Dead Man Running

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One
of the most encouraging outcomes of the elections this week occurred
in Missouri, where a dead guy was elected to the Senate.  Talk
about sending a message to the political class! Given the choice
between a live politician and a dead one, voters from an important
Midwestern state chose the latter. We can only hope that the deceased
former governor, Mel Carnahan, will be allowed to be interred in
his Senate office in Washington and do nothing, which is what we
expect dead people to do.

This
result highlights a glaring problem with our democracy. Except in
some precincts in Chicago and Miami Beach, dead people are underrepresented
in Congress. (Sen. Strom Thurmond, who died in 1983 at a "Hands
Across America" rally, is the exception.) And yet, the ruling
elites usually refuse to allow the dead to run against them. While
they claim that the Constitution forbids this, the real reason has
now been made obvious. They know that if the dead were given their
proper representation in government, their own political power would
diminish. Certainly, we would have been spared the exasperating
debate earlier this year about repealing the death tax.

The
Constitution is pretty clear on who is eligible to run for the Senate.
It only requires that a senator be a "person," a "citizen
of the United States," and when elected, "an inhabitant
of the state for which he shall be chosen." It doesn't deal
with petty distinctions such as whether the "person" is
living or dead, rightly leaving this question up to the states to
decide.

In
making this decision, the wisdom of the Framers is manifest. Since
dead representatives are not able to benefit from campaign contributions,
the seductive powers of the Washington-area's interns, or of any
kind of honest or dishonest graft, they would be less likely to
support the expansion of government beyond its Constitutionally
approved powers. No more taxpayer dollars as payback for political
support. The very existence of dead people on the ballots would
keep the living politicians honest, if only because the shame of
losing to a dead opponent is too great, as anyone who saw the teary-eyed
concession speech of the living Sen. John Ashcroft in Missouri after
losing to the dead Carnahan. The Framers knew that some states might
need this check on their living representatives could allow dead
citizens to run.

By
allowing the dead the ability to serve in elected office, many crises
in American history could have been averted. The country could have
been spared the agony of the impeachment of Andrew Johnson if an
assassinated Lincoln could have finished his second term in office.
A dead John F. Kennedy would have lost much of his sex appeal, removing
the possibility of sex-related scandal or blackmail. It is possible
that the young Bill Clinton would never have wanted to shake his
limp hand and become president himself someday. If a dead Sen. Robert
Kennedy had been allowed to run against a living Dick Nixon in 1968,
RFK could have won, and the country could have avoided the ugly
specter of Watergate.

Though
we can never know how our world might be different today if the
dead were allowed to run for elective office, it is obvious that
we need more dead men on ballots. If Alabama ran George Wallace
for the Senate in 2002, its incumbent living senators might learn
how popular they really are. Gov. Tommy Thompson might be popular
in Wisconsin, but he has never had to risk his political future
by running against LaFollette. And would life in Louisiana really
be much different today if Huey Long had been continuously elected
to the governor's office in Baton Rouge? I wonder.

The
Carnahan election adds new meaning to Chesterton’s aphorism, "Tradition
is the democracy of the dead." There has never been an instance
in which a dead man has violated the Constitution, created a scandal,
or lied about his achievements. In short, we need to elect more
dead men to elective office. So, while the rest of the country is
counting and recounting votes in Florida for two living candidates,
let's run a true reform candidate next time so we won't be limited
to the Gores and Bushes of the future. Sonny Bono in 2004! It's
enough to scare Hillary Clinton from public life.

November
10, 2000

Chris
Westley teaches economics at Jacksonville State University.

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