Part 4. Nauru and Beyond
“The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus
sings with a strong upper-class accent.”
-- E.E. Schattschneider, The Semi-Sovereign People[i] --
The word for the day: Nauru.
(1) A tiny island nation.
(2) A Hawaiian desert similar to tiramisu.
(3) The Apache word for stranger.
(4) A middle class marriage rite in Zimbabwe.
(5) An Australian political party.
(6) None of the above.
The envelop, please.
O.K., you never heard of the place. Too bad. That Micronesian nation of 9,265 residents may hold the key to an incredible number of problems in the United States.
A double-edged sword is needed to end The American Nightmare. One blade cuts the power of the oligarchy; the other blade saves the life of democracy.
That sword is the only way to reinstall the political system called a polity, the oligarchy/democracy hybrid recommended by Aristotle and put into practice in the late 1700s by the American Founding Fathers. A new and improved polity would replace the oligarchic political system consecrated in 2008-9, with holy water of billions of Bush-Obama dollars to the archi-rich.
The reinvention of the polity is The Second American Revolution. That revolution is as necessary today as the first revolution was in 1776 -- perhaps even more. You will never solve America’s growing economic catastrophe without a change of -- not in -- the oligarchic political system.
Part 1 and Part 3 of this series presented two sides of the first blade to cut the oligarchy’s power, viz., (i) weaken its political head, the Supreme Court, by taking away its unconstitutional power to decide the constitutionality of laws, and (ii) weaken its body, the political influence of money, by revolutionizing campaign funding.
Part 2 introduced the second blade. To revive democracy, the Constitution must be amended to provide for national, legally-binding referenda. The upshot: increase the power of the people, but not indefinitely.
National referenda are essential but not sufficient. Part 4 is intended to forge the blade of democracy further, make it sharper, stronger.
* * *
They say the best things in life are free. Unfortunately, they also tend to be hidden.
In a little-known observation near the bottom of a stack of notes, Alexis de Tocqueville gave this summary of what democracy ultimately needs:
“The remedy is above all else, outside constitutions. In order for democracy to govern, there must be citizens, i.e., people who are interested in public affairs, who have the capacity and the desire to participate in them. One must always return to this fundamental point.” [ii]
Return , we do. Part 2 of this series elaborated on Tocqueville’s observation:
“The remedy. We have arrived at the heart of the Second American Revolution. An increase in the (i) capacity and (ii) desire to participate on the part of the people: may any political candidate, public office holder, party, law, government agency or policy be judged accordingly.
A note to Doubting Thomases:
You think the American people are irresponsible. You know something? I completely agree with you. It is easier to despair, however, than to answer. And there is an answer. It is as seldom used as it effective: to make people be responsible, give them responsibilities. In this case, make them citizens fully, truly.”
How, then, in practical terms, can the capacity and desire of Americans to participate be enhanced? How can they be converted into what they are not and never have been -- full, real citizens?
That conversion is the sine qua non of The Second American Revolution.
E.E. Schattsneider observed that 40% of the voting age population did not vote. That huge group sitting on the sidelines is what makes Americans a “semi-sovereign people.” In 2004, for example, George W. Bush was elected with 62,040,610 votes. The total voting age population was 221,256,931. That meant Bush represented only 28% of the eligible voting age population. In 2008, Obama was elected with 69,456,897 votes: The total voting age population was 230,782,870. That figure is a mere 30% of the voting age population.
The conclusion is as obvious as it is inevitable. Any claim that United States presidents represent the majority of Americans is patently false, ridiculous.
The low turnout raises serious questions of legitimacy not just for Bush and Obama but for the entire federal government. As for state and local governments, the picture is even darker. Everybody involved in politics knows that with very rare exceptions the vote for president is the highest -- as good as it gets. Thereafter, as they move down the ballot, people start leaving the voting booth.
Could the dubious legitimacy of our government be causing the astonishing weakening of legitimacy and authority in our schools, neighborhoods, work places, families -- our entire society? Sorry, oligarchs, you can’t have one without the other, i.e., a semi-sovereign people without disobedience in your living room.
Before continuing, a specific problem must be addressed. Schattschneider published his book in 1960. Is 40% still relevant as a ballpark figure for nonvoters?
In the 1950s and 1960s, the average turnout was slightly over 60%. Some 50 years later, in 2008, 57.48% of the voting age population voted in the Obama/McCain election. Looking at the turnout figures over the years, 40% was and still is a good guess.[iii]
What could solve the low turnout quandary and wipe out the semi-sovereign status of Americans?
Shattschneider argued the 40% who stay home will vote only if (i) they see clear differences between the two parties, and (ii) the parties start to do what they are not doing: address the issues -- which are mostly economic -- important to the 40%.
I want to address directly those who look to the parties and politicos to solve the low turnout problem. You do not understand or appreciate the fact that America now has an oligarchic political system. Because of the nature of the economic problems which the 40% wants to see addressed, it is in the oligarchy’s immediate self-interest that those nonparticipants continue to NOT participate. That self-interest explains why Schattsneider’s two conditions will never be met.
Given the clear and present dominance of the oligarchy, to those who persist in looking to the system to reform the system, I must defer to the immortal words of Johnny Cash:
Dream on dream on
you should be
a movie queen.
There is a way to get the 40% to participate. It avoids Shattschneider’s dilemma because, unlike what he infers, it does not require parties or politicos to change.
