Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Screwing up Democracy

We all tend to view the past--more often than not--through rose-colored glasses, when it comes to unhappiness with current events or with a current state of affairs. A perfect example of this is the recent bout of hang-wringing angst over the supposed rise of violent and/or divisive language in political discourse. Of course, this narrative was coming from Democrats and liberal-leaning (to put it mildly) journalists, so it was Republicans and the Right who bore the blame for this rise. It was all imaginary and/or fabricated. And as I noted in the above piece:
But what's amazing about all of this, in my opinion, is the near-infinitesimal memory of those claiming that there has even been a heretofore unprecedented increase in divisive--and violent--political rhetoric and imagery. They have no concept of American history in this regard, whatsoever.
But unfortunately, the public is gullible by and large and possesses--as a group--the same short memory that afflicts much of the Fourth Estate. Consider another issue that has gripped--and continues to grip--the Left with the same kind of angst: money in politics. In this faux-narrative there is too much of it coming in, like from wealthy people. The current flavor du jour in this regard are the Koch brothers; the money spent by people like George Soros is somehow inconsequential. But let's not get sidetracked with such obvious and typical hypocrisy from the Left. There's a bigger nut to crack here: the now-infamous Citizens United decision.

Nevermind that the decision was properly made, nevermind that the issue was one of free speech, nevermind that the law being struck down was all about protecting incumbents, the decision was--according to the Left--a seriously Bad Thing because it and it alone would open the flood gates, would allow previously unheard of  amounts of money to flow into election politics.

And yet, the records for the most money raised and most money spent by a political campaign were set prior to the decision, by none other than Barack Obama and his campaign:
President-elect Barack Obama, the first major-party nominee to reject federal funding for the general election, spent $740.6 million. That eclipsed the combined $646.7 million that Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry spent four years earlier.
Yes, you're reading that right. Obama spent more in his race than did Bush and Kerry combined. And as the above story notes--and as I have explained in detail--Obama was the first nominee to eschew public financing for the General Election since the public financing system was established. In the current race, no one is even talking about the collapse of this system--brought on by Obama--none of the liberal pundits has so much as a word to say about. Yet the Citizens Untied decision remains as a talking point.

The intellectual dishonesty on the part of the Left is staggering: they bemoan the supposed rise of money in politics constantly and are quick to point fingers at people like the Kochs and at things like Citizens United, but are unwilling to note the chief culprit in this regard: the current President.

The real question, however, the real issue--rarely discussed in earnest--is whether or not this is really a problem, whether or not new levels of money in politics represent a significant change. Because let's face it, there's always been money in politics. The guy with the biggest war-chest wins, more often than not. And that doesn't mean every election is bought: some candidates often raise more money than their opponents because they enjoy more support. Recent history (like that of Carly Fiorina) demonstrates that out-spending opponents via personal wealth isn't nearly as effective as out-spending them via fundraising.

Personally, I'm glad the public financing system is broken; I think it was both ineffective and improper. I don't think ending it will have an adverse effect on democracy as a system at all.

But there is something else that--I believe--is having such an effect: the growth of early voting and absentee balloting. Historically, citizens cast their vote on Election Day. Those who were unable to do so could request absentee ballots. In both cases, the onus was on the citizen to vote; one necessarily had to plan ahead, one way or the other.

These built-in costs were not a means of limiting voting, they were a means of insuring that votes were coming from citizens who were actually involved--if even at a minimal level--as citizens. The same is true for registration requirements and actually is exactly why jury duty is tied to the same. Who wants to be judged by a group of people who are so blasé about their membership in society that they can't even be bothered to take some time to register as voters?

But in the supposed name of "democracy," all of this has been changing. Grassroots orgs (i.e. Democrat shills) like ACORN have been actively registering people for years who otherwise don't have a clue about what is happening in the nation or the world at large, much less in their own backyard. Active campaigns are being run to increase the number of absentee ballots being cast via the idea that "hey, it's easier than going to the polls." And States are acquiescing to these ideas by making it simpler and easier to obtain an absentee ballot, by extending deadlines and the like.

Even worse, a wave of "early voting" programs is sweeping through the nation, under the idea that this will lead to greater turnout. As if greater turnout was, itself, a public good. It's not.

Don't misunderstand me, I'd love to see habitually higher turnout levels, but only if those levels were predicated on a more involved citizenry. To put it another way, attracting more votes from clueless people--or easily manipulated people--is not a good idea. I don't care how those people vote--Democrat, Republican, Green, or anything else--because their votes are not informed in the least.

Voting is a right and a vitally important one at that. But it's also a privilege, earned by the blood and sweat of  those who came before, who founded the nation and worked to both safeguard it and make it better. And therefore, the act of voting is something that should--in my opinion--be treated with respect, with reverence, not just by the government but also by the individual. Those who cannot be bothered, who need to be prodded, who will only vote if someone basically does it for them should stay away from the polls. Programs and changes in voting methods designed to procure such votes are bad news, in my opinion.

There's nothing wrong with trying to create more engagement among the citizenry. But the goal should be to create a more informed citizenry who will then be more likely to vote, not to simply up the voter rolls by attracting votes from people who don't know what they're doing.

Cheers, all.

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