Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Jan. 27, 2000 /20 Shevat, 5760

George Will

George Will
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
David Corn
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Arianna Huffington
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
MUGGER
Kathleen Parker
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports
Newswatch
Weekly Standard

Econophone

Trakdata


For the Voter Who Can't Be Bothered


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE POET SWINBURNE insisted that even the weariest river winds somewhere safe to sea. The same cannot be said of today's presidential candidacies. All but two of which will soon end, in an atmosphere out of Poe.

Trounced in Iowa, Bill Bradley must win New Hampshire: If next Tuesday night he is 0-2 he will have to wait 35 days for another chance to win something--March 7. Then there are 21 primaries in eight days, a pace that favors Al Gore, who is supported by the Democrats' muscular factions.

If Iowa's results convince New Hampshire's independents that the only remaining race is the Republicans', John McCain will benefit. But probably not for long. He has made a shrewd and gallant fight, concentrating his resources--scant money, abundant media support--where they might have a large multiplier effect. But George Bush is the only Republican running a continental campaign.

There is no love lost between Bradley and Gore, and Bradley has enough of the two key resources--money and stubbornness--to persevere through March. However, if he loses in New Hampshire, party leaders will press him to quit rather than force Gore to burn money in the 15 states that vote March 7. Gore will need large reserves of cash to campaign through the convention in August. Bush certainly will campaign, especially if, as his aides hope, he has ample money left when McCain subsides.

But already, the pre-convention phase of campaign 2000 is almost over. However, most Americans are unstirred, as was Iowa, where turnout was low in spite of all the attention lavished on it. So perhaps this year, as in 1996, most Americans of voting age will not vote. But before nonvoting triggers the quadrennial autopsy on democracy, note that nonvoting has a history.

Political scientist Jane Mansbridge has studied voting in 17th century Dedham, Mass.: "Even though no more than 58 men were eligible to come to the Dedham town meeting and to make the decisions for the town, even though the decisions to which they addressed themselves were vital to their existence, even though every inhabitant was required to live within one mile of the meeting place, even though each absence from the meeting brought a fine, and even though the town crier personally visited the house of every latecomer half an hour after the meeting had begun, only 74 percent of those eligible actually showed up at the typical town meeting between 1636 and 1644."

Sociologist Michael Schudson says that 18th-century participation rates were much lower--15 to 25 percent of adult male Bostonians, 10 to 25 percent in New England generally, 20 to 40 percent in New York and Pennsylvania, generally under 50 percent in Connecticut. Schudson says that "in the Concord where Ralph Waldo Emerson boasted of 'the whole population of the town having a voice,' " town meeting participation averaged 42 percent.

Time was, voting for candidates for federal offices seemed unimportant because the federal government did too. A man who grew up in a small Missouri town in the 1870s recalled that the post office was the only evidence of the federal government: "No other federal activity was known except to those few who paid customs duties on imports or excise taxes for the manufacture of whiskey, tobacco and matches or bought revenue stamps to validate their bank checks."

Now the federal government is everywhere, including in ways that make voting seem unimportant. And other disincentives for political participation proliferate.

Campaign "reformers" stigmatize as a "problem" participation in politics by contributing money. The absence of term limits, combined with sophisticated, computer-driven gerrymandering, virtually guarantees that the vast majority of congressional races are uncompetitive. (In 1998, 94 representatives were elected unopposed.) Judges and bureaucracies impervious to elections make many of the decisions most important to people, from the location and curricula of schools, to racial quotas in employment.

Among institutional impediments to voting, poll taxes are long gone, and nowhere is registration burdensome. But many people who believe, irrationally, that a high voter turnout is intrinsically good now favor voting on the Internet. Arizonans can vote that way during the four days prior to the Democratic primary on March 11.

California's Gov. Gray Davis says that "within five to seven years Americans will be casting ballots on the Internet just as easily as they can buy stock on Ameritrade today."

Such improvers would improve democracy by making voters out of people who are too slothful or uninterested to leave their homes in order to vote. Such improvers would expunge from our civic liturgy a communitarian moment, the Election Day coming together for the allocation of offices. So enjoy what remains of this year's campaign, before the arrival of "virtual voting."



Comment on JWR contributor George Will's column by clicking here.

Up

01/25/00: The FBI and the golden age of child pornography
01/20/00: Scruples and Science
01/18/00: Bradley: Better for What Ails Us
01/13/00: O'Brian Rules the Waves
01/10/00: Patron of the boom
01/06/00: In Cactus Jack's Footsteps
01/03/00: The long year
12/31/99: A Stark Perspective On a Radical Century
12/20/99: Soldiers' Snapshots of the Hell They Created
12/16/99: Star-Crossed Banner
12/13/99: Hubert Humphrey Wannabe
12/09/99: Stupidity in Seattle
12/06/99: Bradley's most important vote
12/03/99: Boys will be boys --- or you can always drug 'em
12/01/99: Confidence in the Gore Camp
11/29/99: Busing's End
11/22/99: When We Enjoyed Politics
11/18/99: Ever the Global Gloomster
11/15/99: The Politics of Sanctimony
11/10/99: Risks of Restraining
11/08/99: Willie Brown Besieged
11/04/99: One-House Town
11/01/99: Crack and Cant
10/28/99: Tax Break for the Yachting Class
10/25/99: Ready for The Big Leagues?
10/21/99: Where honor and responsibility still exist
10/18/99: Is Free Speech Only for the Media?
10/14/99: A Beguiling Amateur
10/11/99: Money in Politics: Where's the Problem?
10/08/99: Soft Thinking On Soft Money

© 2000, Washington Post Writer's Group