Which brings me back to tiny Nauru. It practices that way. And Nauru isn’t the only nation to do so. Argentina and Australia do it. So, too, do Brazil and Singapore, Chile and the Congo, Ecuador and France, Fiji and Liechtenstein, Peru and Uruguay.
The solution all those nations offer: required voting. Based on their hard experience, “required” would mean in America not that you would be thrown in prison for not voting, but that if you want services from the federal government -- social security, food stamps, a passport -- you must show that you voted in the last election. The proof is your voter registration card was stamped at the precinct.
To require voting in America, a Constitutional amendment must be passed. Because we now have an oligarchic political system, Washington cannot and will not offer that amendment. Mandatory voting, therefore, requires that a national referendum be called and imposed by voters -- which in turn requires the institution of the national referenda process discussed in Part 2.
Compulsory voting in federal elections would necessitate changes:
(1) The machinery for conducting elections would have to be revised to accommodate the millions of new participants. One major revision: at present, federal elections take place on Tuesday. Election day should be changed to Sunday for two reasons. First, employers are understandably hesitant to give employees time off to vote; that hesitancy would increase exponentially with more employees absent. The change to Sunday would wipe out most of that reluctance. And second, voting on Sunday would augment the gross national product by reducing the loss in productivity from employees taking time off to go to the polls.
(2) To answer practical problems which the new system would present requires a review of the 13 nations that already enforce required voting.[iv] They present a variety of models with different formats, notably penalties and exceptions.[v]
(3) The unprecedented participation of the 40% would require changes in how campaigns are conducted. For the all important issue of campaign advertizing, see Part 3 of this series. What about public opinion polls? I conducted polls for TV stations both months before and a few days ahead of elections. I am frequently asked if I think public opinion polls influence elections. My answer: George Gallup showed (The Sophisticated Poll Watcher’s Guide) conclusively that, no, polls do not influence the vote one way or the other, up or down. Of course, polls to date have not included the 40% nonvoters. What would be the impact on that group of publicly releasing poll results ? Answer: nobody knows. What I suspect is that, at present, polls tend to put a cap on turnout -- and thereby reinforce the status quo ranking of candidates -- by reducing the drama. Therefore, as a means to stimulate the 40% to turn out, publicly releasing poll results immediately prior to an election should be prohibited. But how is immediately defined? In France poll results cannot be publicly released 30 days before an election. Perhaps, two weeks would be more relevant for America.[vi]
(4) Ballots should be redesigned to allow for "None of The Above" and/or blank votes. The substance of the argument that required voting violates a person’s right NOT to vote would thereby dissolve. To clarify, we are not saying that a person must vote for specific candidates or referenda; we are saying that to receive certain federal government services, an individual must participate in the PROCESS of voting.
To get an visual and practical idea of the change, the next time you vote, count off 10 people in line. If mandatory voting became a federal law, chances are 4 of them would never have voted before.
To those who dread the “new” 40% showing up at the precincts, all I can say is:
Yes, you are looking at an honest-to-god revolution in America.
Yes, an honest, real, true strengthening of democracy means exactly that, not something else.
Yes, in America at present you either have a strengthening of democracy, i.e., a polity, or you have an oligarchy. There is no Third Way.
Yes, ending the semi-sovereign status of Americans -- responsibilizing them, turning them into citizens -- would create adverse consequences for the oligarchy. The strong upper-class accent Schattsneider observed would be submerged in new voices. Not eliminated -- submerged. You may not understand or appreciate that fact; I guarantee you from experience that the oligarchy does.
Which is why mandatory voting cannot and will not take place in America.
[i] E.E. Schattschneider, The Semi-Sovereign People, Wadsworth Publishing, 1975, p. 35. This work is one of the few political science books worth reading.
[ii] « Le remède est surtout en dehors des constitutions. Pour que la démocratie puisse gouverner il faut des citoyens, des gens qui prennent intérêt à la chose publique, aient la capacité de s’en mêler et le veuillent. Point capital auquel il faut toujours revenir. » Alexis de Tocqueville, Notes et variantes, op.cit., p. 1,019.
There is nothing idealistic, much less utopian, about Tocqueville’s remedy. In 2005, all of France had a glimpse of what could be during the months preceding the national vote on the proposed constitution for the European Community. Several books debating the subject made the best-seller list; almost daily, I witnessed a lively dialogue in the media, homes, restaurants.
Because of the death of the polity under Bush-Obama, America never will have a comparable experience.
[iii] The 40% estimate is perhaps on the high side. Please note that after 1972, the voting age population included 18-year-olds, which would increase the size of that population – and consequently reduce turnout percentages. Also, “voting age population” includes felons and other people ineligible to vote. In that regard, much has been made of illegal aliens who presumably would swell the voting age population and thereby make the turnout figures look worse than they really are. However, after working with illegals, I concluded that argument is weak. When government census officials appear at the front door, illegal aliens run out the back. Hence, illegals are seldom counted in the population total.
[iv] At present, 32 nations require voting, 13 enforce it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_voting.
[v] In case you are wondering, all allow medical problems as an acceptable reason for nonvoting.
[vi] Of course, the oligarchy can afford to pay for last minute, private polls; therefore, prohibiting public ones arguably would handicap the public in terms of information. There is a way to solve this problem: take away the benefits of private polls taken in the last two weeks. To accomplish that goal, along with the public release of poll results, last minute financial contributions should also be prohibited. This change is consistent with an objective mentioned in Part 3: all campaign donations must be reported before -- not after -- elections.