LIII What’s in an Election?
have received a number of e-mails – as well as responses from my
students and one of my colleagues – concerning the ballot exercise
of which I wrote in my previous article. In identifying two hypothetical
candidates, not by name but by policies for which they stood, most
readers and students were surprised to discover that the first candidate
was a composite of the American "founding fathers," while
the latter represented Adolf Hitler. From more than a few I received
the following complaint: "if you had told us that the second
candidate believed in locking up and killing racial and ethnic minorities,
we would have known it was Hitler and wouldn’t have voted for him."
To such people, the entire exercise amounted to nothing more than
a clever trick on my part.
is easy for us to recognize – and to reject – viciousness when it
is presented to us in an explicit manner. If Americans, today, were
asked: "are you in favor of having the United States bomb and
invade a nation that had nothing to do with the events of 9/11,
and kill or maim tens of thousands of their innocent civilians,
all because we are outraged at what a handful of suicidal terrorists
did to the World Trade Center?," I suspect that not even the
Fox News crowd would answer "yes." The nature of the atrocity
would be so apparent as to shock the sense of decency of most people.
of the problems we encounter in our politicized world derive from
our failure to comprehend what is implicit in policies which, on
their face, sound so worthy of our support. For those of you who
have not read my previous article, I invite you to do so, and to
consider the programs supported by candidate B (Hitler). Who wouldn’t
be in favor of eliminating cancer, or promoting healthful foods
and forms of living, or protecting the environment? Who, in other
words, is against having the world become a safer and healthier
place in which to live? It is little wonder that, at least in previous
years, 75% of those who participated in this exercise chose candidate
19th century French economist and philosopher, Frédéric
Bastiat, wrote an essay titled "That Which Is Seen, That Which
Is Not Seen," in which he explored the relationship between
the explicit and the implicit consequences of governmental policies.
Political systems feed on the apparent lack of correlation between
an action and its effects. Like alcoholics or habitual drug users,
those addicted to political practices insist upon the illusion that
what one does in the present, or in an isolated environment, will
bear no long-term or generalized hardships. Thus, millions of people
are willing to impose the costs of present government programs upon
unborn generations, in what has become a cycle of child abuse about
which it is "politically incorrect" to comment!
suspect that had Adolf Hitler announced, prior to his coming to
power in 1933, that he intended to incarcerate and murder Jews,
gypsies, homosexuals, and communists, and that he would institute
an SS-enforced reign of terror upon the rest of the German population,
most Germans, like my students and readers, would have rejected
his candidacy. But his explicit appeal was to those values that
most people could openly embrace, and which – as the results of
my hypothetical voting exercise confirms – reflect the "politically
correct" sentimentality of a troubled and confused world.
men and women adopt an idealized image of the world, and are prepared
to sanitize and safeguard it from all sorts of imperfections and
unwholesome conditions, it becomes a simple matter to define people
and their lifestyles or interests as "diseases" to be
eradicated by state action. Indeed, a Nazi thinker, Alfred Rosenberg,
regarded Jews as a bacteria that infected German society. As the
present American government begins to define for our consumption
a new set of enemies – the "terrorists" – should we not
become sensitive to the lessons of recent history?
present society is awash with well-intentioned but dangerous men
and women with all kinds of coercively-enforced proposals for making
the world "better." Such people, whom the late Alan Watts
described as "wanting to scrub the universe," have turned
the media into a platform for announcing the latest experiment in
social sterilization. Tobacco companies and smokers must be targeted
for state action; as must those who allow their children to eat
in "fast-food" restaurants, get too much exposure to the
sun, or remain in an unattended car. Motorcyclists who won’t wear
helmets; pet owners who mistreat their pets; or people who engage
in discriminatory, offensive, sexist, or other forms of politically
incorrect thought, speech, or conduct, must also be regulated. Obesity
is to become a governmental "problem" to be addressed
through legislation, taking its place alongside drug and alcohol
"abuse." Nor can SUV owners, people who talk on cell-phones,
or motorists who are "distracted" by any kind of conduct,
be left out of efforts to decontaminate society of behavioral "impurities."
radical environmentalists who are willing to destroy property or
kill those whose visions of nature do not conform to their own,
should remember that Hitler, himself, was an avid environmentalist;
that Nazism was, as one writer describes it, "a religion of
nature." He also strongly opposed the use of animals in medical
research; favored restrictions on the use of pesticides, asbestos,
and radiation; and was a vegetarian and advocate of organic farming.
you wonder why Hitler keeps winning in my classroom elections?
