I just read a couple of articles in the LA Times concerning voting and the electorate. The first article was and opinion piece by Conservative writer, Jonah Goldburg, and in it he is discussing an article written by former Obama budget director and current vice chairman of Citigroup, Peter Orszag.
In the article that Orszag wrote, he suggests the government should mandate that every eligible American be required to vote. One of the main benefits that Orszag sees in requiring all eligible citizens to vote is that it will increase participation.The thought behind his suggestion, and it should be pointed out that Orszag is not alone in this thought, is that by having greater participation in the process, that the special interests will be pushed aside in favor of the more moderate and centrist electorate as a whole, thus countering the gridlock of our political institutions.
Goldburg refers to two highly regarded political scientists, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, who are co-authors of the book, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. He refers to their suggestion that under a mandatory voting system, that those who do not vote are fined a nominal fee of $15. Then this fee would be utilized to set up a Lottery system for those who do vote, as a type of carrot. The thought being that there is a potential monetary reward to vote.
Now, Goldburg and I agree on one point, that a mandate requiring Americans to vote is not going to produce the positive results that those suggesting it would provide. Goldburg even points out "many political scientists and economists hold that mandatory voting probably wouldn't change electoral outcomes", and I agree, but for other reasons than what Goldburg points out. In my opinion, Americans resist any kind of governmental mandates, whether it is in their best interest or not, as we are seeing with the Healthcare Reform Bill. Its just not in our DNA to be told we must do something, regardless of how much it will benefit us, and in turn, I believe people will intentionally vote against their best interest, if it was made mandatory. Studies have shown that when the virtues of the Healthcare Reform Bill are laid out on their own merits to Conservative voters, by a majority they favor the idea, but when they are told that this is what is in "Obamacare" a full 26% are immediately against it. I especially feel that if, as Goldburg refers to them, "the politically unengaged" are forced to participate, it will just lead to another tax imposed to coerce people to do what others want them to do, just more social engineering.
Goldburg on the other hand has a more cynical view of this concept, and of the voters at large. He feels that the motivation behind forcing Americans to vote, as he puts it, is that by compelling the poor, the uneducated, and the the politically unengaged would be a boon to Democrats. From my perspective, this opens a crack into the mind of this right-wing political hack. He is always looking for a way to manipulate the system in order to gain the upper hand, and in doing so, that is how he sees getting all citizens to vote will provide the upper hand to the opposing party. I personally would like to see more people participate, especially those who voice opinions on the political events that effect their lives, but stay home on election day. I whole heartedly agree with Henry Ford when he stated, “Don't find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain”, and in reality, the only time your opinion counts is on election day.
Mr Goldburg has a documented history of wanting to limit American citizen's right to vote, and he reflects that in this article when he states, "It's an unfashionable thing to say, but if anything, voting should be harder, not easier." You may also remember a blog I posted concerning Mr Goldburg's suggestion that young adults should not have the right to vote, mainly, as he reasoned, because they do not have the same Conservative leanings that he has. This is definitely a Conservative mindset, one that says "we can't stand on our merits so we need to stack the deck".
We see that happening in different parts of the country with the voter purging and the requirement of voter IDs that is currently going on. On occasion, a Conservative will step out of discipline and leak the actual intention of these voter suppression initiatives, such as with Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai (R-PA), when he stated while going down a checklist of accomplishments by the Conservatives in the legislature of his state, "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
Goldburg sarcastically ponders of the concept of mandatory voting, "This is how the "experts" would make democracy healthier?" - and the actuality to this question is yes, it would make Democracy healthier, but not necessarily for our representative form of government. In a Democracy, ALL citizens must cast a vote in order to produce an action. The founders weren't looking to form a Democracy, because they knew that the average citizen's opinion would "flap in the wind" and it would create an unstable, ever changing form of government, that would easily lead to the majority oppressing the minority.Jefferson stated,"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."
In Goldburg's opinion,and it is one that I have heard from other Conservatives nationally, that the eligibility to vote be tied to passing a test. The same test that is required of immigrants to gain citizenship. This opinion and reasoning was offered up earlier in the article, when he stated, "that compelling the poor, the uneducated and the politically unengaged would be a boon to Democrats." As a nation, we have existed for over 230 years without having a requirement to pass a test to vote for the masses, but in Goldburg's mind, his party will be at a disadvantage if all citizens, regardless of their complete knowledge of our history are compelled, or even retain the right to vote. Again, I find great hypocrisy from the Conservatives, for a party that complains about big government, and governmental bureaucracy, the Conservatives always seems to find ways to grow government, which would be required to administer this testing and approval system, but always in ways that seems to favor them and theirs.
He goes on to use the analogy that gold is valuable because it is rare, and that if people want to value their vote, we should make it more valuable by making it a rare commodity. Here again, the Conservatives want the American people to believe that they represent the original principles of the founders of this country, but we find Goldburg in complete contrast to Alexander Hamilton, who was one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, and is known as the creator of our government. Hamilton, in a speech to the NY Legislature in 1788 stated, “The true principle of a republic is that the people should choose whom they please to govern them. Representation is imperfect, in proportion as the current of popular favor is checked. The great source of free government, popular election, should be perfectly pure, and the most unbounded liberty allowed.” So where is the "unbounded liberty allowed" in Goldburg, or Orszag's suggestions? To limit our ability to vote, or to even mandate that we are to vote does not show "unbounded liberty" or the freedom to make up our own mind whether we exercise our right to vote.
Asked what my agenda is in writing this blog, I would have to answer, to convince those around me to participate in our system. Not because you are required to as Mr Orszag has suggested, but more reasonably, because the lack of participating may bring about, and further empower those who wish to limit, or take away your right to be a sovereign of this country, as Mr Goldburg has suggested. The poor has just as much stake as the wealthy in who manages our government, and the "uneducated" can be educated, thus rising their awareness in what their choices are. There is much cynicism out there, and good intensions can be made to look evil, and evil intentions can be made to look reasonable when contrasted against peoples fears.
I suggest to you that you participate in the system, even though, as Hamilton stated,"Representation is imperfect" but that "The great source of free government, popular election, should be perfectly pure, and the most unbounded liberty allowed.” We risk loosing our liberties if we don't participate.
But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.
John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams, July 17, 1775
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