted heavily against him.
The idea of state sovereignty and push against mob rule do not end with the electoral college either. The Congress is divided into two governing bodies: The House and the Senate. The House is set up based on population, so states with greater populations have more representatives. The Senate, however, is set up to give each state an equal voice, so there are 2 Senators from each state, regardless of the population of the state.
In many articles I have seen lately, there is an air of celebration over the idea that the Democrats might have enough of a majority in both the House and Senate to be filibuster proof. This absolutely appalls me that one feels we need a Congress that is so overwhelmingly to one side that they can act in a partisan manner and shove items down the throats of others who think differently than they do.
What the average American has to know here is the power is not the power to avoid a filibuster, but the power to shut down all debate. With a 60% majority, a party can enact cloture, or close the debate, on a bill. Once enacted, there can be no new amendments to the bill, the debate must end within 30 hours and a specific Senator is limited to 1 hour.
A government is designed to protect its people from outside forces who would do them harm. A government should also guarantee a level playing field by securing certain rights. It is not designed to ensure everyone has a chance to “win” the race just that they have the right to enter the race and, if they persevere, finish it.
Another word rearing its head is the word mandate. I have seen the Obama victory (53% of the popular vote), and the election of a Democratic Congress as a mandate to push all of his ideas through. It was actually stated in one post that Obama should “stick it” to the “wingnuts” and show them “who is boss”.
Normally crazy comments like this should be ignored, especially in light of the evidence, but it is a popular theme, even amongst those who are a bit less radical in their viewpoints. The words are not being stated as strongly, but there is a sense that Obama should use his “mandate” to push through controversial legislation unfettered by the minority. While these ideas may sound appealing, consider the following quotes:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
–Lord Acton (often misquoted as Machiavelli)
Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed.
— Barry Goldwater
Remember this. While 53% of Americans voted for Obama, another 47% did not. If you currently feel there is a mandate to “stick it” to anyone, consider the following:
It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.
— Giordano Bruno
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
— Mark Twain
While I am certainly not for stopping people from exercising their right to vote, I hope, as did the founding fathers, that the electorate will be educated enough to vote in the candidate who is best for the country rather than ignorantly voting based on scare tactic propaganda. I guess you can sum up my position that we should view the right to vote as a responsibility and duty and not a right.
And, while I am not thrilled about the electoral college, I, like the founding fathers, believe that mob rule is the greater of two evils. At least with the electoral college, sans two states, we have each state make a decision and keep some sovereignty at the state level.
I will leave you with a quote I feel adequately sums up the feelings of many in this election:
Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least.
Peace and Grace,