Make Voting Harder or Face the Rise of Pelosinomics

Dispensing first with the obvious, that Nancy Pelosi’s suggestion that 16-year-olds be allowed to vote is asinine, and second with the obligatory, that any malevolent impediments to grownups voting ought to be removed, we may proceed to the particular premises behind the House Democratic Leader’s brainstorm and what they disclose about the sorry state of American politics.

Speaking to Generation Progress, Pelosi warmed the audience by emphasizing a plan to allow refinancing of student loans, then dived, or rather wandered, in:

[T]here is a direct connection between legislation and the quality of life the people enjoy, and elections.  To achieve what we want to do for the middle class, for kids in school, for immigration reform, we must change our politics.  We must reduce the role of money in politics.  … Reform our campaign system to empower small donors; and empower voters with a renewed and strengthened Voting Rights Act, removing obstacles of participation.  I am all for—I’d love to hear your thoughts on it; I know you’ll let me know—for lowering the voting age to high school age, whether that’s 16 or 17 or… [applause]

That is a one-paragraph encapsulation of the sickness infecting American politics.  All is transaction.

Start with the premise: a “direct connection between legislation and the quality of life that people enjoy, and elections.”  This is, to be sure, a perennial claim.  Democrats and Republicans make it alike; it emphasizes their importance.  And there is a sense in which it is a truism: Legislation matters.  Fine.  But it cannot possibly be healthy for a republic that its public realm occupies so much subsidiary space that the people’s “quality of life” depends, at least routinely, on elections.

One reason that cannot be healthy is the transactional politics to which it inevitably leads, which is where Pelosi goes next: namely, why, in particular, 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote.  Note the preposition: It is to achieve what we want to do for them.  The argument for the 26th amendment allowing 18-year-olds to vote—that if they could be drafted they ought to have some say in where they were being sent—had to do with what was being asked from them.  What was that about not asking what your country can do for you?

Never mind: Voting these days is like shopping—more, actually, like ordering on a restaurant tab that is going to be split between several parties regardless of what each individually eats.  It tends to inflate appetites.

Notice, moreover, that these appetites, on Pelosi’s analysis, are permissible for 16-year-olds—who can exchange political for public goods—but not for sinister donors of dark money.  Why one transaction (a politician offering student loan relief at the public expense in exchange for votes) is democratically empowering while another (a politician offering, the presumption goes, a public good in exchange for campaign spending used to persuade voters) is corrupt is unclear.

It is, of course, nothing new in American history for electoral coalitions to be assembled on the basis of promises, including self-interested ones.  But there is a difference between asking for a vote in exchange for a public good and authorizing people to vote explicitly because doing so will enable them to obtain a public good—which is rather pathetically to say, one supposes, that it would be nice if the transaction could at least be conducted with a little discretion.

The classical problem of politics used to be how to get people to sacrifice their own appetites for the public good.  But the basis of Pelosi’s proposal underscores the extent to which politics is now about the distribution of goods, especially other people’s goods.  The sharing of goods can be perfectly noble—again, the classical problem of politics—but it assumes an incentive for some people to make the goods.

Consider, then, Pelosinomics, according to which, in this speech, “[w]e’re in a consumer economy.  When consumers have confidence to invest, to spend, to consume then our economy turns around no matter how good the other indicators are.”

No matter how good?  Where did that consumer spending come from?  Never mind.  A consumer perspective would seem to be an excellent case for trade deals that keep prices low, which renders Pelosi’s decision to enlist in the revolution against the Trans-Pacific Partnership curious, but never mind again.  Pelosi calls it is curious instead that Jeb Bush says people should work harder so they have more to spend whereas, on her description, President Obama wants to mandate that they be paid more.

Bush actually, if inartfully, called for productivity increases and more full-time work.  In any case, the mandates Pelosi wants may or may not be justified, but they help only if wealth is being generated with which to pay wages.  The same is the case with the sharing of public goods.  The redistribution of wealth depends on the generation of wealth.  Politics as transaction—passing the same dollar around to different constituencies and hoping it never diminishes, indeed grows, in value—would seem to undermine that.

This is why her latter-day suffrage movement has it exactly backward: Voting should be harder, not easier.  That is not to endorse, again, unreasonable impediments, and still less antagonistic ones.  That someone who earns an hourly wage must forgo it to wait hours on line to vote is, for example, a problem.

But the political puritans’ perennial claims that all citizens bear upon their burdened shoulders a civic duty to vote—or proposals to relieve the weight of that burden, such as online voting—are absurd.  The franchise is not a duty.  It is a portion of the coercive power of the state—one that, to be sure, can be exercised nobly and politically, but also abusively.  It therefore ought not be a matter of flippant convenience.  The circumstances of the franchise ought to emphasize deliberate choice.

