by Ryan Mohr
“Get out and vote! It’s your American duty!” We hear this all of the time from movie stars, politicians, television personalities, musicians, and the like. We’re told that if we really care about our country, we’ll take a trip to the polls in November and fill in those bubbles. Or maybe when you’ve found yourself complaining about the current political or economic climate you’ve heard the old, “Save it for the ballot box!” or my personal favorite, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain!” Every election cycle we hear from the countless media figures, poring over national data, either bemoaning low voter turnout or jumping up and down in jubilation at any increase in souls who chose to ‘Rock the Vote!’ But what does it all mean? Is voter turnout really something to be celebrated?
Believe it or not, a celebrity actually said something the other day on this subject that wasn’t completely asinine. Mike Rowe, consummate man’s man, whose claim to fame is his iconic role on the show “Dirty Jobs”, has engendered quite a name for himself on social media as perhaps one of the most thoughtful people in showbiz. On a fairly regular basis, Rowe takes some of the fan mail he receives, often times correlating with current events, and publishes a response to it online. He’s amassed a following of over three and a half million people on Facebook by delivering sharp, reflective insights indicative of a man who thinks carefully about what he is saying. Rather than perpetuating the norm of celebrities, bloviating about issues they obviously know nothing substantive about, preaching at the masses with contrived indignation, Rowe comes across as humble and contemplative. So when one of his fans wrote to him, compelling him to encourage his readers to get out there and pull the lever for a politician, one would hope that Rowe would have more to offer than the prototypical “Shucky darn, of course every American should vote!” And boy, did he deliver.
He starts off by acknowledging the shared concern he has for the country, and that while voting matters, it does not follow that everyone should be encouraged to vote. He then likens encouraging everyone to go vote just because they have the right to do so to encouraging everyone to go buy a gun just because they have that right. He explains that these rights come with responsibilities, responsibilities that many are not willing to shoulder. Therefore, it is ludicrous to encourage any and everyone to exercise a right that they may not take seriously. He goes on to castigate Hollywood for their shallow political activism and laments the current choices America has for president, pointing to this deranged mindset as the culprit.
So what does Mike Rowe think you should do then? “Read more.” He encourages his readers to take some time to study various world views on history, human nature, and economic theory (He even name-drops Henry Hazlitt!) in order for them to get a grip on where it is they stand. He then quips, “None of the freedoms spelled out in our Constitution were put there so people could cast uninformed ballots out of some misplaced sense of civic duty brought on by a celebrity guilt-trip. The right to assemble, to protest, to speak freely – these rights were included to help assure that the best ideas and the best candidates would emerge from the most transparent process possible.”
Not only are Mr. Rowe’s sentiments accurate, but they are in a sense understated. No doubt, the Left will take serious exception to their advocacy of uninformed voting en masse being compared to advocacy of mass gun ownership, but this comparison is in fact remarkably accurate. To understand just how on point it is, one must understand just what voting is. As the great Robert Heinlein once put it, “When you vote, you are exercising political authority, you’re using force. And force, my friends, is violence.” While many would spurn this characterization of something as ‘innocent’ as casting a vote, it can not be denied that every political act carries with it the implication of coercion to enforce it. In this respect, decisions made in the public sector are quite different than those made in the private.
