July 14, 2007
Too much democracy
By Bill Kraus
The economist Bryan Caplan has written a book called The Myth of the Rational Voter. His view is that what the country needs is fewer, more informed voters, and that we are suffering from over-democracy. What he is really saying is that the problem with our flawed democracy is that the inmates have taken over the institution.
I regret to admit that I once thought much the same thing, kind of. I can recall setting up get-out-the-vote challenges in areas where the demographics favored my candidate or party, and doing nothing to increase turnout in less friendly areas. The other side, of course, was doing the same thing; so the net result was more rather than fewer voters.
As politics has come to be dominated by interest groups with narrow, specific agendas that want the representatives they elect to reject contrary views, debate, and compromise, and do their bidding, I have become an advocate of just what the author laments.
NY Times columnist David Brooks, in a recent appearance in Madison, said that the voters are not looking at specific programs or proposals. They are looking for someone to represent them who they like and respect and who they think will respond the way they would to the unpredictable events that will dominate their terms in office if they are elected.
To say, as Caplan does, that voters are not policy wonks, are likely to ask for more benefits and less taxes, do not spend much time learning about political issues or thinking through their own positions, is an old, irrelevant complaint. We’ve all heard stories about individuals who believe or assert absurdities, followed by the comment “and they vote.”
The point is that they don’t vote about issues. They vote for or against the people who they want or do not want to represent them, and they cast those votes because they think the candidates will either vote the way they would or the reverse.
Government by well informed special interests makes followers out of leaders and advocates out of representatives. A much more deadly prescription than government by those Caplan considers to be something akin to a mob.
In almost 60 years in and around politics I have more often been surprised by the wisdom of these voters. Uninformed, even unwise, though they may be they somehow know who and what is good for them and the country. There have been disappointments along the way as well, when some charlatan has flimflammed his or her way into office, but in the great majority of cases the voters’ instincts and gut reactions have been on the money.
There is a kind of delicious mystery to voter behavior which I greatly prefer over the current situation or its extension which the author recommends.
I don’t want to qualify voters by some sort of test, nor do I want to choose leaders that way either.
I want more voters not fewer. I want the candidates to have to pay more attention to this majority than to the collection of minorities who base their votes on something they know and care too much about.
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