Precisely because it is a form of power, votes can also be cast defensively.  That is one reason all citizens who meet the requisite requirements—age, residence, etc.—have the right to vote.

Public-spirited, informed and deliberate citizens might do their fellow citizens a service by voting thoughtfully.  But the appetitive, impulsive or ignorant, qualities that have been known to describe 16-year-olds as well as certain of their parents and grandparents, have a civic duty not to vote.  Pelosi’s proposal would merely indulge them.  Perhaps getting elected Minority Leader of the House of Representatives should be harder too.

Reader Discussion

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on July 27, 2015 at 11:27:28 am

Professor Weiner touches upon an issue that his further disquisition would be not only welcome but beneficial to those interested in the linkages to individual liberty.

That issue is the **function** of voting in a society that uses a form of democratic process for the allocations of authority AND *responsibilities* in its social order. That's us baby !

Here Professor Weiner shines some light on a perversion of that function in order to use this form of democratic process in other ways for other purposes. Why is that not us; not what we have been; not what we want to be? Why is that what so many of political ambitions want us to be?

Individuals such as Pelosi are generally manipulators of personalities; not articulators of intellectual content. But, a blind pig can find an acorn.

“[T]here is a direct connection between legislation and the quality of life that people enjoy, and elections.”

That "quality of life," the possibilities to seek it, to attain it to some degree, to preserve it once gained, are all linked to (and principally dependent upon) - individual liberty.

Legislation, particularly that which devolves legislative authority and power to the unelected, has eroded and constrained individual liberty - and continues to due so at an accelerating rate, with a gladiator's net of regulations and pernicious execution and enforcements; all derived of "legislation." Is that the function of the claimed connection of elections?

If we look for the "real" purpose of elections - are they to foment legislation?

Open that question up, and the vacuity of the Pelosi-s of politics (they are legion) will be revealed. To phrase it (Reaganesque) "does government exist *to do* things (for you and to you); or to have limited functions in your life?"

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Image of R Richard Schweitzer
R Richard Schweitzer
on July 27, 2015 at 14:19:08 pm

To paraphrase H L Menkhen, "there are those that work for a living and those that vote for a living." The problem in America is that the politicians have discovered a constituency of non-producers who vote for a living and have organized this constituency into voting away the property rights of those that work for a living. In today';s day and age,with the political process of a "two party" system,which in actuality is a one party system with two branches,voting only legitimizes a corrupt,parasitical system that is based primarily on looting. In essence it is best not to vote and thus add legitimacy to corruption,but if one has to vote they should vote 3rd party or for independent candidates. Although you may not get the candidate elected that you choose,it is better to vote for the candidate you want and not get them elected then to vote for the candidate you don't want and get them elected. The age old adage is true that the lesser of 2 evils is still evil..

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libertarian jerry
on July 27, 2015 at 14:43:00 pm

Quite right, Richard!

couple this with the latest *enlightened* thinking of the Leftists (hell bent on maintaining their electoral dominance) that has determined that it is no longer necessary for newly sworn in citizens to swear allegiance and promise to defend the country and you have the makings of a continuing avalanche of Democrat electoral victories for decades to come.

In the end, this *free and random* distribution of the franchise to all "denizens" of the Republic did not save the Roman Republic and I would dare say they were far better statesmen than the genius from the Bay Area.

I suppose that the next step of the Pelosi Democrats will be to then "re-settle" all these 16 years olds and the *non-allegiant" new citizens into Republican strongholds via the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule in the works.

Wouldn't surprise me!

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on July 27, 2015 at 14:54:04 pm

'@ N B

You have thought about this. What is your view on the function of voting in this form of democratic process; or do you think we might consider some other variant of the democratic process ( e.g. non-universal sufferage)?

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Image of R Richard Schweitzer
R Richard Schweitzer
on July 27, 2015 at 21:43:48 pm


Yes, but what is the lesser of two evils?
Voting for a 3rd party candidate and feeling good about yourself? -
OR -
Voting for the Party, that while venal and power seeking, is still marginally better than the Democrat Party. In all fairness, one must admit that it is highly unlikely that the GOP would have *ramrodded* Obamacare through the Congress (never mind that McConnell and the boys are never going to do anything to truly stop it) - at least they would not have originated it.

So is voting 3rd Party the lesser of two (or three) evils? You tell me.

