Abstention from Voting

Posted: November 4, 2014 in Debate, Idealism, Idle Nonsense, Politics
Tags: , , ,

/rant on

Today is election day in the U.S., and political noise levels have been raised modestly in preparation for the big event, expectation of the GOP gaining a Senate majority being perhaps the most significant result telegraphed for credulous voters. Of course, since candidates now run permanent campaigns (Hillary Clinton has been running for president for more than 20 years, don’t let her coyness about it fool you), including nonstop fundraising, noise levels are always at high volume. Although I watch no TV (the preferred medium of political debate) and see none of the attack ads, I hear plenty of complaints that no candidate runs a campaign on issues anymore but instead relies on being the less heinous of (generally) two miserable alternatives. Indeed, whenever I hear politicians making speeches or being interviewed, their inability to answer a straight question before diverting to perception management (true of pundits, too) is notable. Political speech aimed at redefining reality is so commonplace that nary a place exists where an honest citizen can turn for effective analysis before being confronted by a noxious, smothering fog of rhetoric.

One of the principal features of the lead-up to election day is idealistic insistence on the duty of the citizenry to cast their votes, often accompanied by the risible contention that an individual who abstains from voting has no right to complain for not participating in the charade (shades of Heinlein’s jingoistic parody “Service Guarantees Citizenship”). I reject the foolhardy notion that voting buys the right to speech and/or opinion. It’s obvious that, instead, money buys everything. Nevertheless, free speech precedes the act of voting, no matter what others say, at least until shouted down and squelched by political correctness and incipient fascism. From a strategic perspective, the mechanisms by which actual elections are carried out ought to dispel any thoughtful person from bothering, which many don’t — especially with midterm elections.

As I got to work today, “Please vote!” campaign volunteers were yelling candidate’s names at passersby. For what? To sway the vote at the eleventh hour? Sheer name recognition, not policy or intelligence or character, is interrelated with incumbency and celebrity as predictors of electoral success. But these pale in comparison with well-publicized reports of ballot buying, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and brazen vote stealing (inside electronic voting systems) to indicate the pointlessness of voting. Yet de rigueur exhortations to get out the vote and vote, or better yet, make campaign contributions (“give ’til it hurts” is sometimes heard), continue to lend false legitimacy to a corrupted system of self-representation that no longer pretends to function. The so-called “silent majority,” people who don’t use the ballot box to vote their hates, recognize the futility of voting when results are no longer (if ever they were) an accurate expression of voter intent. Whether a candidate wins or loses or an initiative passes or fails hardly matters, too, when the results are so indistinguishable. Take, for instance, continuous attempts to undermine and/or repeal Roe v. Wade and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a/k/a Obamacare).

Some commentators have observed that Republicans in particular are cravenly insistent on holding office (yet do nothing constructive once there), and further, are hell-bent on destroying everything just so blame can be assessed against Democratic opponents, whereas Democrats are passive onlookers unable to thwart the destructive impulses of the general public (e.g., voting against self-interest) and mean-spirited political actors. While the two-party system denies us worthwhile candidates, voting for more of the same would be the putative definition of insanity: repeating the same steps unvaryingly but expecting different results.

/rant off

  1. Clem says:

    “Consumer democracy” has indeed gotten pretty ugly. By ‘consumer democracy’ I’m trying to define a situation where some (the moneyed, the advertisers, the politicos…) send the messages (scream, shout, etc) AT the rest of us. And for the most part the ‘rest of us’ merely participate by voting on election day (glad to be done with all the shouting, screaming) OR throw up our hands and complain about the system.

    So instead of the democracy we want, we have the democracy we deserve. I won’t quibble with the vast majority of your rant. About the only little piece I do want to argue about is the value of voting on local issues. In my experience over the last several election cycles the only races I felt I had any voice in were local ones (township levies, school board… that sort of thing).

    But shouldn’t there be something to do about all this? If indeed we get the democracy we deserve, then in some measure it is our fault for the way things have become. Is the two party system at fault? Do multiparty systems work any better? Is income inequality getting so out of whack that our politics are devolving into class warfare? Does the ability of campaign donors to ‘hide’ behind the curtain of non-disclosure of various PACs and other groups cripple efforts at transparency and accountability? There’s an awful lot of money at play – chasing favors and so forth. And there’s an awful lot to be gained if you get the favors and consideration you’re chasing. If the system is corrupt (am not saying it isn’t) then shining some light on it should help, no?

    Where I want to head with my comment here is that instead of just talking about it, we might do better to just get more involved. This hurts me to say though, as on the few occasions I have gotten involved in a local issue I have typically been underwhelmed by neighbors’ willingness to think about issues. I typically hear folks parroting the talking points of their favorite group. Duh. Homer Simpson could do as well. At the end of the day I still believe I have not just a ‘right’ to vote… I have an obligation. Men and women have died so that I could live in this democracy. If it is going to hell in a hand basket it can’t be blamed on those patriots… we have to look in the mirror and figure out what’s next and how to get there from here. If we don’t, what logical argument can we make that the system we have is not the system we deserve?

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. Lots to consider as always.

      I used to feel an obligation as a citizen to inform myself of voting issues and cast my vote, and further, that potential for reform from within still existed. Those emotional pulls die hard, but they are by now dead in me. Honest, sober observation of several decades of electoral politics point to the conclusion that corruption and ignorance have rendered the whole mess inoperable. That ignorance is aided in part by our reifying abstract concepts such as democracy. The obligation-to-vote meme is another that has taken on a figurative life of its own without much evidence that it serves us. Again, attachments die hard.

      I will agree that local issues may still offer some room for meaningful participation, but my suspicion is that in a city of millions (e.g., Chicago, where I live), the washout effect still rules. Local issues are probably still meaningful in town and village life. However, I’ve sat on self-governing boards of only 6-8 people who couldn’t (IMO) make good collective decisions, so my experience is that democracy is messy at all levels and extremely vulnerable to charismatic and moneyed influence, which are sometimes (infrequently) beneficent.

      Whether we get what we deserve is to me a strange question, sort of like the notions of original sin or genetic predestination. It would seem that many wish to keep digging, keep brainstorming, keep plodding with the system we have. I would rather let it die under its own crushing incompetence. You’ve picked up by now I’m a doomer/fatalist. We’re approaching the phase in history where everything goes to hell simultaneously, and I don’t expect Republican ideologies now in ascendance will do anything but make matters worse.

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