Monday, October 23, 2000

Week of 10/23/2000

Target: The Non-Vote
- by David Matthews 2

Let’s suppose you put ten people in a room and tell them they have to come up with an idea and a spokesman for that idea. Two people come up with ideas that sound a bit ridiculous, but other people sort of nod their heads in agreement. The problem, then, is how to select one idea over the other. Although both ideas sound similar, the two sides are both dedicated to belief that THEIR idea is the ONLY idea, and that THEIR spokesman is the only spokesman.

A vote is taken. Four people agree with option A, four people agree with option B, and two people are so disgusted by either idea that they refuse to choose one over the other.

So the people behind option B decide to convince those two holdouts to join in. They beg, they plead, they offer to give concessions. But the two holdouts don’t give. If anything, they are even MORE disgusted by the idea.

But then the people behind option A decide to use a different tactic. Instead of trying to convince those two holdouts to vote, they start trashing option B. They pick on the tactics used by the supporters of option B and show just how far they’re willing to betray their supporters just to get two measly votes. Supporters of option B then come to their defense and call the tactics of option A supporters "mean-spirited" and "divisive." They start questioning the integrity of option A supporters and questioning their morals. Option A supporters then attack the morals and integrity of their counterparts, and the whole process degrades into mud-slinging and name-calling.

Another vote is called. Three people support option A, only two support option B, and now five people are so disgusted that they refuse to vote.

Three votes to two. Option A wins.

That is the power of the non-vote, and it is a sound political tactic used today across America. Politicians not only use it, but they base their entire political careers on the disgust of the voters.

Traditionally, politicians who want your vote would compromise. They would try to make concessions and try to gain as much support as possible. They would try to appeal to as many people as they can and get them to the ballot box.

Special interest groups, however, don’t like to compromise. Compromising to them means losing. The more fervent the position, the less willing they are to see it diluted by any candidate. They believe their positions are pure, and they will settle for nothing less than a candidate that thinks so too.

That’s great if you happen to be in the majority, but what if you aren’t? Let’s say only a quarter of the people agree with you. How do you get the remaining people to your side without compromise?

Simple.. you turn them away from the voting process.

President Bill Clinton and his supporters would have you believe that his 1996 re-election was a "mandate from the people." Truth be told, that kind of statement was about as accurate as one of Al Gore’s tall tales. In 1996, only 49% of the registered voters went to the ballot box. That kind of voter apathy had not been seen since the 1920’s! But Clinton and his supporters knew that the people were disgusted at him, at his challenger Bob Dole, at the members of Congress, and the whole entire political process. They counted on the people to not show up at the polls.

Republicans aren’t any better. In 1994, when they took over Congress in what they like to call a "revolution", they did so not with a "mandate" from the people, but rather with only 20% of the voting public. That means that 80% of registered voters were either disinterested or disgusted by the whole process to not even bother to show up to vote!

Excuses, of course, are plentiful. The people didn’t "know" the candidates well enough, no one candidate "stood out" for them to vote for, they’re "all crooks", their vote "doesn’t matter." Excuses, excuses, excuses.

People are under the delusion that if they withhold their vote, it serves as some kind of punishment for the politicians. They are not only phenomenally wrong in that regard, but they are actually playing into the hands of the politicians, and of the political parties.

What matters to the politicians are the people who do vote, and if they can get as many people as possible to be disgusted by the whole process to not even bother to show up at the ballot box, then they don’t have to bother with concessions. They don’t have to pander to that group of people. They don’t have to care about that group of people. Those non-voters can drop dead tomorrow, and the politicians will shed not one single, solitary tear for their demise… unless there’s a camera present, of course.

That is the true power of the non-vote. It is not designed to hurt politicians, it is designed to HELP them!

A researcher for MTV Networks, in studying youth voting trends, said only one-third of people ages 18-24 would even bother to show up at the ballot box. Most explained that they weren’t interested in the issues that have dominated the current campaign. Issues like Medicare, Social Security, prescription drugs, things that they themselves will not personally have to deal with for decades.. or so they believe.

A whole segment of voters who have been turned off by the political process because they feel that the politicians are ignoring them. And they will lose out, because every time you hear Al Gore or George Bush talk about their particular government program to help out the elderly, or to help out working families, or to any other special interest group or whatever social demographic of the day that has people who vote, it will come from money taken from THEIR paychecks in the form of taxes.

You remember taxes, don’t you? That thing that gets taken out of your paycheck before you even see one red cent.

You don’t think that the money will come from the elderly, do you? Of course not! They will get exemptions and assistance and social programs to help them out, because they foolishly believe that they have "paid into" those programs. Truth be told, that money was long since spent on previous generations that have grown old, just like the money we get taxed on now will go to support the older generation of today. There is no "lock box" to protect it, and there never will be one as long as that money is in government’s hands. The whole Social Security fund was supposed to be a "lock box", but that has been raided more times than Poland!

Let’s get brutally honest here…. politicians pander to the wishes of the elderly because THEY VOTE! They pander to the special interest groups because THEY VOTE! They pander to the religious groups because THEY VOTE!

Are you noticing a pattern here?

But if the non-vote only serves to help the politicians, it has the opposite effect on third party and independent candidates. It serves to hurt their cause, because it takes away all of those voters who would vote for them! The political parties KNOW this, which makes them even more determined to get as many people turned off of the whole process as possible.

Some people feel that the third party supporters shouldn’t even bother trying to get the support of the non-voters. That they should simply wallow in their apathy and pay the price for it with more taxes. To just turn them and say "screw you!"

Well, I’d like to, but I can’t.

You see, third party supporters like the Reformers and the Libertarians and the Greens NEED those non-voters. They need those non-voters because as more and more people get turned off by the Democrats and the Republicans, the only people left will be those diehard voters. Plus, those non-voters are already pissed off to politics as usual, so they would be a bit more receptive to other ideas that would shake up the system.

Remember that ten-person exercise I mentioned earlier? Suppose one of those apathetic five came up with an idea all their own that sounded better than groups A and B. All that person would have to do is get three more people to agree, and they would have won.

It’s not an easy process, but third parties must reach out to those disenfranchised voters who have given up on the process. The ones who feel alienated by the system. Go to the strip clubs and the night clubs and the gun clubs. Get them mad. Get them angry. Give them a fire in the belly and get them re-involved in the whole political process. It’s more than just getting them to realize how bad the system has gotten. They KNOW that part already, otherwise they wouldn’t be apathetic in the first place. Now we have to give them a reason to go back to voting.

Trust me, the rewards to that are phenomenal. You will see true change happen if you can get those disenfranchised voters to the ballot box. Remember Yugoslavia? The political system screwed those people over one time too many, and they refused to simply lay back and let the government screw them over again. We don’t have to go that far for change.. all we have to do is get those non-voters to become voters.

Let’s put it this way.. if I had a choice between having my candidate, Libertarian Party’s Harry Browne, be elected president of the United States this year, or getting 95% of registered voters to vote, I’d rather have that 95% of the people vote.. because once they do vote, I can always try to convince them to vote Libertarian next time around.

The greatest threat to freedom does not come from any outside force invading it, nor does it come from the ambitious tyrant working within the system to subvert it. The greatest threat to freedom lies in the apathy of people who feel that they are no longer part of the system that governs them. Without the apathy of the voters, a tyrant is just another angry citizen.

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