Liberals Should Face The Truth About Democracy
by Anthony Gregory
by Anthony Gregory
About one week has passed since the election, and it looks like people will continue talking about it until the 2008 campaigns are launched.
Many liberals — and other anti-Bushies — have seemed to have one of two general reactions: either the election was stolen, or fifty-nine million Americans are hopelessly stupid.
It's time that liberals face the truth. Whether or not the election was "stolen," we must confront the realities of national politics.
P.J. O'Rourke — who, despite being a vicious hawk, has had many insightful things to say — once said that "when buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators." This, of course, refers to the inevitable infusion of lobbyists' money into politics once the government has entered into the business of regulating the economy.
H.L. Mencken once said that "every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods." This, of course, refers to the fact that elections determine the victims and beneficiaries of government's instruments of taxation, which boil down to plunder.
Putting these two quotations of wisdom together, I submit that "when elections are advance auction sales of stolen goods, the first thing to be stolen is the election." What this means is that every national election is really stolen, in that the national government, at its core, is an institution of theft. Whichever candidate wins has effectively stolen all the property over which his newly acquired power gives him reign.
National elections are a bad way to determine how to direct resources, manage the economy, or bring peace to the world. Elections are simply mob rule — the winning majority is rewarded with their guy in power, who predictably goes on to act in ways that violate the rights of the minority.
Of course, it is worse even than this. The idea that a two-and-a-half-trillion dollar national government could possibly be used in a way that will always satisfy fifty-one percent of the population is absurd on its face. Rarely does a solid majority actually want to be ruled by the same man; all they agree on is that they don't want to be ruled by the major opposition candidate.
Since Kerry was indeed a despicable candidate who offered almost no changes in national policy, I could see why so many Americans voted against him. I would guess that the election wasn't "stolen" in the conventional sense, though I will address this possibility further below.
Concerning the slim majority that preferred Bush to Kerry, it would be wrong to subject these people to the will of Kerry. But it is also wrong that the sizable minority of American voters and all the nonvoters who didn't vote for Bush should have to be ruled by the current occupant of the White House.
Liberals must face the truth: Mass democracy, in a country with nearly 300 million people and a government that has bases in 150 nations across the world, is a sham and a half. The "will of the people" obviously has nothing to do with whatever Bush decides to do with his power, and even if it did it would not make the president's actions right.
Bush now brags that he has "political capital" and "intend[s] to spend it." This is a nightmarish and sickening thought for all of us who didn't vote for him and many who did. Right at this moment, the US government is waging war in Fallujah, "liberating" innocent Iraqis from the burden of life. This is how "political capital" is spent. Frequently, mass murder and destruction have a majority supporting them — so long as there is a state to do the killing and destroying, thereby detaching the voters from the actual processes. The political process makes very real acts of violence seem impersonal to those who give their consent at the ballot box.
Although Bush is a particularly horrendous president, liberals finally need to feel sympathetic for the ruled and bullied minorities of the past. In the 1990s, conservatives didn't want to be ruled by Bill Clinton any more than today's liberals want to be ruled by Bush. Libertarians didn't want either of these scoundrels taking our wealth and using it to kill in our name.
The federal government is far too large, far too powerful and far too expansive to be directed at the whim of one man chosen by a mere majority of eligible and participating voters. Liberals need to realize that this fundamental fact is just as true whether it is a Democrat or Republican in the White House.
Now, back to the stolen election allegations, I have to say that we can never know for sure. But this, too, is mostly irrelevant. In 2000 liberals screamed that Bush stole the election, whether by having his accomplices stop recounts or keep black Floridians away from the polls, or by virtue of an anachronistic Electoral College. Conservatives just as nastily screamed about how it was Gore who sought to steal the election.
Either way, however — whether 50.1% of the voters wanted Gore or 50.1% wanted Bush — it still meant that nearly half of American voters and all nonvoters would have to suffer under a regime they didn't choose.
Now that the electoral vote and popular vote line up, and Kerry has long conceded, the most frequent allegation is that the electronic voting machines gave a fixed result.
It is to be hoped that liberals do not confine such distrust only to the electoral process. If the federal government's supposedly sacred voting system cannot satisfy all Americans as an honest and accurate method of determining the public will — if the most watched and scrutinized process of the federal government might have been so easily manipulated — we must also question all actions of the federal government. Perhaps the federal welfare state, too, is a fraud. Perhaps regulations and labor laws are not written in any way to satisfy the "will of the people," but rather are tools for distorting the economy for the benefit of some and at the expense of others. If Democrats think that the federal government's election process is dishonest and untrustworthy, they should apply the same skepticism to all programs of the central state. If Democrats don't believe the voting results, they must realize that every government program enacted rests either on voting results just as dubious or the will of politicians and bureaucrats, all of them imperfect and self-interested. A government that can't be trusted to accurately conduct a head count shouldn't be trusted to run our lives.
Liberals have often defended the federal government's enormous powers to regulate the economy because of the democratic nature of our system. They can tell themselves all they want that in the last two elections democracy has been compromised, but the voting systems themselves were all put in place either because of democratic will or the decisions of elected officials. The voting process is no further removed from the actual will of the people than nearly any other program the government embarks on.
The wrong conclusion for liberals and Democrats to draw is that "the people have spoken." They should not resign themselves so easily to Bush's reelection. I've already heard some liberal radio commentators express such nonsense. The people have not spoken, nor can anything approaching a genuine collective will ever be expressed through the mechanisms of the coercive state. In 2000, Democrats wanted to believe that democracy itself had been thwarted: they didn't want to face the truth that, regardless of who won and regardless of whether he had the majority on his side, mass democracy is no protector of truth and justice. Democracy is, in its purest and least corrupted form, the majority suppressing the will of the minority.
America was not supposed to be a democracy, nor was it supposed to have a federal government so powerful that the life and death of thousands and the happiness and health of millions depended on the fate of national election outcomes. With an ever-growing federal government and imperial presidency, far too much is at stake to be determined by democracy — electronic voting machines, punch-cards, or whatever. If liberals want to challenge the Electoral College or electronic voting, it is reasonable to discuss and question these matters. However, what deserves the most serious discussion is the presidency itself, and the unprecedented power the Chief Executive has come to yield as the head of the Leviathan state.
One day, let's hope we have a system where it doesn't matter who wins the election. To get from here to there, Americans need to learn that majoritarianism cannot exist in an uncorrupted form, and even if it could it is incompatible with a truly free society.
Republicans have long ago abandoned republicanism. It's time for Democrats to stop believing in democracy.
November 9, 2004
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research assistant at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.
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