Election Day is Tuesday, with an interesting juxtaposition of local races and the presidential primary, all as a prelude to this fall’s federal and state elections.
If by now you are sick of democracy, or at least the 21st-century American version of it, you’re not alone. (Think it’s bad now? The fall election is seven months away.) The four, or five, remaining major-party presidential candidates debase themselves on a daily basis. (Unless you haven’t noticed because you’ve kept your TV off other than for NCAA basketball, in which case: Good for you!)
As of today, as a political independent, I prefer none of the five, and I’m not sure which of the five I’ll vote for. (Perhaps I’ll check the Uninstructed Delegation box.) That statement may offend supporters of those five, and you are entitled to your opinion and your own vote. It seems to me, though, that we should really ask if this is the best we can get every four years.
I brought up Psalm 146:3 last week not only because it seemed appropriate for the Christian Holy Week, but also because it illustrates a point sometimes lost every two or four years: No politician will make your life better. For better or worse (largely because they distrusted democracy), the Founding Fathers created a system deliberately designed to take time to effect change. Some of the followers of all but perhaps one of the remaining presidential candidates seem to believe that all will be better if their candidate wins. They are mistaken. Everything wrong with this country now is likely to be wrong with this country in a year, or two years, or even when we get to vote for more presidential candidates in four years.
There is a referendum in Platteville, Belmont and several other communities to undo through constitutional amendment U.S. Supreme Court decisions that affect campaign finance. I’m sure they will pass, even though I am not voting for the Move to Amend referendum. The referendum seeks to undo a nearly 200-year-old precedent that corporations, described by former Chief Justice John Marshall that “The great object of an incorporation is to bestow the character and properties of individuality on a collective and changing body of men.”
In addition to my great hesitation to amend the First Amendment (which in its current form applies to everyone, not just those of us in the news media), I think, with all due respect to Move to Amend supporters, they are dealing with the issue of excessive (which is an opinion, we must admit) campaign spending in the wrong way. Candidates raise and spend so much money, and others raise and spend money on their behalf, because of the huge (and, frankly, excessive) stakes involved in elections. The next president is likely to nominate three Supreme Court justices, which is a big deal for those who favor or oppose, to use two controversial examples, the current understandings of abortion rights and gun ownership rights.
But for proof of the excessive stakes in elections, you need look no further than the Platteville Common Council, which last week had to override a bad unanimous decision by the Historic Preservation Commission on a sign for a business moving downtown. This is the second time this year that the commission has felt it knew more than a downtown business on how that business should be run — marketing (and a sign obviously is marketing) in the latter sense, and, before that, making the building exterior of the Steve’s Pizza Palace project $40,000 more expensive. (This was the same group that spent the Library Block developer’s money on redesigning the building without any city compensation.) When an elective body has the ability to make a property owner do what the body wants, not what the owner wants, with his or her own property, that explains why business people should have the right to participate in the political process.
When an incumbent is running, the election becomes a referendum about the incumbent and his or her elective body. When challengers run against incumbents, it’s incumbent (sorry, I couldn’t resist) on voters to evaluate the incumbent’s role in the elective body and whether the elective body is generally doing a good job. If the answer to that question is No, the next question is whether the challenger can effect positive change in the elective body by (1) having better points of view and (2) persuading others to see his or her side, or if he or she will just be on the wrong end of a lot of 6–1 or 8–1 votes.
You might read this and think I’m trying to dissuade you from voting. I am certainly not trying to do that, although what this country needs is more informed voters — those properly skeptical of politician and candidate promises, with the correct understanding of the role of politics in government, and the role government should and should not have in our lives — not merely more voters.