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on July 28, 2015 at 01:01:25 am

Gabe............Stop fooling yourself. The Republic is dead. The Constitution is meaningless. The GOP goes along to get along and when in power has either supported or done nothing to abolish every single communist idea since the Income Tax. You can vote conservative GOP from now till hell freezes over and nothing will change. Either you don't support the system by not voting or send a message by voting 3rd party.The Progressives (socialists) have gotten everything they have wanted enacted into law. Voting will not change this fact. And,sad to say,that is what the voting majority wants. The American Republic died because a voting majority exchanged their liberty for security. And there ain't nothing you or I can do about it. Especially by voting.

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libertarian jerry
on July 28, 2015 at 11:50:19 am

'@ L J

The "Republic" is not "dead;" it is as all such have always been (on close inspection) an oligarchy in which a particular form of democratic process has functioned to permit non-violent, orderly changes in the composition and extent of powers of that oligarchy. This has been done by delegation of authority; not by "representation."

You have a point in citing the effects (including "side" effects) of the functions of what has developed as *our* form of a democratic process. It may have ossified (or constrained the sources [forces] for changes in) the composition of the oligarchy [Ruling Class???].

Still, consider that coalitions for various objectives are constantly forming (and many failing) to gain entry into, or influence upon, the prevailing oligarchy; largely by means distinct from *our* democratic process. Consider also the possibility we are observing, if not the fragmentation, the "shrinkage" of the commonalities that brought, and has held, the oligarchies together over time.

For about the past 75 years, since I was 25, at least, the American Oligarchy, in all its subtle changes in composition, has sustained its objectives (possibly now mostly reduced to retaining dominance) by adapting the functions of our form of democratic process to the establishment of what has become the Federal Administrative State [FAS]. The mechanisms of our Constitutionally delineated Federal government have been adapted for the operations of the FAS without the constraints of (and in violations of) those Constitutional delineations. But, that form of adaptation has *not* made those delineations "meaningless." They remain reference points for *our* sense of direction for our social order.

Among the results of the violations of those delineations is the increasing fiscal stress on the mechanisms of government(s). There are others; but this is a sufficient example that those delineations are not meaningless - and will become reference points again.

Imagine for a moment that the coalitions of the 20th century had continued efforts to establish the FAS through amendments to the Constitution, using our form of a democratic process; would it have occurred? Would anything similar to it have appeared? There are plausible reasons to conclude they would not have succeeded by that means.

So, we may observe that the results of the departures from the Constitutionally provided means ( a reference point) to adoption of other means, for implementation of oligarchical determined objectives are instructive as to the continuing value of the Constitution - and to observing when deviations from its delineations can produce adverse effects that our form of a democratic process would not otherwise produce.

An analogy might be: We have become lost and disoriented in a great desert and are running out of water because we failed to follow the guidebook. So, can we say the guidebook is meaningless? A younger caravan may come upon our remnants and find the guidebook that identifies reference points we failed to follow, and uses enough of them to at least find water.

The Constitution is not meaningless - its meanings have been disregarded.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on July 28, 2015 at 17:18:53 pm

Richard...................What you say backs up what I said about our Republic. The fact is that the real owners of America,that is the "power elite" and the "deep state",or the oligarchy as you call it,want to give the illusion that politicians and voting makes a difference. It doesn't. We are trapped in a socialist/fascist paradigm. The first steps out of that situation is to know your enemy and face the reality that voting for or against puppets doesn't matter. Only an intellectual or 1776 type revolution will restore liberty. Our Constitution,or guidebook as you call it,has gone with the wind and has been replaced by the 10 Planks to the Communist Manifesto because a majority of the voters wanted it that way.The sad truth is that which the founders feared. That is a majority of the American people are immoral and have traded in their liberty and self responsibility for security.

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libertarian jerry
on August 03, 2015 at 09:35:56 am

Sorry to be late to this conversation, but what Richard says deserves backup. He reminds us, it seems to me, to watch the line between constitutional conservation, a worthy cause, and mere hand-wringing, a less useful one. Madison wrote to Lafayette shortly before his (Madison's) death: "Here, we are, on the whole, doing well, and giving an example of a free system, which I trust will be more of a Pilot to a good Port, than a Beacon warning from a bad one. We have, it is true, occasional fevers, but they are of the transient kind flying off thro' the surface, without preying on the vitals." This is still an awfully good Port, in the scheme of things -- c.f. the alternatives, which are not exactly sought-after destinations -- and one reason is Richard's characterization of the Constitution as a guidebook still available to us. As to Jerry's call for an "intellectual or 1776 type revolution," that is a rather substantial difference. The guidebook is useful to the former. The latter gives up on it. I plead guilty to wringing my hands in worry. I am not ready to throw them up in despair.

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Greg Weiner

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