Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Demagogues and Voting

On his October 22 broadcast conservative talk show host Michael Savage said:

Do you think a person on welfare has the right to vote? I don’t. Why should a person who is on public assistance maintain the right to vote? Tell me why. Where is it written that they should have the right to vote? I support them, and they should have the same vote I do? That would be like saying an infant has the right to vote or an insane person has the right to vote. Why should a welfare recipient have the right to vote? They’re only gonna vote themselves a raise.

So if you get a demagogue like [Sen. Barack] Obama coming along, and he says to the welfare recipient, elect me, and I’ll make sure that we have trickle-up poverty, and the rich — so-called, that is anyone who works for a living — will give you more money, more welfare, of course you’re gonna vote for the demagogue Obama. See, if I was in charge, I’d pass a law which says, OK, you can’t support yourself for whatever reason, you’re on welfare, you lose the right to vote.
Ironically, Savage makes a valid point while simultaneously missing the fundamental issue. It is true that demagogues appeal to the emotions of voters. The path to elected office is often littered with promises of handouts, favorable legislation, and similar bribes. But the right to vote is not the fundamental issue. The fundamental issue is that government has the power to redistribute wealth, to regulate the economy, and to interfere in the lives of citizens.

In a free society, that is, one in which the government is limited to the protection of individual rights, citizens cannot vote to redistribute wealth or control the actions of others. In a free society, neither voters nor the government can violate the rights of individuals. Prohibiting welfare recipients from voting will not protect individual rights.

A few weeks earlier Minneapolis talk show host Chris Baker made a similar statement: “I don’t think homeless people should vote. Frankly, in fact, I have to be very honest. I’m not that excited about women voting, to be honest.” When asked why he is opposed to women voting, Baker replied, "Because women tend to vote more for security than freedom."

I do not know if Baker's contention about women is true or not, but it is irrelevant. Like Savage, he fails to address the fundamental issue. Rather than address the improper powers vested in government, both believe that prohibiting some individuals from voting will somehow improve the culture. Both are wrong.

This isn't the first time conservatives have put forth a proposal of this type. Since the 1990's conservatives (with some occasional liberal support) have pushed for term limits. The web site for Citizens for Term Limits states

Present occupants of the luxurious seats in Congress become more insulated and isolated from reality with each passing year of their perceived life tenancy.

It is time to remind Members of Congress that we citizens put them there to serve the country, and not themselves. It is time to remind them that the government exists to serve the people, and not the politicians.

The terms limit movement makes little mention of the ideas driving government policies. They simply argue that government should serve the people, and they believe that a new batch of politicians will somehow result in better policies. But replacing one demagogue with another will change little, except the name of the incumbent. Further, the purpose of government is not to serve the people, but to protect individual rights.

The fundamental issue is not who is voting on legislation, but the nature of that legislation. The issue is not who is in power, but the power vested in government officials. Replacing Mike with Mary will not change that. So long as government officials can vote away property rights, the name, gender, or time in office is irrelevant.

No comments: