The best scientific studies tell us that citizens act like Betty at the voting booth. Voters have noble intentions. Yet they have systematically false beliefs about basic economics, political science and foreign policy. When We the People vote, we make bad choices, and we get what we choose.
Now, that paragraph does seem to be all too likely to be true, or at the very least plausible. In fact Charles Pierce did a fine job of noting just how poor a lot of voters� regular judgements are just before Tuesday�s mostly successful attempt to reverse some of the damage those choices resulted in.
I have become impatient over the past few years with the concept of "buyer's remorse." This notion pops up anywhere a freely elected Republican legislative majority and a freely elected Republican governor get together and put in place policies of the sort they were freely elected to enact. Suddenly, vast numbers of people see Republicans behaving like Republicans and profess themselves shocked � SHOCKED! � to find that there is wingnuttery going on in here. We've seen this with Walker in Wisconsin, Kasich in Ohio, Rick Snyder in Michigan, and Rick Scott in Florida. And, "But they didn't say they were going to do this when they ran!" is a vain and witless excuse. Republicans do what Republicans do.
Look, folks. Everybody knew who was behind Walker in Wisconsin, and why they were behind them. The same is true of Kasich and Snyder and all the rest of them. Hell, Rick Scott was a convicted felon. Anyone who didn't know any of this either wasn't paying attention, or didn't give enough of a damn for it to matter and voted for these guys anyway. Which, come to think of it, fairly well sums up what happened in the 2010 midterms. The country handed itself over to ignorance and apathy and let those two scamps run amok in the process of self-government. The country doesn't get to wake up, blinking, in 2011 and wonder how all this happened.
It is when I get to Brennen�s next paragraph that I have some issues.
The median voter is incompetent at politics. The citizens who abstain are, on average, even more incompetent. If we force everyone to vote, the electorate will become even more irrational and misinformed. The result: not only will the worse candidate on the ballot get a better shot at winning, but the candidates who make it on the ballot in the first place will be worse.
Just where exactly does Brennen come by this piece of information? That a good proportion of non-voters are more apathetic than those that go to the polls I would grant, but less competent? That they may self-identify of less certain of their knowledge is one thing, but the well-known Dunning-Krugar effect has shown that certainty, including the certainty that leads to confident voting, is often directly opposed to one�s actual ability.
There are also a goodly number of voters out there who are simply disgusted by the choices available and abstain. Again, not a competence issue, at least not with the (non)voter, though I do think their failure to vote allows politicians to ignore their viewpoints knowing it won�t make any difference at the ballot box. (Not that actually voting means you�re going to necessarily be in any better shape in that regard, but as a general rule, I�d say the politicos tend to consider the views of voters more than the non-voters.)
Of course, it turns out this is old hat for Brennen:
We would never say to everyone, �Who cares if you know anything about surgery or medicine? The important thing is that you make your cut.� Yet for some reason, we do say, �It doesn�t matter if you know much about politics. The important thing is to vote.� In both cases, incompetent decision-making can hurt innocent people.
Commonsense morality tells us to treat the two cases differently. Commonsense morality is wrong.
I honestly don�t know what commonsense morality has to do with these cases. (For that matter, what is �commonsense morality� and how does it differ from the morality we normally talk about?) The act of voting isn�t a moral decision. Who you vote for, on the other hand, may very well be.
I won�t argue that people voting based on misinformation isn�t a problem, but I�d suggest looking to do something about the people who spread that misinformation so that it would be easier for people to exercise their right to vote better-informed and therefore more responsibly.
I do see Brennen using a common misconception regarding voting being some sort of privilege that one must earn rather than a right that everyone already has. I don�t think everyone�s opinion is equally valid either, but they still have every right to not only hold it, but speak about it, write about it, and transmit it on to anyone willing to listen. Unless they are inciting harm, it would be immoral to suggest otherwise. Voting is a right. That some people don�t use it the way you�d like is none of your business.
And as for Brennen�s complaint that it is his business because he is affected by the voting choices of others, here�s a clue: so are they. In fact, they are also affected by your voting choices, and may be just as impressed with them as you are with theirs. That�s how the system works, and why telling some people that they should just shut up, stay home, and let their �betters� make the decisions for them is about as anti-democratic as you can get.
Now, if you really do want to talk about competence in elections, how about implementing some kind of stringent testing of the candidates who actually make the vast majority of the decisions affecting the rest of us after those annoying wretches in the unwashed herds make their marks on the ballot paper every few years? Seems to me the competence of the candidates and a realistic appraisal of their ideas is something we would all like to see independently confirmed, don�t you think?