Democracy's F-Word


The founding fathers of this land did not think much of democracy.  They created a constitutional republic instead.  Their wisdom in doing so has been borne out in numerous ways.  Democracies are easily derailed. They depend upon the responsible exercise of power by the people. If the people are intellectually unenlightened, immoral, or lethargic, then democracy does not work. If the people fail for any reason to maintain vigilance, freedom will inevitably slip away from them. Many of the same vulnerabilities come with a republic, but the latter puts a bit of distance between government decision-making and the people.  A republic is not as volatile as a democracy. 

Nevertheless, as our republic has aged, democratic tendencies have intensified.  The democratic subtleties inherent in the founders' creation have been traded for a bolder democracy across the board -- an expanded franchise, the direct election of senators, and an ever strident call for the abolition of the Electoral College. Third-party candidate Ross Perot once advocated a mechanical device in every home, by which each voter could register his opinions on subjects of government.  He seemed to envision a government by plebescite, which would have gone a long way to transform republican government into a direct democracy.

But the truth is that the majority of citizens -- or dare I say it, the mob -- in a democratic state can be, and often are, controlled by a minority. That minority may sway not only the present, but also the future.  "How?" you ask.  It is simple:  the minority controls election outcomes regarding issues and candidates. Often this entails engaging in rank fraud at the ballot box, with a ripple effect into the future.

As a student surveys the history of American politics, no truth is more self-evident and telling than that of the fraudulent manipulation of election returns. The big F-word is the oldest story in America. When one looks closely at the facts, he begins to wonder whether self-governance is not really a myth spawned by democratic propagandists. Let me be specific and take you on a brief trip down Memory Lane. Afterward, you tell me whether you want more democracy or less.

One of the ways in which American colonial power brokers influenced the outcome of political races was by "treating."  This practice amounted to buying liquor, and a lot of it, for prospective voters.  George Washington, when he was running for the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758, spent a sizable sum of money for gallons of alcoholic beverages, which inclined voters to his candidacy. "No big deal!" you say.

Well, what about Tammany Hall?  Most schoolchildren are provided, in their history texts,  a brief account of Boss William M. Tweed's political exploits in the Big Apple. Tweed, on the left, once candidly admitted that he could not remember a fair and honest election ever being conducted in New York City.  He should have known!  He advanced what has become a bit of reflective wisdom  applicable to virtually every election ever conducted in America.  It is the primary truth of American democracy:  "The ballots didn't make the outcome, the counters did."

Before writing off Tweed's statement as so much hyperbole, consider the presidential election of 1876.  Samuel Tilden and Rutherford Hayes battled for the Oval Office.  Hayes went to bed on election night certain that he had lost the race.  But he underestimated the political ingenuity of his handlers. Thanks to artful counting, the highly suspicious electoral returns from several southern States – where Republicans were in control of the returning boards – threw the race into the hands of an Electoral Commission, which finally decided it in favor of "Rutherfraud" Hayes by a single vote!

Then there was the Kingfish. Huey Long dominated Louisiana politics as his personal fiefdom from 1928 through 1935.  What he said went, and there were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. He was, in effect, the dictator of Louisiana. Fair and honest elections were a ruse. He was one of the few politicians whom Franklin Roosevelt feared.

Savvy Texans, and not necessarily those who came back from the dead to vote for him, know that Lyndon Johnson, at right, stole a United States Senate seat from Coke Stevenson in 1948, just as one had been stolen from Johnson in 1941 by W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel.  In the same way, the good citizens from Missouri are aware that Harry Truman would never have made it to the national political stage had there been no Tom Pendergast fixing votes by the thousands in Kansas City and elsewhere. The various elections of Governor, and later Senator, Herman Talmadge in Georgia were so tainted by voter fraud as to be laughable.

In the 1960 presidential election, only a hair separated Kennedy and Nixon in the popular vote. Vast election irregularities were reported in Illinois and Texas in Kennedy's favor.  Nobody had to teach Chicago's Richard Daley about vote counting.  Daley's precinct captains were reputed far and wide as high performance deliverers of the vote in his formidable political machine.  Nor, as I have pointed out, did anybody have to instruct Kennedy's running mate regarding how elections really work.  Richard Nixon was absolutely convinced, and rightfully so, that the 1960 presidential election had been stolen from him, but he refused to defend the position publicly, because he did not want to appear a "sore loser."

The Bush-Gore race in 2000, as most will remember, finally came down to Florida. Bush's victory, according to Tracy Campbell, the author of Deliver the Vote, a captivating history of election fraud in America, meant that his supporters "were more aggressive in purging likely Democratic votes from the rolls, claiming frontrunner (sic) status, counting problematic overseas absentee votes, and using local and state officials to discount Gore votes in the recount."  We may never know who really won that election.  Reality in the world of politics is intrinsically unknowable, like Kant's "thing in itself," whereas "appearance," the material of experience, invariably wins the day.

In 2008, up jumped the devil, or ACORN, the organization in which he was fully embodied.  ACORN perpetrated voter registration fraud on a scale perhaps never before seen in the United States of America.

Theodore Roosevelt once wrote that, without integrity in the electoral process, "popular government is a farce."  Of course it is!  In election after election, there has been fraud. It is the rule, not the exception. The fact of fraud often seems insignificant, because the choices provided to voters are frequently so uninspiring.  But remember, if you will, that Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson made earth-shaking decisions.  That fraud was instrumental in catapulting these men to the zenith of authority is sobering.

Who knows what fraudulent acts will decisively influence the turn of events in this country in 2010, or thereafter?  Voter fraud is a frightening prospect.  It may not be in accord with the ideal of democracy, but it is absolutely in accord with the way it works in practice.  Pardon me if I am less than enchanted with the liberal call for increased democracy.  Considering the state of popular culture in which we live, a heightened democracy will hardly be productive for a citizenry of sheep.

So kick back, have a beer, and enjoy America's political charade. 

August 26, 2009