Voting: The Most Discouraging, Important Thing You Can Do

As of last Wednesday, two days after his press conference, a Marist poll showed that a majority — 56% — of Anthony Weiner’s constituents want him to stay in his job, and as Glenn Greenwald observed last week, theirs is the only opinion that really counts (cc: Pelosi, Israel and Wasserman-Schultz.) If I were one of them, I too would recall the following glorious beatdown before I betook myself to shop around for a new representative.

I mean, isn’t this what congressmen are for?

The worst of the many bad effects of the media spin ’n’ scandal machine is to get our collective eye off the ball, like a conjuror flourishing while he palms the card. And there is an election coming very soon indeed. The only thing about it that really counts is, if we have things we want the government to do for us, we have to find people who will fight to do ’em. A far from easy task!

Things Are Terrible!
The prospect of participating in the horribly flawed, very bad system of representative democracy that we now have in the U.S. is discouraging to many. What difference can it possibly make how I vote, people say, when they have got us all by the nuts anyway. There is no difference between the two parties! All politicians are corrupt weirdos! Look at all that work we did to elect Barack Obama and what the hell? Wars, wars, wars still, and why is Guantanamo not closed, really what the hell, and what of Bradley Manning, and scarcely anyone even indicted for the Wall Street mess or the mortgage crisis and maybe a new crash in the offing, and what about Elizabeth Warren and Peter flaming Diamond? Plus the lethal cuts to pretty much everything everywhere except for the bloody Orwellian wars and executive bonuses, and to top it off the rich, with very few exceptions, are not only refusing to pay their fair share but are grown pestilentially smug and entitled along with it, and now we have this Citizens United fiasco to worry about. Not all bad news though, the bullet-riddled corpse of Osama bin Laden has been tossed into the ocean, yay?, however illegally and messily this was achieved, and so we can get all those kids out of Afghanistan now, right?

Valid objections all, but I’m urging you to please clap on your nasal clothespin and get ready to vote anyway, starting now. Now — before the real craziness begins, while you still have some time to inform yourself to the hilt and use your woefully miniscule power to steer the conversation in advance of the sure-to-be-incredibly-vile campaigns, rather than during them, when it will already be far too late.

Because what do you think all these guys in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, Libya, the former Soviet Union — a really far too long and depressing list to even get into here — have been getting themselves killed trying to do? Vote, is what, in a representative democracy. Does it work? No! Does it work better than what they have currently got in Zimbabwe? YES.

Anyone who supposes that voting “doesn’t matter” might consider the leaked Citigroup memo, “Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer,” written by Ajay Kapur, Niall Macleod and Narendra Singh. Dated March 5, 2006, “Revisiting Plutonomy” was intended to be about investment strategies, not politics. Readers were advised to get into equities of companies that supply the plutocrats with their trinkets (“[f]avored names include LVMH and Richemont”) because even though everybody else was clearly about to croak in 2006, the rich would likely still be awash in lucre and able to afford trinkets galore (this turns out to have been largely true). However, these authors were unable to fathom exactly what it was they themselves were actually saying from a political perspective, to such a degree that they found themselves quoted in Michael Moore’s movie Capitalism: A Love Story, and their bosses have gone nuts trying to rid the Internet of their oily fingerprints. (These efforts have failed dismally; the memo is far from difficult to find online.)

It’s worth noting how often this happens. Each day brings a new example of a boggling lack of civic conscience among the rich. Plutocrats and their henchmen have lost touch with their essential humanity to such a degree that they have no idea that there are implications to their speech that render them, qua human beings, more readily comparable to pond scum. Which is really hilarious when you consider how much effort and dough these same guys expend on trying to get themselves perceived as being “civilized” or “discerning.” Forget it, plutocrats! Honestly, if there is the ghost of a chance of such guys being perceived as “civilized” they should stop buying all these Maybachs and ridiculous watches, and have a look at a few episodes of “Teletubbies” instead, where they can learn via very simple language such civilized concepts as Sharing and Caring.

Anyway. The money (pfft) quote in “Revisiting Plutonomy” is maybe this one:

Whilst the rich are getting a greater share of the wealth, and the poor a lesser share, political enfrachisement [sic] remains as [it] was — one person, one vote (in the plutonomies).

At some point it is likely that labor will fight back against the rising profit share of the rich and there will be a political backlash against the rising wealth of the rich. This could be felt through higher taxation (on the rich or indirectly though higher corporate taxes/regulation) or through trying to protect indigenous laborers, in a push-back on globalization — either anti-immigration, or protectionism. We don’t see this happening yet, though there are signs of rising political tensions.

I cannot think of one single thing to tell you about the above paragraphs or the people who wrote them. Sorry, I’m just going to go fetch a glass of wine.

