Saturday, July 25, 2015

Vote like your life depended on it

The Guardian published an article today by an African American claiming that he won't be voting in American elections anymore because there is racism in our system.

The problem with this article is that he is taking the worst route. Let's say we have a system for ranking parties on their social values from liberal (+10) to conservative (-10) and you look at your ballot and you have one party which ranks as a -1 and another which ranks as a -5. As long as your personal ideological score is -2.5 or higher you are always better off voting for the liberal party. Sure, you might not get everything you want and there will be more progress to be made, but you need to recognize that you can start to push the election system back to where you want it to be whether it be 2.5 or 10.

In economics we have a concept known as the Production Possibilities Frontier. The concept is that when making decisions there are factors that I cannot change. If I am a firm deciding how much I want to produce in the short run I need to work with the fixed capital (buildings, machines, etc.) that I have. I might want to have 10 factories, but it doesn't matter if I only have 5 in making my immediate decision of my next step. The same applies in political science. I might want to have a party which will smash the legacy of slavery into the dustbin of history overnight and bring equality of opportunity to all Americans next year making us a completely egalitarian land, but in the short run this is irrelevant if I don't have that utopian party. More than that, even if a utopian party existed it would take more than one election cycle at this point in history to eliminate the inequities. This does not mean I should not stop fighting for this honorable goal, and by voting for the better of two options I am doing just that.

We are faced with a situation today where the Republican Party denies global warming, denies that issue of police violence, does not recognize the barriers to people making a life for themselves and is directly in the hands of the Koch Brothers and similar individuals. The Democratic Party also takes money from corporate elites (for similar reasons as to why people need to vote even if neither party is absolutely perfect) but also takes a lot of money from unions and are brought into this system from the start which has so many inequities. They have made progress with social welfare programs which disproportionately benefit minorities along with more direct legislation like affirmative action while Republicans have only moved us backwards.

This article makes a major fallacy in that he is looking at the system as it stands today when judging Democratic politicians and not how the system has changed under such individuals. He brings up Governor Martin O'Malley and claims he has no right to talk about criminal justice reform because Maryland still has major incarceration problems. This is however a major mistake for two reasons: 1. The Governor (pr President) may not, cannot, and has not unilaterally decide to overturn decades of law at the stroke of a pen. Such action requires the legislature. To do so without them would completely undermine the Federal constitution or constitution of any state. 2. Our system by design makes it incredibly difficult to get legislation through. These are both extremely good things. While I agree it would be nice to simply overturn legislation because it is immoral (which is what the courts have done in many instances eg Brown v. Board) it would come at a horrible cost because a Republican President could dismantle Social Security at the whiff of a pen. Our system is designed to be inefficient so that we can't have one politician undo the progress that has been made, which is the flip side of what would definitely happen if O'Malley could simply completely overturn the racism of Maryland's long-standing institutions. (it was a slave state after all before the Civil War) What has frequently happened in State legislatures and Congress is that the President will frequently propose legislation which is then significantly diluted by Congress, on both sides of the aisle. The most striking recent example is the Affordable Care Act which stands as a testament to this balance. On the flip side we also have the Americans With Disabilities Act which was vetoed by President George H.W. Bush but was fortunately overriden by Congress. His simple analysis of this issue gives him the wrong results and makes me wonder how much he really understands of how our government works.

This existence of a system set up for deadlock is not empty promises as he goes on about but instead a protection against us from things like C-51 which passed easily in Canada, and is a complete erosion of Canadian Civil Liberties by Stephen Harper.

He is correct however that grassroots activism is a useful tactic in getting politicians to listen, but it will only work in the end if they use their political leverage to force the politicians to respond. If they then just get more Republicans elected to state legislatures in the Deep South you can bet that they will not respond to such movements. Changing the guard and replacing the legislature like he mentions happened in Reconstruction however is a fundamentally different scenario.

History teaches us that we need to use our voices and need to vote to make a significant difference. If the Quakers had abstained in 1860 in protest for James Buchanan's racism Stephen Douglas would have become President and nothing would have changed. That is however not happened with the Civil War, 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments and Reconstruction which lasted until people stopped voting for liberal Republican candidates and Hayes was elected ending Reconstruction. It was disengagement which ended reconstruction, and postponed the healing of our country. I have no reason to believe another Republican President is going to make our country better relative to a Democratic President, even in the now unlikely chance that person is Hillary Clinton.

So, fine, don't vote if you want to. But when you don't vote you are in effect increasing the margin of victory for the worst party and shooting the civil rights movement in the foot. This makes it so they will move us even further from where we want to go which is what happened in 2000 when people didn't vote for President and we got our worst President in history (judging based on the changes he made from where we started and where we ended up).

I maybe white, but my Quaker ancestors did not get the 13th amendment passed simply through the Underground Railroad (my great-grandfather's hometown of Richmond, Indiana was one of the most important hubs in the network), but we got it done in the end because we had strong people in Congress such as Thaddeus Stevens and President Lincoln who got the job done. I continue to do what I can to make this country a better place every day. That is the only way we have ever made the world better in a way that is very difficult if not impossible to simply revert in 4 or 8 years. This author's choosing not to vote only shoots our movement in the foot and is giving up on centuries of very hard work which I find personally insulting. This is why I find the author's giving up on our country's future so absolutely despicable.

No comments:

Post a Comment