Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

…If You Can Keep It

Ben Franklin's grim congratulation is ringing in my head tonight, and even though the whole election thing will (with some luck) soon be over, I'm sad. A good part of the sadness is a consequence of all the hateful tribal rhetoric I've had to listen to for over a year now, but a lot of it is for personal reasons that I'm not talking about at the moment. (A couple of people on my LJ friends list know what's going on, and I'll ask them not to mention it.) Carol's in Chicago and I'm here by myself. The universe's perversity has tended toward a maximum today: My dinner exploded in the microwave and (in a stunning reversal of the usual puppy scheme of things) I peed on my dog. I'll tell that story in the next Odd Lots; we have more important things to discuss tonight.

What's the key issue this election year? Lord knows it's not gay marriage; we've heard nary a peep about that. Nor is it abortion, nor any species of sexual shenanigans, nor the separation of Church and State. Health care is a live issue, but the War is winding down and people just don't seem especially exercised by it anymore. The economy, sure—but $2.35 gas relieves a lot of other pain, and we won't know much about the future until the next regime takes its seats in the new year.

What I'm seeing a lot about is a far darker and more dangerous issue: Vote fraud. The Wall Street Journal ran a huge article on it the other day, and explained what any reasonably aware person has already heard: The Democrats tend to commit vote fraud by giving the vote to people who are not qualified (the dead, noncitizens, imaginary individuals, family pets, people who have already voted) and Republicans by keeping the vote from people who are qualified, by imposing unreasonable conditions on the exercise of the franchise. No partisan squeals allowed here; nobody's hands are clean. It happens (I'm a Chicago boy; like, vote fraud doesn't happen? Puh-leez.) and it highlights a debate few people seem willing to take up: Should we work to minimize fraudulent voting? Or should we work to minimize voter disenfranchisement? It is not a simple question, and in an era when Presidental elections are swung by 400-vote margins, it is a gravely important one. The two positions are in tension: The harder you crack down on fraudulent voting, the more likely it is that marginal voters will be discouraged from voting at all, even if they're qualified. The harder you crack down on disenfranchisement, the more likely it is that unqualified voters will slip through the nets, via deliberate fraud or simple confusion.

The photo ID issue is an interesting one from a partisan perspective. We are essentially the last nation in the developed world that does not require presentation of a government-issued photo ID to vote. There is rich irony in Democrats screaming “disenfranchisement!” over a requirement long enforced by lefty paradises like France and Sweden. People say I lean right, but I have long supported a national ID card, especially since we already basically have one in our state drivers' licenses. The issue, as I have said before many times, is not the existence of the card itself but what we allow government to do with it. Enumerate the circumstances under which the card may be demanded, and make any noncompliant request a felony with a one-year minimum sentence. I'd support that in a heartbeat. I'm amazed, in fact, that vote fraud is so lacking in penalties. Did Acorn in fact register a goldfish to vote? If so, somebody needs to do time. Did Republicans purge registered voters from the roster in Ohio? Somebody needs to do time. Lots of somebodies. If we must spend more money—a lot more money—ensuring that Somebody Is Watching while the democratic process operates, I'm good with that. Even honest mistakes must be punished. When democracy itself is at stake, there are no honest mistakes.

Don't deny it: Democracy is at stake. Vote fraud is a frightening issue because it undermines faith in the democratic process. When too many people are convinced or have convinced themselves that [The Enemy] has stolen the election (plug in whichever Enemy you are tribally obliged to condemn here) they will be less likely to even attempt to vote, and much more willing to listen to clever tyrants who will “clean up the mess” and make those trains run on time.

I'm a purist on issues like this. Vote fraud aside, money is also a dangerous corruptor of the democratic process. Money is not speech. Money is force, and force has no place in the democratic process. Shouting down your opponents is not debate. (And my readings tell me that what the First Amendment was really intended by the Founders to guard against were government reprisals against political opponents.) It may sound perverse, but the contrarian in me feels that the (careful) regulation of political speech connected with the democratic process actually yields greater freedom to more people in deciding who should govern (and how) than simply allowing the richest contender to buy the podium. I think the hoary old stoplight metaphor applies here: Uniform and careful restriction of movement by stoplights allows greater overall freedom of movement on crowded roads than just letting everybody drive without any regulation whatsoever until we're all in a state of wreck-littered gridlock.

I'm running long tonight, but here's my whacko solution to the money issue, which I may have mentioned in this space before, though it's been awhile: Require that all campaign contributions go to a bank account created for the office (or the initiative proposition) rather than to a candidate. Then give contributed money in equal proportion to all candidates who qualified for a place on the ballot for that office. It's trickier for initiatives, but it could be done with some care. Supposedly campaign contributions are not to buy the office, but to educate the public. If that's the case, how better to inform the public without preference than to allow each candidate an equal budget with which to inform the public? Hands off the content of the message, obviously, but make sure that nobody's simply writing a check for the podium and walking away with the election in his pocket.

I know, I know, it's impossible. But trust me: It would work, and we would all be freer for it.

_ . . . _

And with that I bring this series on politics to a conclusion. It's been a long day. I'm tired, I'm sad, and the kitchen smells of incinerated salmon. I voted two weeks ago using the Colorado mail-in ballot, which is good, or I'd be even sadder. I never fail to vote, but voting always depresses me. I do the research. I sit in my comfy chair, and I think. I think of the consequences of supporting this candidate or that candidate, and each of the two sides of every initiative proposition I am faced with. I take notes. I read those notes. I look more things up. And I think some more. And I get sadder.

Consider what I'm facing: I'm deciding who goes bankrupt. I'm deciding who loses their businesses. I'm deciding who loses their homes. I'm deciding who gets their money taken away, and to whom that money is given. I'm deciding who goes to war to be maimed or killed. I'm deciding who gets thrown in jail and for what offenses. I try to see the consequences of each decision I make, but it's like trying to look ahead in a Go game: Very soon a combinatorial explosion of possibility singes the remains of my hair to remind me that no matter which way I decide, somebody wins, and sombody loses. Somebody gets rich, somebody goes broke. Lives are destroyed.

This is the naked face of politics: There is no moral high ground. There are no good solutions. In truth, there are no solutions at all, only endless compromises in which countless good people suffer. That is the human condition, and this is how it works in a democracy. All other mechanisms of governance are far, far worse. All of which is good to keep in mind tonight, and on all future nights when you have taken the vote (which is to say, the lives of others no less worthy than yourself) into your hands. Politics is not joyful. Politics is not fun. If politics does not break your heart, you have no idea at all what the hell you're doing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *