The Ballot or the Bullet

Writing for Truthout, in a piece titled “The Ballot of the Bullet,” William Rivers writes:

“Voting is, of course, first above all. A nation that cannot summon the will, or even the enlightened self-interest, to turn out more than 40% of its populace to vote in a midterm election is a nation that does not deserve to complain about anything. Elections in the House and Senate are among the most important events in America, and yet the vast majority of voters in this country can’t seem to be bothered. A nation that cannot summon the will or self-interest to turn out more than 60% of its populace during a presidential election is a nation that happily puts its own neck in the noose, and then pules like a spoiled child when the rope chafes and constricts.”

He kicks off the piece with a wonderful quote from FDR:

 “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves, and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”

And he wraps up with a statement I don’t suppose he really believes, at lest not the first sentence:

“Personally, I don’t give a wet damn who you vote for. Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian – hell, vote for the egg salad sandwich you almost ordered at the deli – just vote, and it will all come out in the wash. Tell your friends to do the same. Have a hard, serious conversation with anyone you know who calls voting a waste of time…and if you are one of those, find a mirror, and decide for yourself what it is you see staring back at you…

You may not get the results you seek, but at a bare minimum, you will know that you live in a country whose fate was decided by the people, and not by manipulation and lethargy. That is no small thing, and would be a transformative event unto itself.”

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/31/2012 - 09:39 pm.

    Kinda partial to egg salad

    …but I wouldn’t vote for it.

    Otherwise, it’s hard to argue with the Truthout piece. People who don’t vote don’t have any grounds for complaint.

  2. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 08/01/2012 - 06:58 am.


    Go to Truthout, search for “Israel” then “Palestinian”. Then read the comments.

    Why repost *anything* from that sewer of leftist anti-Semitism?

  3. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/01/2012 - 07:21 am.

    The Low Information Voter

    I think there is a serious question about how much value the low information, low interest voter would bring to the system. If someone only gets an idea of where candidates stand from commercials or comedic monologues, then I’m not really all that bothered by the idea of them staying home and not voting. I wouldn’t try to stop them of course, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to badger them either.
    I’m in complete agreement that those people shouldn’t complain about the results.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/01/2012 - 10:12 am.

      The founders

      would have agreed with you.
      That’s why they limited the franchise to rich white male landowners.
      I suppose that a logical extension of the voter ID people’s analogy of voting to getting a driver’s license would be to require all voters to pass a civics test before being registered to vote. We might use the same one that naturalized citizens are required to pass.

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/01/2012 - 12:33 pm.

        Bread and Circuses

        The Founders thought quite a bit about the drawbacks of extending the franchise for everyone. They studied histories of the downfalls of the democracies of Greece and Rome. They grappled seriously with the ‘bread and circuses’ problem. I think they erred in restricting things along lines of gender and race but I won’t dismiss them either.
        RB, I wonder at just how much participation value is added from simply casting a vote. It’s not nothing, of course, but I don’t know that it’s much. If we had some kind of civics test, as Paul mentioned, I certainly don’t think we would be in a worse situation.
        To be clear, I’m not advocating making it harder to vote today. But I’m also not that put out by people who decided that they don’t care enough to go to the polls either. I don’t think that their non-participation is a big problem.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/01/2012 - 03:35 pm.

          Panem et circenses

          I’m a little more cynical about the motives of the Founders. Not all of them were “goo-goos.” Preserving their economic advantages was a significant part of the thought that went into the Constitution.

          The mere act of casting a vote is, as you point out, pretty small in itself. On the other hand, I think that it can lead to greater participation and debate. Based solely on my own anecdotal experience, the non-voters have no opinion about any political issue, and can’t see why it would matter to them (the blowhard who spends his days kvetching but doesn’t vote is out there, but I haven’t run into him). They have detached themselves from the most fundamental aspects of citizenship, and are just consumers.

          Incidentally, I believe that more civics education for everyone, not just voters, is a good thing. How many of the native-born could pass the citizenship test.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/01/2012 - 01:43 pm.

        How about candidates for office?

        A few years back, a legislator in one of the western states (I think it was Montana, but can’t be sure) introduced a bill requiring all candidates for state office to take a test on the state and federal constitutions. A candidate would not be required to pass the test in order to run, but his or her score would be a matter of public record.

        I have always thought that this was an excellent idea.

        • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/01/2012 - 04:12 pm.

          I’d Support This

          Sounds like a good idea to me.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/01/2012 - 10:24 am.


      The value is the inherent good of participation by as many citizens as possible.

      I haven’t been crazy about the results of many elections in my lifetime. I regard those electoral results as the product of a profound ignorance and disconnect in the electorate. On the other hand, I would rather have government by freely-elected idiots than a benign aristocracy that did everything I thought it should.

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/01/2012 - 08:51 am.

    You know, voting is kind of inconvenient—you have to do it in a specific place at a specific time, or you actually have to request a piece of paper and then you have to fill in a tiny oval (completely) and there are all of those names where you might only recognize one or two names. And then you feel like an ass because you’re not sure to do with all of those water district people and judges (random fill-ins or ignore??). And perhaps in the end, you’re truly reminded on how little you are aware of what is actually going on and how government works.

    But, like Miller beer, it’s always time for bitching, kevetching, whining, complaining, sneering. It requires no preparation–if you’re too busy, you can always do it later–if you have no understanding of the issues its even easier to be more scathing in your criticism. And by not voting it leaves the entire field open for complaining, you have no-one whose actions you feel responsible for.

  5. Submitted by Justin Adams on 08/01/2012 - 10:34 am.

    What about primaries and local elections…

    Low turnout in mid term congressional and senatorial elections is regretable to be sure, but I think the author somewhat overstates the importance of such elections.

    After all, no democrat or republican has seriously proposed a single-payer healthcare system, or an end to the practice of providing the entire world with a police force, or meaningful reforms to the tax code that would distribute the local state and federal tax burden progressively, or funded / authorized sufficiently stringent enforcement of laws meant to deter white collar crime, or to undermine the for-profit healthcare or prison systems, or to affirm the right of all people to marry, or to restore the doctrine of one person, one vote by removing the influence of giant donors on elections, or any one of a hundred other actions that would legitimately improve the aggregate utility provided by our political system.

    In my view, the elections that are important are the very, very poorly attended primary elections, where so few people turn out that a sufficiently motivated candidate who legitimately wishes to serve the public interest has at least a tiny possiblity of emerging victorious based on the merit of their policy positions.

    Just a reminder to everyone, we have such an election coming up on August the 14th.

  6. Submitted by Ross Williams on 08/01/2012 - 10:49 am.

    Makes no Difference

    “you will know that you live in a country whose fate was decided by the people, and not by manipulation and lethargy. ”

    I am not sure how people not voting reduces the role of manipulation in our elections. And lethargy of the the people is part of the decision making. It seems to me this is a elite blaming people for a process that provides them with no compelling reason to vote.

    Currently the votes of millions of misinformed people are manipulated by 40 second sound bites and carefully constructed marketing campaigns. How would a few informed votes change that?

    I think encouraging people to vote is a great idea. But believing voting will restore self-government is delusional. Instead, we need to restore self-government to make voting meaningful.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/07/2012 - 03:53 pm.

    FDR’s logic is undeniable

    I suspect however, he really didn’t really think people would vote for ham sandwiches… he was wrong. Whatever, it all comes back to the fact that in a democracy people get the government they deserve. I mean you and I and the chick on the corner can complain about Michelle Bachmann all we want, but she’s elected. I don’t see how you restrict suffrage without dismantling democracy so we roll the dice baby and live with the results.

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