So, voting! Keep in mind also that around $3.5 billion is spent every single year on lobbying in Washington (that’s that we know of, not counting the Abramoff or “baksheesh” variety of lobbying.) Why? — why, in order to thwart any possible ill effects of you voting. By “possible ill effects,” I mean the prospect of your electing someone with convictions that oppose the desires of moneyed interests, such as foreign governments, large corporations or the gun-assault-weapon-totin’ nabobs of the right.

If voting didn’t matter, how come all these corpocrats and Koch Brothers and whatnot are spending zillions, too, in order to suppress voter turnout, not to mention all the illegal campaign shenanigans and gerrymandering and “caging” and the whole arsenal of repellent anti-democratic behaviors the plutocrats continually engage in? It matters, all right.

But They Could Be Worse
One need only take a gander at such places as North Korea, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia (this list, too, could go on for an unpleasantly long time) to see irrefutable proof of how very much worse things can get when people are not permitted to vote. It is difficult to believe, but absolutely true, that this right is apt to fall away, or to be taken away, if we do not exercise it. Tony Benn, an English aristo who gave up his peerage to became a famous Socialist MP, addressed this point in Big Ideas That Changed the World, a fun BBC documentary on the history of democracy.

Thoughout the history of the world, the rich and powerful have dominated it, and very few people have had any control of their own governments. […]

The basis of democracy is that we are all born equal and that equality must be accepted by those in power. Probably the main lesson is that if you don’t keep up the pressure for democratic control, you lose it. It’s use it or lose it. And that is something that people find hard to understand. There is never a final victory for democracy; it’s always a struggle in every generation and you have take up the cause time and time and time again.

And we’ve also learned that those rights can only be won collectively. But in the attempts to win those rights, many people have been imprisoned and tortured by those who have power and are determined to retain it.

In short, “freedom ain’t free” as the warmongers are fond of saying on their bumper stickers. Or to paraphrase John Philpot Curran, the price of such freedom as we have is eternal vigilance.

They Never Have Been Very Good
Magna Carta (1215), far from being the cornerstone of English democracy, extended rights to just 25 of the richest landowners. The people were entirely excluded from its protections. It wasn’t until the peasants went nuts over the Poll Tax in 1381 (The Peasants’ Revolt) that the possibility of the people having even a scrap of power over their own government even got onto the table in England. Whereupon the King agreed to the rioters’ demands and then promptly reneged and slaughtered a few thousand of them, plus their leaders, who were put to spectacular tortures.

So how long did it take for universal suffrage to happen in England? Put it this way: in 1853, two percent of the inhabitants of England, all of them rich, had the vote.

Fun fact: the first country to grant universal suffrage was New Zealand, in 1893. (By this I mean real universal suffrage, including women, which has to be spelled out because hilariously, “universal suffrage” was a popular phrase during the nineteenth century, but one that meant universal male suffrage, since the idea of women voting was inconceivable.)

Not Voting Is Kind Of The Same As Voting
If you want to exercise your rights come the election, start now, and read all the political news you can get your hands on. It’s not enough to watch Jon Stewart, because he and Colbert focus on just headlines. In order to make your vote count, you need details, especially about local news. Your vote effects a lot more change in the local elections than it will in the national ones, and local government has a huge influence over your daily life. Closures of libraries and parks, laying off teachers — much of this stuff is in the purview of local, not federal government. Local elections have even worse turnout than federal ones, so your vote is worth a ton, comparatively! Add a little canvassing and phone-banking in there and you might be shocked at what just one energetic person can accomplish.

What a candidate says during debates and in the last months of a campaign will unfortunately give you little to no idea of what he or she actually believes or how he or she would behave in office. Each candidate, particularly as things heat up at the end, will be tailoring his every syllable to the dictates of pollsters and campaign strategists, or “lying varmints” as they are also known, who don’t give one one-thousandth of a damn about anything but winning the election. There’s no law against lying in campaigns or in campaign advertising. You can’t sue anyone afterward for having misled you. However, if you start now, you can learn a ton and not be completely bamboozled by all the hype and pundits and bullshit that surrounds this thing, which was already an epic amount and it’s only going to be worse this time, owing to the screaming bloody horror of the Citizens United decision.

Werner Erhard, the founder of est (official name: The est Standard Training), was a terrific charlatan, but like those of all charlatans his spiel had a soupçon of truth to it. In the ’80s I knew a passel of rich cokeheads who were very keen on est and would call it “the Training” in conversation, for serious. (You really had to be fearfully rich to do blow in any kind of quantity back then, and blow was the perfect drug for the “philosophy” of est because it persuades each participant that his own thoughts are so incredibly valuable and penetrating for as long as the high persists, which is hours and hours, and then after a series of frantic phone calls in the middle of the night, hours and hours more, alas, until you either develop some self-control or your septum dissolves into a bloody mush. Anyway.) Here is the soupçon of truth that I heard from one of those est-holes, as we used to call them, long ago, and it really is valuable and relevant to the topic at hand: All forms of not playing are playing.

Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo and Act Like A Gentleman, Think Like A Woman.