this mean that everyone who believes in respecting the rest of nature,
or who wants to maintain an organic or vegetarian diet, or who opposes
experimentation on animals, is a closet Nazi? Obviously not, nor
was that the purpose of my voting exercise. There are many activities
in which others engage of which you or I may disapprove. The question
is whether our displeasure rises to such a level that we are prepared
to call upon the state to enforce our behavioral expectations upon
others. Are the lives and properties of others to be subject to
state preemption upon an insistence that others conform themselves
to our peculiar images of how the world should be?
is implicit in every political system is that the powers of the
state will be used to coerce others to behave as those in power
want them to, even as to matters of purely personal conduct. Politicized
people are like dogs that have never become housebroken, making
messes for others to clean up. Those who respect the inviolability
of others – which represents the essence of liberty – will content
themselves with conducting their lives according to their
interests and values, without trespassing on the lives of others.
is the meaning not only of my classroom voting exercise, but
of the "real-world" elections in which so many of us partake
as the expression of social responsibility. What does voting represent,
if not our participation in the illusion of helping to define the
policies and programs that the state should enforce upon our neighbors?
from whence do these programs – and the candidates who espouse them
– arise? Do they arise from within your carefully considered thoughts,
or are they simply peddled to you in much the same way as the fads
and styles of any age? Do you ever ask yourself, as the 2004 elections
begin to loom, who it is that defines the "leading candidates"
for your consideration? Do you sit around and discuss such matters
with your friends, neighbors, and work associates and then inform
the media that, in your opinion, Joe Shlock would be a wonderful
candidate for the Senate? Or does the media inform you
that Joe Shlock and Sally Forth are the two leading candidates;
that the race is too close to call and, therefore, that one should
vote for either Shlock or Forth rather than "wasting"
your vote on someone else?
has been amusing watching the gubernatorial recall election going
on here in California. The voices that had heretofore condemned
the citizenry for not being interested in electoral politics suddenly
erupted in indignation when members of the electorate demanded a
recall vote, and echoed their disgust when some 135 candidates filed
as candidates for governor. But for those who persist in the delusion
that their vote means something, how do they go about making a choice
among so many candidates?
didn’t take the media long to sift things out. Radio, television,
and newspapers began identifying three or four "leading"
contenders – those who were considered "safe" for establishment
interests from which California voters were expected to make
their choices. The "officially" recognized candidates
were the only ones selected to participate in the "official"
televised debate. But what about the other 130 or so candidates?
They were just as arbitrarily relegated to the category of "side
show freaks," to be dealt with, humorously – if at all – as
a kind of change of pace story. This is why I suggested, in an earlier
article, that those who believe it worthwhile to vote could select
from among these also-rans – my recommendation was the billboard
model, Angelyne – a candidate who might be a voter’s protest against
the implicit dishonesty of politics itself.
having a recall election is a small victory for the voices of protest.
And now and then a protest candidate wins an election, as witness
Jesse Ventura in Minnesota. But the triumph is short-lived, for
even a protest winner will end up getting absorbed into the system.
The parasitic class will quickly attach itself to the new host,
who will find himself or herself too weak and isolated to resist
the temptations that accompany power.
order to put voting in its proper perspective, imagine that you
are a prisoner in a state penitentiary. But it’s a democratic
prison, in which the inmates are allowed, every four years,
to select who is to be the warden. The prison system presents you
with two choices: candidate A, who promises larger cells and less
crowding, and candidate B, who promises better cafeteria food and
extended exercise periods. You may vote for either candidate, but
implicit in the process is the understanding that you will remain
a prisoner. If a fellow inmate decides to run for the job as a "Prison
Liberation Front" candidate who promises to tear down the prison
walls, his name will not appear on the ballot. Indeed, he will likely
be sent to solitary confinement. He will have learned, as will you,
the real lesson implicit in every election: no matter who you vote
for, the government always gets elected, for if voting could change
the system it wouldn’t be legal.
I finished writing this article, I was informed that the federal
9th Circuit Court of Appeals – at the behest of the ACLU
– enjoined the October 7th recall election on the grounds
that six counties would be using punch-card ballots, which might
disenfranchise some voters. You will recall the 2000 presidential
election controversy in Florida, wherein Democrats alleged that
punch-card ballots were sometimes ineffective, and that a more thorough
recount ought to have been held. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that
a recount, as ordered by the Florida courts, would violate the "equal
protection" clause, as it would have applied only to certain
counties and not to others, a decision that confirmed the election
of George W. Bush.
punch-card voting may be prone to error is doubtless true, but the
same can be said of paper ballot and machine voting. A question
that remains unanswered – because unasked – is whether the method
of voting is a matter to be determined by the courts or by the legislature.
However the issue gets resolved, intelligent voters will doubtless
be left with the same sense of political powerlessness felt when
they find the courts often setting aside – as "unconstitutional"
– referendum measures favored by a majority of voters. To the political
establishment, the running of a government is too important a task
to be left in the hands of the public!
© 2003 LewRockwell.com