Saturday, July 28, 2007

One Man . . . Four Votes?

In addition to being enticing, elusive, and intellectually provocative, the above title should, I realize, by some people's lights, read "One Person . . . Four Votes?" But since I'm going to be arguing here against the universal franchise as currently structured, I'll leave it as is. Anyway, women rarely pay visits to my little clubhouse, so I'll run the risk of offense.

There's been an intriguing discussion going on at Unqualified Reservations regarding the nature of democracy, and more specifically, whether or not it is simply an adaptive fiction. For those (like me) unfamiliar with this term, an adaptive fiction is "a misperception of reality that, unlike most such misperceptions, manages to outcompete the truth."

One UR commenter, Michael S, points out that democracy in its current, hallowed form, (universal suffrage) has hardly been practiced long enough to have proven its itself as the best and final Fukuyamian political solution.

Michael S. said...

One point worth noting in any discussion of "democracy" is that human society really has very little experience with this form of government as it is now defined - i.e., universal-franchise, one-man-one-vote, with seats in representative assemblies apportioned to populations in the districts or ridings represented.

I'd be willing to hazard that almost no historical examples can be cited that are more than perhaps 70 or 80 years old. Ancient democracies, like those of Athens or republican Rome, had highly restricted electorates. Most of their denizens, including numerous slaves, did not hold the franchise. This was also true in the United States until 1865. Property qualifications for the franchise were only slowly removed, and the franchise in the U.S. cannot be said to have been truly universal until the ratification of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment in 1964, banning the exaction of poll taxes as a qualification for voting, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In other words, the universal franchise in the United States dates from about the same time as the independence of most British and French colonies in Africa.

One-man-one-vote-once was the usual sequence of events in most of those places, which very quickly threw off their parliaments, prime ministers, robed and bewigged judges and barristers, and slid either into anarchy or tyranny. The decline of self-government in the United States under the universal franchise has not been as precipitate, but one would have to be a fool not to see its signs.

This got me to thinking about a John Derbyshire article I read a year or two ago, in which he argued for the disenfranchisement of non-military government employees. You know, Derbyshire's always willing to think the best of our boys in uniform. But he does have a point, and I soon found myself intrigued enough to email Derb with my proposal, really just a thought-exercise, as to the re-rigging of the American voting system. Derbyshire's reply was, in essence, "fat chance!"

Fair enough. As I've said, it's only a thought-exercise, and I expect never to see any of these provisions come to pass. Nevertheless, and simply for my own amusement, I've constructed a less egalitarian - why not just say it, an unfair - voting system intended to produce better electoral outcomes. At the same time, one of the constraints of this exercise is to make such a proposal as palatable as possible to the general citizenry.

What is that, you say? The masses would rise up in righteous rage? Yeah, maybe . . . not that any politician would ever be suicidal enough to propose it. On the other hand, the citizenry is made up of lots of people, like me, who will talk politics all evening, but can't be bothered to step into the booth. Perhaps democracy is both an adaptive and self-selecting fiction, filtering out those most likely to gum up the works.

Well, here goes. My anti-democratic, elitist, and entirely unlikely overhaul of the American voting system:

Contra Derbyshire and his desire to disenfranchise government employees, we're not going to get away with disenfranchising anybody. It's just a matter of time before convicted felons re-claim their right to vote. Bearing this in mind, my preferred strategy is subtraction by addition, adding voting power to those whom I deem worthy, and denying additional votes to those I deem unworthy. Finally, I would attempt to rationalize the whole thing in a sufficiently family-friendly, pro-education, and patriotic way, thus deceiving the American public into adopting a better elective system.

Under this system, citizens could qualify for the right to exercise between one and five votes in any federal election. These votes are as follows:

1. The Citizenship Vote: This is the vote we all currently know and love. All you have to do to get it is to be a breathing 18 year old+ citizen, not noticably retarded, and without a felony record. You also have to register, and under my plan, you would still have to register, because some people are too stupid/lazy to register.

The rationalization: Everyone has a right to vote, and everyone's vote counts.
The justification: The need to appease every citizen's belief that he or she has a right to vote.

2. The Informed Citizen Vote: All high school students will be required to take a one-year sequence of courses on American History and the US Constitution, including the Bill of Rights. At the end of this sequence of courses, students will take a federally-administered test, consisting only of multiple choice questions based upon issues of fact rather than opinion. Passage of this test, in high school or at any point in one's life, qualifies one for the Informed Citizen vote. This test has no bearing on the student's GPA.

