Sunday, September 17, 2006

Election 2006: The Case Against Civic Temper Tantrums

(Cross-posted at Jousting for Justice)

There are some people who probably shouldn't be teaching Maryland high schoolers; I would argue that Silver Spring columnist, and volunteer teacher Arnold Kling might be one of them. I certainly don't want Maryland kids being taught his juvenile new theory about why people shouldn't vote.

The case, as Kling makes it, is that since he is not satisfied with the candidates from either party, he will just stay home on election day. Worse, he encourages everyone else to stay home too. He apparently envisions that his Couch-Potato Protest will trigger some political epiphany, in which politicians from both sides of the aisle will then court him.

Now, Dr. Kling is a smart man--he earned a Ph.D. from MIT. He is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. But as is often the case with very smart people, he apparently hasn't a lick of common sense.

If we've learned anything from the past thirty years of American elections, it's that nobody seriously courts the non-voters unless there is a single red-hot issue to unite them, like 'I hate gays'. Nobody seriously courts non-voters, because statistically speaking, they are unlikely to vote. There is no point spending time, money, or policy initiatives wooing unlikely voters, because there are too many factors that explain their absence from the polls. Not least of which is the impression that some large portion of these people can never be pleased, and that you court them at the peril of losing your base.

So, let us return to the real world, shall we? The world where the people who show up to vote are the people who make the decisions. And when that pool of voters becomes smaller, the decisions become more polarized. The people who show up are the people who care the most. Those people tend to be on the edges of political thought, and skew the parties and the campaigns accordingly. Anyone who wants to change this phenomenon--anyone who thinks that the candidates insufficiently reflect the desires of the vast squishy middle--should be urging people to get to the polls by the truckload.

But that would require an affirmative action or choice to take civic responsibility seriously, instead of sniping from the sidelines. Because make no mistake, when you don't bother to show up to vote, you're not only giving up all right to complain--you're ceding your role in a government ruled by the people.

Now, no one should be legally compelled to vote. It's your right to stay home and bleat with the rest of the sheep, content to be shepherded by other people's agendas without registering so much as a BAAAAA. But it's also your right to jump into Lake Michigan in the dead of winter; that doesn't mean you should. And it certainly doesn't mean that other people aren't going to point out how foolish you are to do it.

American soldiers are dying to bring Democracy to Iraq, or so they are told. American blood is being spilled in the name of the very right and responsibility that Dr. Kling intends to abandon because he doesn't like county educational spending priorities.

But aren't there more important considerations for a reasonable person to take into account? The world is a serious place right now, and our elections are no joke. No one can say with a straight face, that there are no differences between the candidates, the parties or their policies. Not even Ralph Nader has the nerve to say that anymore.

These November elections might make the difference between lives being lost, people being tortured, and children suffering. No matter which side of the political fence you're on, surely you have an interest in promoting the policy that you think will minimize these evils. Surely, there are issues that Dr. Kling can point to where one choice or the other will make a difference, and insofar as there are, not weighing and balancing the choices is simply an abrogation of civic duty.

And I don't want to hear about how people are sick of choosing the lesser of two evils. Get real. That's life. Not every choice in life is vanilla/raspberry or chocolate/swirl. Almost every choice you make is a choice between one evil or another. Whether it's choosing between having a job you're sick of or starving to death, whether it's between not getting enough sleep or letting the baby cry--life is all about trade-offs.

Anyone who expects politics to be different is naive or throwing a tantrum.

Luckily, in a democracy, if you decide not to choose--other people will make the hard choices for you. And maybe in some elections, that's an educated decision in and of itself. Maybe the people in your district know the orphans court judges better than you do and would make a more informed choice. Maybe if you don't have kids, you'd rather have the people who do have kids pick the local school board.

But there's not an educated grown up alive--certainly not Dr. Kling--who doesn't know enough about what's going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and right here at home, to weigh in on the difficult policy choices presented to us in this election.

Stay home if you want to, Dr. Kling. But know that people like me will be making the decision for you, and spending your money any way we please, without your input. And if that's unsatisfactory, you have only yourself to blame.


Blogger Bruce Godfrey said...

I respect the choice not to pull the level but showing up, counting as "present" and not voting in a particular race sends a message of its own - an "undervote" and no confidence statement that politicians do count in their assessments. But staying home - with you there.

9/17/2006 01:50:00 AM  
Blogger Robb Black said...

Boycotting the ballot box is a traditional method used by opposition organizations around the world when they believe that the elections are going to be fraudulent or the ruling party has it legally rigged in their favor. That being said, I see no problem with Dr. Kling's suggestion.

However, one would hope that he would educate himself and realize that in Maryland we have more than just two parties now. If he is really upset about the two party system, he does have an option in this election (atleast in Maryland).

