I am a huge fan of former Labor Secretary and current Berkeley professor Robert Reich. In addition to his masterly feature film, Inequality for All, which I highly recommend, check out the frequent short film clips from his inequality media project, which I you can sign up for or go directly to you tube and watch.
Recently one of these videos caught my eye. “What if Everyone Voted?”, makes the point that the largest block of potential voters in the country are neither Republicans, Democrats or Independents but non voters who comprise the majority of Americans in every election, and even 40% in most presidential contests. When I was a political science instructor I used to tell my students that there are only two form of political capital that politicians will respond to – money and votes. Since most of us don’t have enough money to impact the process, our only option is to vote, in blocs that indicate preferred policies.
The mass of non voters are young, poor and people of color. Surveys show they tend to support “progressive” policies that would benefit them, such as a higher minimum wage, guaranteed government jobs, universal health care, free college tuition etc. By not participating they leave the door open for the donor class to drive elections toward more conservative candidates who cut taxes for the rich, reduce regulations that protect health and safety, and slash social programs that benefit the poor and working class. The theory is if everyone voted we’d have a more “progressive” country more friendly to the young, poor, minorities and working class.
I’m not so sure. I believe and have observed that the main determinant of political ideology is temperment. Some people are more liberal or “open ended” by nature, others more closure or “judging” oriented, according to the Myers Briggs personality types. This is right and just. A strong country requires strong liberal and conservative parties, able to coalesce their broad beliefs into a majority. It further requires compromise between these two visions in order to pursue shared goals in a positive and mutually acceptable manner. It’s a shame that our current partisan warfare nullifies this goal. Contrary to the dictum of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, winning is NOT the only thing in politics or life. When you crush and ignore your opponents you only sow the seeds of further conflict and discord, killing the relationships you depend on to survive.
At the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a good Philadelphia woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Dr. Franklin, what kind of government have you made for us?” Franklin replied, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” How do you keep a republic? By voting in elections and advocating for preferred policies in the interim. How do you get people to vote? According to the above video there are several ways, including: 1) automatic voter registration through the Division of Motor Vehicles, tax and other public records, which could immediately add 27 million new voters to the rolls; 2) same day voter registration; 3) voting by mail; 4) allowing early voting; 5) changing election day to a weekend.
Republicans oppose all of these initiatives. Instead, they favor: 1) tough voter ID laws that overwhelmingly disenfranchise the poor and minorities; 2) limiting or eliminating early voting and same day registration; 3) purging voter rolls of anyone who hasn’t voted recently; 4) prohibiting ex felons who’ve served their time from ever voting again, primarily hurting minority communities. Why are Republicans afraid to let all citizens vote? Do they fear the potential progressive wave the video predicts? The only way to find out is to open the system to everyone and let the chips fall where they may.