The particular questions used in the test will be selected out of a large item bank, and all of the questions in the bank will be made available to test takers ahead of time. Thus, all test takers - and remember, you can take this test at any point in your life - will have equal access to the pool of questions from which their particular exam will be drawn. A reasonable ability to memorize, and the self-discipline to study, will be sufficient to pass the test.

The rationalization: This will encourage a politically informed populace, and will require high schools to provide students with at least one year of instruction that students might actually use in the event of their arrest.

The justification: Some people are too stupid/lazy to pass this test in high school, and such people, almost without exception, will never find the wherewith all to study this subject on their own and take the exam at a later point in their lives.

3. The Net Contributor Vote: Given to everyone who pays more in federal taxes than he or she receives in government payouts, including salaries, welfare benefits, and Social Security. This provision would also exclude employees of private contractors which derive more than 50% of their revenue from federal contracts.

The rationalization: People who make a net-positive contribution to the federal till deserve an extra vote.

The justification: See John Derbyshire's article, take a look at the prescription drug benefit legislation, drive through a public housing project, or pick up an AARP publication. People are people, after all.

4. The Military Service Vote: Current service in one of the branches of the military, including the National Guard and Reserves, entitles a citizen to this vote. Veterans of military service only keep this vote so long as they remain in the Guard or Reserves.

The rationalization: We don't want to penalize our active-duty servicemen and women simply because they draw a government paycheck in excess of their federal tax obligation. They're defending our freedom.

The justification: People who serve in the military tend to make up the better component of the American lower-middle to working class, and particularly since they bear the brunt of America's military adventures, it only seems fair. Plus, I wouldn't want to take on the military when they discover that their members are being denied the Net Contributor Vote. This vote compensates them for their disqualification in the Net Contributor category.

5. The Parental Responsibility Vote: Anyone legitimately able to claim one or more dependent children on their Federal Income Tax Return, and providing for those children through funds earned rather than federal benefits, is entitled to this vote.

The rationalization: Children are our future, and parents are in effect voting not only out of their own interests, but also in their children's interests.

The justification: The justification isn't actually that different from the rationalization, though the emphasis differs. To the extent that people ever take the long view in life, they do so when they're raising kids, if they're ever raising kids. The period of child-rearing more or less corresponds to that period during which people are carrying the greatest load in their society.

To sum up, before you have kids, you live for yourself; after they're grown, likewise. Under this provision, people who provide for their own kids will be rewarded with an extra vote, and those who - for whatever reason - don't, won't.

You will note that the title of this post is "One Man . . . Four Votes?" and yet I've listed five potential votes. Bad math? Not really. It would difficult, though not impossible, for one person to claim all five votes. The only way to do so would be to make a relatively high salary while serving in the military reserve, and to pay federal taxes in excess of one's compensation from the military. I don't know what one is paid to serve in the Guard or Reserve, but I suspect that it exceeds the amount that most Guard or Reserve members pay in taxes.

Thus, Americans of sound character and strong capabilities (patriots like you and me) would probably, at any one time, qualify for no more than four votes. Still that's better than what you've got now. But I wonder if those four votes would be enough to actually lure me into the booth. Sadly, I suspect that, even under a system of my own devising, I'm destined to remain a voting voyeur.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bunker Buster

"You don't get any feeling of somebody crouching down in the bunker. This is either extraordinary self-confidence or out of touch with reality. I can't tell you which."
--Irwin M. Stelzer, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute

"I find him serene. . . . I know President Johnson was railing against his fate. That's not the case with Bush. He feels he's doing what he needs to do, and he seems to me at peace with himself."
--Henry Kissinger

Seven years into his presidency, and as his approval ratings continue their slide toward the mid-twenties, George W. Bush has awakened to the realization that all may not be well with his historical legacy (though he's certain to be long remembered).

Thus, with all the assiduous energy of the well-connected D- minus student cramming for that big exam, Bush is racking the brains of a cadre of elite eggheads, who struggle to make clear to him the distinctions between good and evil, the "lessons of history" (as if these are going to be laid bare in a few bull sessions), and to answer that most vexing of questions, "Is it the whole of America that the rest of the world hates, or is it just George W. Bush?"

From The Washington Post article:

And yet Bush does not come across like a man lamenting his plight. In public and in private, according to intimates, he exhibits an inexorable upbeat energy that defies the political storms. Even when he convenes philosophical discussions with scholars, he avoids second-guessing his actions. He still acts as if he were master of the universe, even if the rest of Washington no longer sees him that way.

