Voting: Democracy's Con
Copyright © by Len Holman, 12/28/10
Welcome to the 2012 elections! Politicians are already positioning themselves to lie to the electorate, which will dutifully go to the polls because we’ve been told what we want to hear and we will vote in our comfort zone—as always. We’ll all vote and will have served democracy because that’s what we have been told will happen: democracy will have exhibited its strength again, in the will of the people. We’ve heard it, learned it, and believed it, generation after generation.
“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried,” Winston Churchill famously said—but of course he was biased, since he was the prime minister of one (twice) and had an ax to grind. Democracies are touted for their insistence on being governed “by the people.” This is accomplished, it is said, by voting. The people have their say by voting for issues, policies, people, and pretty much every damn thing. It is also said that those who do not vote have no right to complain because they have abandoned democracy and its ideals. Of course, this idea of voting being the cornerstone of democracy doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. As Churchill also said: “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”
If voting was the signal strand that makes a democracy a democracy, then America didn’t have one until women got the vote. Before that we had colonial rules which allowed only God-fearing men to vote, then we had only white male property owners who could vote, then we had, gradually, Native Americans, Negroes (who had some difficulty convincing the rest of America to obey the Constitution), and finally those women, who were allowed out of the sewing room and into the voting booth—not without some difficulty, to be sure, but still, it all worked out. Now everyone can vote, more or less, but if voting is so important as a signpost of democracy, what did we have before the franchise was extended to everyone? A quasi-democracy? An oligarchy? So NOW we have a real democracy, right?
Voting is, however, a pretty big con, a trick well-conceived and perpetuated by those who actually get the benefits of a highly industrialized, highly militarized society in which the wealthy and the well-connected get what they need, and mostly what they want, and everyone else gets what’s left. It is very similar to parents getting great presents at Christmas, and letting the kids play with the empty boxes, telling them they’re lucky to have such great playthings. Voting is so diluted that it’s not very potent as a control over our “representatives,” who are several thousand miles away getting free, comprehensive, medical care while the poor guy who’s prostate is the size of a golf ball and who can’t pee, goes to the ER without insurance and agonizingly waits to be “looked at,” all the while in excruciating pain. Representatives get so many perks, it’s a perennial Disneyland of treats for them, while they work 120 to about 150 days per year. Wait, I hear you cry, what about those Tea Party folks who threw out a lot of the old guard, and those dissident Independents, and those raucous town hall meetings during the mid-term elections? Doesn’t this show that the voters rule? No. It shows that the voters are easily manipulated by people who already have their foot in the candy store door. These nascent groups of confused, angry, frustrated people are sure there is something wrong, but they’re not sure exactly what it is, so they have decided—with help from those who stand to gain the most—that voting is the only way to “change” things. The landscape and times they are a-changing, and these people are sore afraid. They think they have a choice, just as children think they have a choice when they are told they can have the candy wrapped in blue paper or the candy wrapped in red paper. It’s still the same candy, but they are led to believe it’s a real choice. They are conditioned by society, the media, schools, to believe that what is wrong can be “fixed” by voting.
This idea is reinforced with slogans which have become truisms, one of which is, “You can’t complain if you don’t vote.” This implies that voting is so integral to our democracy that NOT voting is tantamount to leaving the country to reside in Belize, then phoning in your criticisms to a country you have no business interfering with. But this is surely false. If you pay taxes here, send your son or daughter to fight in a foreign land, are subject to zoning codes and school fees; if you pay for services like roads and trash collection, are subject to sewer fees and buy vehicle tags and get licenses at the DMV (if you have a whole day to waste while standing next to a bag lady talking to her invisible friend) and mandated car insurance, it’s obvious you have a right to bitch in virtue of the liens on your income, time, blood, sweat, and tears that various governments at all levels impose. Voting isn’t some magic wand that the Democracy Muse waves to make everything come out right or to make “legitimate” citizens.” It is democracy’s equivalent to a medal. Soldiers get medals as encouragement to other soldiers and to their families to put themselves into a position to lose their lives. It is a reinforcement mechanism to uphold and perpetuate the status quo. If voting just changes one set of bums for another set, if voting is a shell game which moves the rotten pea between rotten husks, where does that leave the democratic process?
Absent violent revolution spilling out into the streets, it seems the impulse to govern ourselves could lead to a form of anarchy, not the kind in which everyone individually does his or her own thing, but a form in which less and less obeisance is directed toward the federal government and more attention and effort is directed at state governments. Soon, when the voters find THAT option is just another, smaller version of that old con, their attention will be put to more local authorities. The balance that federalism pretends to maintain will be shifted more and more away from the Feds and more toward smaller, more manageable governing bodies. In Bell, California, when it was discovered that elected city officials were siphoning off huge sums of money for their own private fantasies, the voters were shocked, shocked, to discover their trust had been violated. They rose up and learned a valuable lesson: individuals need to PAY ATTENTION! Labels such as “Democrat” or Republican” or Tea Party” are just as good an indicator of purity as that bottled water you buy at the market that says “Mountain Spring Water,” when it actually came from a tap at the factory in Toledo. And soon, voters will realize that voting is a scam and that they will need to take authority into their own hands. How far will this movement go? How violent will be the reaction of those who have, for so long, counted on voting to distract voters from what’s actually going on? Like the magician who gets his audience to follow an empty hand, politicians do the same, and the audience, the voters, never catch on. If they ever do, there will be blood.
Return to Bylines