I was talking to a coworker today about the upcoming elections. “I don’t really follow politics,” he said. “I rarely even vote.” Of course my colleague is not alone. Voter turnout is usually around 60% of those eligible to vote, and traditionally below 50% in a midterm election. Compare that to Iraq, where under threat of death, over 90% of eligible voters turned out to vote. Could it be that we don’t appreciate our democracy in America?
It is amazing to me that people will follow football with a passion bordering on fanaticism and yet remain uninvolved in their elections. Not that there is anything wrong with a passion for football, fashion, or fishing, but who represents us in the White House and Congress (and, by extension, the judiciary) is the most important thing. We the People get to decide what kind of country we want to be and what kind of government we want to have. The answers to those questions will affect our liberty, our prosperity, our everyday lives and our posterity’s future. Our founders embarked on a grand experiment to see if a government could be of, for and by the people. In order for that to happen, the people have to pay attention, and they have to vote.
I am not suggesting compulsory voting. Those who don’t want to vote probably shouldn’t vote as they are less likely to be informed on the candidates and issues. But why don’t people want to vote? Are they cynical about the impact that a citizen can make?
Some of my friends may see me as overly obsessed with politics and issues. It really has become a passion of mine in the last couple years. However, it is a passion born of necessity. I would rather live in a world where I can focus on swing dancing, Ultimate Fighting, or heck, even dating, while having utmost confidence that our elected officials are free of corruption, faithful to our constitution, and looking out for their constituents above all.
The reality however is that power corrupts, our constitution is often subverted or downright scorned, and elected officials are bought and paid for special interests and big business. We the People are the only line of defense against the failure of this grand experiment. Our Declaration of Independence asserts that government gets its just powers from the consent of the governed. Don’t we need to know what we are consenting to?
The reality of human history is that freedom is in a constant battle for its existence against the forces of despotism, the quest for power, and the tendency of that power to centralize. Our founders believed that all powers not expressly given to the federal government should reside with the states and the people. But they were not unaware of the challenge of maintaining that decentralized power:
“How prone all human institutions have been to decay; how subject the best-formed and most wisely organized governments have been to lose their check and totally dissolve; how difficult it has been for mankind, in all ages and countries, to preserve their dearest rights and best privileges, impelled as it were by an irresistible fate of despotism.”
– James Monroe, speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 10, 1788
It is not just our right to preserve liberty and the “last, best hope of the world” that is America, it is our duty.
Right after the ratification of the US Constitution a lady asked Dr. Benjamin Franklin, “Well Doctor, what have we got a republic or a monarchy” — “A republic,” replied the Franklin, “if you can keep it.”
– Anonymous, from Farrand’s Records of the Federal Convention of 1787