The latest pronouncement from The Anointed One – who must still be punch-drunk from the beating he got from Bibi – has to do with voting. As in, voting in elections, by citizens. He seems to be advocating obligatory voting, which would put it in the same category as filing one's income tax return (or actually more so, since not everyone has to file). His reasoning (so-called)? It would get rid of the “corrosive influence of money in U.S. elections” (quote from the AP article). Really? Well, let's see – what exactly does “money” do to elections, anyway? It buys advertising, I guess – and how can that be bad? Well, it can be bad if one side has more money than the other, which means that the richer side can buy more ads, and thus influence more people's decisions as to (1) whether to vote, and (2) whom to vote for. Or, another way of putting it is that people with bad ideas, but more money, will inevitably win out over people with good ideas but less money. As if increasing the absolute amount of exposure to bad ideas somehow enhances their acceptability (which, I guess, is true if we're talking about The Big Lie and other, smaller lies).
You know, frankly, I've never been convinced that advertising plays all that decisive a role in elections. People vote a certain way because their parents did... or because they feel that everyone else in their racial/ethnic/economic/gender group is voting a certain way... or because of what they read, hear, or see in the actual news, as opposed to in campaign ads. They “vote their pocketbook” above everything else, but can also be influenced by ideas (if simplistically presented), ideals, and, yes, guilt. Not to mention, of course, candidates' personalities and personal traits and habits – and here, I suppose, information (including libel and slander) could be relevant.
I'm not saying that propaganda doesn't have an effect, only that it has to compete with any number of other factors – personal, political, sociological, etc. A member of a hard-core constituency could hear 3 or 4 hours per day of ads for the other side, and it wouldn't change his or her mind. And “independents” are more likely to see the big picture rather than falling for ham-handed political ads. And in the case of incumbents, memory is always a useful tool – especially memory of what they promised the last time around, versus what they actually delivered.
Plus, Obama seems to be implying that “money” is always on the side of the eeeevil Republicans. Not true! The Democrats have become the party of both the poor and the rich. Wall Street and the “banksters” cynically donate money to each party in about equal amounts, for obvious reasons. So the money argument is bogus – not entirely but nearly so.
What else could he mean, then? “If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country.” OK, that's a bit closer to the truth. If it's really true that non-voters tend to be “younger, lower-income and... immigrants or minorities” (AP quote) then it's a blatant attempt to further expand the Democrat power base by getting all of its constituents to the polls. And this is the angle that the conservative commentariat (AKA talk radio) has focused on. Well... it may be true, but Obama should be careful what he wishes for. A lot of “minorities” are very traditional in their thinking and may turn out to be more in tune with the Republicans (as in the case of the Cuban exiles in Florida). And as for the young? Are they really enchanted with the likes of Hillary Clinton? I'd be surprised if that were the case. She doesn't talk their language any more than the Republicans do – less, in some cases, if we're talking about some of the more young and dynamic Republicans, not to mention the libertarians. Plus, she looks like the meanest teacher they ever had in public school.
Another cautionary note (for liberals) is what I call the “disgust factor”. More and more people are staying away from the polls simply because they see nothing to choose from among the candidates, who they consider to be rogues, schemers, and fools. No argument there! But if they were forced to vote, are there any guarantees as to whom they would vote for? If forced to choose between the lesser of two evils, which typical Democratic or Republican candidate would come out ahead? The liberals, in all of their delusions, always feel that they are born to rule simply because of their enlightened attitudes and humanism... but it's clear that the citizenry do not always agree. And this is particularly true with regard to foreign policy, where the tendency of red-blooded Americans is to vote for the guy who will teach those rag-heads a damn good lesson rather than “negotiate” or “dialog”.
But having said all of that, I prefer to, as usual, dig a bit deeper. My first thought when I read the headline “mandatory voting” was those old pictures and newsreels of the Supreme Soviet in the grand old USSR days. Row upon row of stone-faced delegates would raise their hands in unison when asked to vote on the latest scheme proposed by the strong man – be it Stalin or Khrushchev or any of those other guys. And it was always unanimous! Never was heard a dissenting word. The perfect model of a socialist Utopia, where everyone thinks exactly alike because all have achieved ultimate wisdom through the remaking of human nature by the state, using all the tools at its disposal (including eliminating troublemakers). Is this not the dream of every socialist? And is it not, therefore, the dream of any liberal... any Democrat... any president named Obama? Of course it is. He wakes up every morning from this dream of perfect unanimity, only to find himself, once again, bogged down in that most feared of all things – actual democracy, with all of its aggravations, headaches, and discontents. But he has hope! Yes – hope and change. (It's alive!) If only he could convince Congress – or himself, by means of executive order – to compel everyone to troop off to the polls on every Election Day, like the gray masses in “Metropolis”, and vote – and vote for him! -- then life would be good, at long last.
It all sounds so good – so idealistic. (I can visualize the posters now, done up in the best totalitarian style, with muscular men and fecund women all straining toward a monumental building in Art Deco style with a sign reading “VOTE HERE (or else)”.) But it would also mean the end of democracy – and I mean the absolute end, game over. Why? Well, for one thing, the “right to vote” also implies the right not to vote. You can't have one without the other. If voting becomes an obligation, it's no longer a right. Imagine anyone talking about the “right” to pay one's income tax. (Cue laugh track on maximum volume.) Also, any country where the populace is trooped off to vote under the watchful eye of the police (well, how else would you do it?) is rightfully considered a tyranny, and the voting a mere sham – an exercise of egotism on the part of the ruling elite, who will do as they please no matter who votes or how they vote. We laugh at the farcical “elections” in places like North Korea; we'd be better off biting our tongues.
Another way of saying this is that when everyone votes, nobody votes. I mean, they may go to the polls and cast their ballots, but it's pathetic, since the candidates have been chosen by the Regime and, at least half the time, the outcome is already determined. Muhammad Ali had his “bum of the month club”, and we have the “face in a suit of the year/2 years/4 years club”. The Regime pops these people out like McDonald's pops out Big Macs – but they are all serving the same master, and nothing the hapless populace does or doesn't do, including voting, makes the slightest difference. This is already the case, at least on the national level, but at least one can protest the fact by not voting. If we are all forced to vote, then we are all forced to indicate, by that act, that democracy is still alive and well, even though we know better. We have then become, like the citizens of any totalitarian state, the greatest of liars -- to each other, but mostly to ourselves.
So what I'm saying is that mandatory voting, if it ever becomes law, will be the official death knell of democracy. And yes, it's paradoxical, but in that it does not differ from so many other phenomena in our time. The more we talk about rights, the more of them we lose – and whatever “right” is the leading topic of conversation on any given day is the one most recently lost. Yes, voting is pathetic... an empty exercise... but it's still one of the few symbolic acts we have left to salvage our self-respect. If they make it obligatory, they will take even that away.