Bush is fixated on Iraq, according to friends and advisers. One former aide went to see him recently to discuss various matters, only to find Bush turning the conversation back to Iraq again and again. He recognizes that his presidency hinges on whether Iraq can be turned around in 18 months. "Nothing matters except the war," said one person close to Bush. "That's all that matters. The whole thing rides on that."

These are the questions of a president who has endured the most drastic political collapse in a generation. Not generally known for intellectual curiosity, Bush is seeking out those who are, engaging in a philosophical exploration of the currents of history that have swept up his administration. For all the setbacks, he remains unflinching, rarely expressing doubt in his direction, yet trying to understand how he got off course.

Perhaps his unflinching reluctance to entertain "doubts in his direction" might in part explain "how he got off course." Would someone remind me, exactly when was he on course?

Well, in the interest of broadening the president's historical horizons, I will provide quotations from a series of historians who were asked to complete the following statement:

George W. Bush is the worst president since . . .

HOOVER: “I would say GW is our worst president since Herbert Hoover. He is moving to bankrupt the federal government on the eve of the retirement of the baby boom generation, and he has brought America’s reputation in the world to its lowest point in the entire history of the United States.”

HARDING: “Oil, money and politics again combine in ways not flattering to the integrity of the office. Both men also have a tendency to mangle the English language yet get their points across to ordinary Americans. [Yet] the comparison does Harding something of a disservice.”

McKINLEY: “Bush is perhaps the first president [since McKinley] to be entirely in the ‘hip pocket’ of big business, engage in major external conquest for reasons other than national security, AND be the puppet of his political handler. McKinley had Mark Hanna; Bush has Karl Rove. No wonder McKinley is Rove’s favorite historical president (precedent?).”

GRANT: “He ranks with U.S. Grant as the worst. His oil interests and Cheney’s corporate Haliburton contracts smack of the same corruption found under Grant.”

“While Grant did serve in the army (more than once), Bush went AWOL from the National Guard. That means that Grant is automatically more honest than Bush, since Grant did not send people into places that he himself consciously avoided. . . . Grant did not attempt to invade another country without a declaration of war; Bush thinks that his powers in this respect are unlimited.”

NIXON: “Actually, I think [Bush’s] presidency may exceed the disaster that was Nixon. He has systematically lied to the American public about almost every policy that his administration promotes.” Bush uses “doublespeak” to “dress up policies that condone or aid attacks by polluters and exploiters of the environment . . . with names like the ‘Forest Restoration Act’ (which encourages the cutting down of forests).”

EVER: The second most common response from historians, trailing only Nixon, was that the current presidency is the worst in American history. A few examples will serve to provide the flavor of such condemnations. “Although previous presidents have led the nation into ill-advised wars, no predecessor managed to turn America into an unprovoked aggressor. No predecessor so thoroughly managed to confirm the impressions of those who already hated America. No predecessor so effectively convinced such a wide range of world opinion that America is an imperialist threat to world peace. I don 't think that you can do much worse than that.”

“Bush is horrendous; there is no comparison with previous presidents, most of whom have been bad.”

“He is blatantly a puppet for corporate interests, who care only about their own greed and have no sense of civic responsibility or community service. He lies, constantly and often, seemingly without control, and he lied about his invasion into a sovereign country, again for corporate interests; many people have died and been maimed, and that has been lied about too. He grandstands and mugs in a shameful manner, befitting a snake oil salesman, not a statesman. He does not think, process, or speak well, and is emotionally immature due to, among other things, his lack of recovery from substance abuse. The term is "dry drunk". He is an abject embarrassment/pariah overseas; the rest of the world hates him . . . . . He is, by far, the most irresponsible, unethical, inexcusable occupant of our formerly highest office in the land that there has ever been.”

“George W. Bush's presidency is the pernicious enemy of American freedom, compassion, and community; of world peace; and of life itself as it has evolved for millennia on large sections of the planet. The worst president ever? Let history judge him.”

“This president is unique in his failures.”

Unique in his failures . . . now there's a legacy for the ages.

Which is not to say that condemnation from intellectual quarters has been unanimous. William Kristol has just recently revealed that Bush's presidency is likely - through the historical lens - to be viewed a major success.

News flash! This stunning redemption will be gained through victory in Iraq.

Hey, if only I could've thought of that . . .