DEMOCRACY, SUFFRAGE, AND A TIDE OF MUD
There is perhaps nothing that receives such glorified lip service in this country as "democracy." Journalist Andrew Gumbel has perceptively written, "Nobody goes far in American public life without professing to love democracy." How true that is!
Never mind the fact that the Founders were not in the least enamored with the democratic ideal. To be blunt, their trust in the intelligence of the masses was minimal. Even Jefferson wrote that "[a] choice by the people themselves is not generally distinguished for it's [sic] wisdom." Make no mistake about it, those who drafted the Constitution regarded democracy as mob-ocracy. Although government was supposed to be established upon the consent of those subject to it, the people themselves were directly responsible for the election of only the lower chamber of Congress. Those in the upper chamber were to be elected by state legislatures, and the President by an electoral college.
The Founders' negative assessment of democracy was paralleled by their strong conviction that the franchise should be restricted to white male property owners. Universal suffrage was, to them, an outlandish idea. Listen to John Adams opine about the matter:
"Depend upon it, Sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters; there will be no end of it. New claims will arise; women will demand the vote; lads from twelve to twenty-one will think their rights not enough attended to; and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one common level."
The country began turning from a constitutional republic to a democracy when Jefferson was elected to the White House, and took an even more drastically democratic turn when Andrew Jackson ascended to the presidency. Just as Adams predicted in 1776, in time everyone in America would be prostrated to one common level so far as the ballot was concerned. Non-property owners received it, followed later by black males and then women, and still later by eighteen year-old "lads" (and lassies).
At the present time, not only the citizen-groups named above, but also those who are entirely dependent upon food stamps and other forms of welfare receive the vote. In many states, convicted felons are allowed to vote, and in some they are allowed to do so while actually incarcerated (Vermont and Maine). In another state, North Dakota, neither prior registration nor photo identification is required; one need only show up at the polls. Some municipalities, if you can believe it -- namely, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York City -- even welcome non-citizens to vote. This is all part and parcel of the democratic vision of government.
Yet where does this egalitarian mentality end? This is a compelling question. Many Hispanics who have lived in this country for years and are not sufficiently fluent in the English language to read and to comprehend voting instructions must now, in some places, be presented their ballots in Spanish. Literacy tests are outlawed as a form of voter suppression. Tests on the Constitution and American history are legally off-limits too. Equality may be a coveted ideal for some, but a society without distinctions? It makes absolutely no sense to me. It soon unravels into chaos, exactly as America is doing.
Would someone explain to me why a welfare recipient who is, by choice, unable to read English, who has no idea who George Washington was, and who does not know the first thing about the Constitution, has the same voice in government as a taxpayer who is literate, educated, and knowledgeable about these matters? How does promoting such worthlessness enrich government? I don't know about you, but it appears to me to weaken it.
Additionally, why should one who is a felon, e.g., a murderer or rapist, have a say in the ordering of society? I would respectfully suggest that those like Jeffrey Dahmer have waived such rights. Yet a court in Massachusetts ruled in 1983 that persons incarcerated in that state must be provided an absentee ballot. Too bad that the Boston Strangler did not live long enough in Walpole State Prison to enjoy his right of suffrage. But I guess that we can be thankful for the fact that the inmate who stabbed Mr. DeSalvo to death may have gotten to vote.
Providing suffrage to everyone, notwithstanding gross want of qualification or achievement, translates into the perception that the vote is nothing special. If you don't believe it, look at the dreadful state of electoral participation in most elections in this country. Eighteen year-olds scarcely show up! Far from enriching participation in government, universal suffrage does precisely the opposite. It renders participation pitifully anemic.
Universal suffrage definitely increases the influence of patrons, union leaders, and political bosses (like Tweed, Pendergast, Parr, and Daley), who specialize in manipulating the poor and ignorant. It goes without saying that the effect is to incline politics toward the left.
So what do I think of democracy? It is like all the other deceptive words, which flood the vocabulary of the left and tout their professed love for fairness, justice, and humanity. The Founders were rightly wary of "th' idiot multitude." So am I. What thoughtful person really believes that ignorance and poverty are correlated with virtue? The have-nots want nothing more than to get their hands in the pockets of the haves. If you don't believe it, try working with and really getting to know the "virtuous" poor.
But more than fear of the rabble, what bothers me is the rabble-rousers, who move the ignorant from square to square as pawns. The rhetoric of these demagogues is not reality; they and their serfs are far from equal; and titles, like "my fellow citizen," "comrade," and "brother," actually consign their wearers to a broad, undifferentiated mass of humanity that resembles nothing so much as a slave class.
So, my dear reader, beware of the slogans, the sophisms, and the noisy, catchy phrases! In short, beware of the tide of mud! Already the 2012 Campaign is cranking up. Listen to the candidates talk about their love for democracy and how important it is that everyone vote, but keep in mind that they are involved in nothing so much as the art of manipulation. Each party wants power and will do or say anything to get it. That's the long and the short of democracy and of universal suffrage.
June 5, 2011