9/18/2006 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

"your personal attacks on us are unprofessional and wrong" - Tim Hiller

Remember that folks when you watch the Steele video on

join me in defeating the GOP this year with ideas! and NOT partisan Slander!

Tell Lee Fang to start concentrating on the issues if he wants to defeat Steele. Democrats who want to see a big win for Cardin.. come to my blog and promote your ideas in the comments section!


9/19/2006 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Democrats for a Clean Election
Earlier today Bruce Godfrey wrote this to me in the comments section of my blog.

Merely stating your view baldly, without backing it up with facts, logical argument, etc., does little to persuade the casual or intense reader.

First, let me say, that I really appreciate Bruce saying this to me as I will gladly explain to you why I have mentioned those who have gone about this campaign the wrong way (Tim Hiller and Lee Fang), and that I truly hope those who wish to disagree with me and those who want to pick my brain are more than welcome to post anything on my blog, Republican or Democrat.

Bruce is right. In my first set of blogs I did not go into enough detail in explaining why I feel, the way I feel. So here it is.
Lee Fang and Tim Hiller are exactly what this party does not need for the following reasons: The Democratic Party IS a party of Values. WE are the ones who stick up for those who cannot stick up for themselves. WE are the ones who are right on a woman's right to choose, protecting the environment, providing HealthCare, raising the minumum wage, rolling back tax cuts, and fighting the war on terror.

Now, let's take a look at Lee Fang and Tim Hiller. They have an opportunity to take the lead in this campaign because they are the leaders of the democratic party in the biggest school in the whole state. In their first opportunity to set an agenda... they went negative. I have stated that their ad is impeccably done.. BUT after it's over, voters have a negative taste in their mouth. In a race where we need to win Moderates (because Steele has the charisma to win moderates.. AND a few dems) we should be painting a rosey picture about Ben Cardin and how he wants to fight the war on terror, but re-deploy troops in Iraq. I think we need to keep about 80,000 there for right now, but let's start bringing home a few thousand starting right soon because currently we have almost 150,000 there!!!!

If Lee Fang and Tim Hiller wanted to show that they are ahead of their time, and not naive college dems, they would know not to go negative right off the bat. You see, in politics, sometimes the knockout punch is the COUNTER-punch. Fang and Hiller have now given the COUNTER punch option to the Republicans. If their cronies come out with an ad and it's better than their Steele ad, what are they going to do then????? If Fang and Hiller knew politics 101, they would have produced that ad and saved it until the last 2-3 weeks of the campaign.. But now, they have shown their true colors. They have said.. "This is us, and we're going negative." That ad, along with Cardin having to ALREADY fire a staffer for OREO cookie comments does not leave me feeling very upbeat about the campaign.

Bruce, here is my bottom line. Instead of looking like immature partisans (Fang and Hiller) I would have run an ad pointing out the differences:

-It's been 1,000 degrees this summer.. Where has Michael Steele been on Al Gore's global Warming???

-Why is Cardin's position on Iraq better than Steele's?

-Cardin's career as a life long politician is better than Steele's inexperience as far as knowing how the system works.

-Cardin has just plain and simply done more for Maryland than Steele. (check his career list of accomplishments)

Talking about anyone of those things would have been much better than that nasty ad they ran about Steele. It is so insulting to think that Because Governor Ehrlich supports the death penalty, Maryland voters are supposed to believe that LT. Gov is NOT pro-Life..

Fang and Hiller have taken the low road. As inexperienced campaigners, I do not fault them. But I would expect them to believe others who have been involved. Take a look at the elections of 02 and 04.. THEY ARE WALKING INTO THE SAME TRAP. And when I approach them to present an alternative, they REFUSE to post my blog link on the Federation of Maryland College Dems blog because they don't like what I say. Because I support Lieberman over Lamont. Because I don't think the Dixie Chicks should be running our national security policy.

I say here and now. Let the Democratic Party return to it's ideals of FDR, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy. Ned Lamont and others would be devastating to our nation. Let's not let our hatred for people like Michael Steele override this election. Let's keep our cool, and do what we need to do to elect democrats who care about this country and who do not want to BRING DOWN this country. Come to my blog. Post comments. Let's have an open discussion. Let's talk about signing the Kyoto Protocol Treaty. Let's talk about rolling back tax cuts and raising the minumum wage. Let's talk about getting rid of the terrorist surveillance program and the patriot act. But let's talk about what we'll do as opposed to who we hate. I want Ben Cardin to win. I just sure hope people like LEE FANG and TIM HILLER haven't fumbled the ball on this one.

If you disagree with me.. Go ahead and post your comments. I fully support a frank and open discussion. LEE FANG and TIM HILLER would not allow my blog link on their site.. but ANYONE who wants to, can write on mine. Free Speech and a Free Mind, Frees the soul. I hope you find a place on my blog. Enjoy!


9/20/2006 01:04:00 AM  

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