People cast votes everyday in private life, whether it’s choosing what food to buy at the grocery store, choosing who they wish to insure their car, choosing who provides them medical care, etc. These votes are distinctly different from votes cast in the ballot box in that they are peaceful and completely voluntary. Not only that, but these choices virtually always impact no one, save the parties involved. On the contrary, votes cast in the political realm affect everyone in society because citizens are not voluntary patrons of the government. For example, if you cast a vote for Candidate A, whose platform is to raise taxes on Group X and ban the use of Substance Y, then implicit in the vote you have cast is the force necessary to steal from Group X and to prohibit Substance Y. If your candidate wins and I belong to Group X, it makes no difference that I cast my vote for Candidate B who pledged to leave me the hell alone. I must comply with the government’s demands, or else I will be forced to with the threat of violence. Sure, I could refuse to pay these new taxes without fear of any immediate harm, but only then my wages would be garnished. I could find a way to receive payment for my wages under the table, but only then I could be arrested for tax evasion. If I resist arrest or try to defend myself, I could be bludgeoned into submission or even killed. The point is that decisions made at the polls carry implied violence with them, and the ramifications impact a vast amount of people rather than just the individual. It is for this very reason that many people, namely libertarians, have a strong aversion to voting, after all, in a sense, the act of voting is far more imposing than simply personally initiating violence against another human being, because political action is backed up by all of the frightful firepower of the State.
I am not, however, suggesting that people should not vote or that voting is immoral. Even the famed economist and consummate libertarian philosopher, Murray Rothbard, criticized this idea. He addressed the issue of voting in an interview with The New Banner in 1972, where he channeled Lysander Spooner in stating that, “People are being placed in a coercive position. They are surrounded by a coercive system; they are surrounded by the state. The state, however, allows you a limited choice — there’s no question about the fact that the choice is limited. Since you are in this coercive situation, there is no reason why you shouldn’t try to make use of it if you think it will make a difference to your liberty or possessions… So in that case why not make use of it? I don’t see that it’s immoral to participate in the election provided that you go into it with your eyes open.”
And therein, lies the rub. You see, not only do many American voters fail to vote responsibly or ‘go into it with their eyes open’, most politicians in power count on just the opposite. If there is one thing that helps a member of the political establishment sleep soundly at night, it is the notion that millions of voters without the initiative to actually do their homework or think for themselves will be showing up to the polls to cast their votes. In truth, most people who aren’t already voting are failing to do so, not on principle, but because they are not engaged in political thought of any kind. So the most effective way for the vagabonds in Washington to see to the entrenchment of their power for the foreseeable future is not to target those who are actually read up on the issues, but to expand the voting block to encompass those who are uninitiated.
For example just a couple of weeks ago, a 2,500 document data dump, courtesy of DC Leaks, revealed that billionaire political activist, George Soros, has been dumping millions of dollars in legal fees behind a push to “Enlarge [the U.S.] electorate by at least 10 million voters through modernization of voter registration systems, and through expanded constitutional/legislative protections” by 2018. The mission statement is (quite ironically) to counter the “undue influence of wealthy interests acting for their own benefit.” Just last year, our own president endorsed the idea of compulsory voting along the same ideological lines, “to counter the outsized influence of money in politics.” But as Ilya Somin of The Washington Post pointed out in his response to El Presidente’s remarks, “The opposite effect is more likely. Most campaign spending represents expenditures on televised ads. For fairly obvious reasons, relatively ignorant voters are more likely to be influenced by simplistic 30 second ads than relatively well-informed ones (who, among other things, tend to have stronger preexisting views). Thus, a more ignorant electorate is likely to be one where campaign spending on television ads exercises more influence.”
And don’t think for a moment that this reality is lost on the likes of Soros or Obama, or any other power-hungry political figure. The uninformed voter tends to make voting decisions on the most primitive bases. Therefore, cheap political promises and broad platitudes, rather than complex explanations of complex issues, are more likely to win them over. These scoundrels count on this. Their parasitic livelihoods depend on it.
Just because the public may not consider the implications in their political decisions, the consequences of those decisions are no less tangible. Voting is a right, not an obligation to society. It is a right that should be exercised cautiously and thoughtfully. Those who choose to vote without having taken the time to educate themselves, or even ponder where it is they stand philosophically, do so not only to their own detriment, but they recklessly endanger the livelihoods of their fellow man.
Vote with open eyes. If you aren’t sure where it is that you stand, that is a perfectly alright place to be! Just don’t go casting ballots until you’re out of there.