Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Franchise Fantasies

     In the course of a long life you’ll hear quite a lot of BS. Much of it is “relay BS,” of the “I heard that” or “People say” variety. Great are the tidal waves thereof, especially about persons or events in the news. However, an equally great amount is self-serving BS: the sort intended to get the listener to do something that would benefit the BSer. Political BS is obviously of that sort.

     Much political BS concerns the franchise, i.e., voting.

     A few years ago there was a series of “public service” pitches on the airwaves about “feeling the power” as you pull the lever in the voting booth. Now, as an engineer of much experience (to say nothing of my two extremely muscular cars), I have a considerable acquaintance with power. Power, when exerted, achieves something. It might not be what you wanted from it, but there will be a change.

     There’s precious little power in the vote. Great quantities of votes are cast in most elections, even local elections for minor offices. Yet only one candidate prevails; the others are cast into the darkness, where there is the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Whatever “power” there is in voting is thus diluted by the quantity of voters trying to exert it. Indeed, you’re more likely to wake up in Burkina Faso than you are to determine the outcome of an American election with your individual vote.

     And that’s a minor consideration compared to this one: When voters succeed in replacing Public Official A with Candidate B, what changes?

     In the usual case, even the complete displacement of a ruling regime by its opposition effects no changes of significance. There have been exceptions, of course; the election of Barack Hussein Obama and the Democrats’ takeover of both houses of Congress certainly inflicted a lot of changes on us. But exceptions, as it should not be necessary to state, are exceptional.

     In some ways, that continuity and stability is a good thing. Dramatic change in the legal / political environment usually forces dramatic changes upon private citizens. While such change is sometimes for the better in the long term, in the near term it always demands adjustment – effort. It disrupts the patterns of life, often including plans of long standing. That’s why Thomas Aquinas wrote passionately that instability in the law is itself a source of evil.

     But to return to the “power” aspect of it: there’s precious little to be had, especially when it comes to elections for federal offices. Millions of votes are cast in an election for President / Vice-president and United States Senator. Many thousands are cast in an election for a Congressman. Gubernatorial elections are almost as voluminous. So an individual’s vote must be regarded as of little consequence.

     It’s worse, of course, if your guy loses. Where’s the “power” then? Even notionally, what have you achieved other than casting a ballot?

     A great part of the reason for the Constitutional constraints on government, including the “checks and balances” aspects, is to mitigate the effects of an election. Yes, you might want most ardently to “turn the rascals out,” but the Constitution requires that Congress, the President, and the federal courts concur on any changes you hope will follow. Change can be rapid in “parliamentary” countries, where the party that dominates the legislature gets to choose the executive administration, but not here.

     So don’t be misled by the “Pull the lever and feel the power, America” pseudo public service pitches. There’s far more power in your ability to make decisions for yourself, to plot the course of your own affairs. It’s that power that citizens can, should, and must guard most jealously – particularly against the representations of demagogues about all the problems they’ll solve for you. In the usual case they’re lying, either about what they can actually achieve, or about their real intentions should you elevate them to office. When they’re not lying, the probability that they can deliver is less than the likelihood that you’ll find the consequences as pleasant as you hoped.

     Verbum sat sapienti.

3 comments:

Dystopic said...

Strong agree. Sometimes I think people have their priorities exactly reversed. They are quick to jump on grand political bandwagons, movements, causes, and campaigns. In these things, they are at best a minor cog.

Meanwhile, they are quick to DENY those things they can control, like their spending - incurring mountains of debt, failing to budget, etc...

It's so strange to me.

ontoiran said...

it makes my blood run cold to think of where we'd be right at this moment if that bitch I won't name had won 4 years ago

Linda Fox said...

Far more important, and easier to achieve, is to run for office/support a candidate at the local level (city or county). A HUGE amount of money is involved, and the impact can be impressive. Local Soil and Water boards are also a place to get both experience and connections, and - again - the money they control is huge. Stopping waste will impact your life more than any amount of money spent to elect national politicians.

And, identifying the corruption makes a real difference.

Same with Citizen Review Boards - a fair, unbiased person can have a lot of impact on lives.