Friday, July 6, 2007

Vote - not vote 02-06-25

Not voting is a vote too, sort of

Mirza A. Beg
June 25, 2002

Commentary on Alabama Public Radio, June 26th 2002, 5:45 PM

Birmingham Post Herald, June 28th, 2002

Now do not get me wrong, I have a high regard for those who vote. I really commend those who vote after consciously analyzing the issues, the positions and the voting record of the candidates.

Newspapers in Alabama have done a very good job of trying to educate the voters. They have framed the issues and have encouraged all of us to vote. The editors have taken great pains to interview the candidates and recommend their choices based on their best judgement. From time to time I have seen letters to the editor praising or castigating the candidates or even the editorial opinion. This is great, a healthy democracy in action.

But we and I am part of that crowd that constantly laments the voter apathy. Voter apathy as a malaise for what ever is wrong with the political system. Usually those who are committed to furtherance of their agenda the most, their candidate wins, especially in case of low profile offices.

On the University of Alabama campus almost always the “machine” candidate wins because of dedicated support of fraternities and sororities. In low profile, city and county races the rival candidates garner not more than a few hundred votes. One suspects that the candidate with the larger group of friends or extended family wins.

Those who do not vote are in a way voting too. They are essentially saying that they do not care. I suspect, mostly because they are satisfied with the way things are. When asked, they express dissatisfaction in general terms, but their lives and surroundings are good enough not to bother them in a sustained way. It can be interpreted that they would like for things to be better. The preferred method would be the wave of a magic wand.

The definition of better is usually fuzzy and often contradictory. For example most of us want better health care, especially for the elderly, lower insurance rates, more and better drugs, lower drug prices, more doctors to choose from, but above all we want lower taxes. We also want better schools, smaller class size, better discipline, higher teacher salary, better and more sports facilities in schools but above all, lower taxes.

These are two of the most important domestic issues of our time. In foreign policy arena our wish list gets even more vague and disjointed. We are against exporting of jobs to low wage countries, higher export prices for our goods to sustain higher wages here, free markets through out the world, while advocating quotas and tariffs on steel, lumber apparel and many other items, no drilling for oil here but lower imported oil prices.

For high profile offices, the candidates promise these things with a straight face in rousing speeches. Once elected, of course they inevitably slip when reality stares them in the face. In the next election their opponent is too happy to point it out to us, while promising the same things. We are aware of it and get disgusted.

We are a busy people. An enormous amount of money is needed to get us to pay attention to the slick packaging and advertising of the candidate. The outcome is that our electoral choices are controlled by political action committees (“PACS”) and special interest lobbies. They contribute equitably to the candidates from both the parties. They control our choices through the beholden candidates, effectively making the process an indirect democracy. Even though we complain, we sort of like it, demonstrated by our inaction. All right, if you insist apathy.

How can one force a person to vote if he or she is satisfied, or at least not dissatisfied with the status quo? In a way its better that they are not voting willy-nilly at a whim, at the last moment goaded by some smart Alec.

Many half measures have been taken over the years to break the power of lobbies and “PACS” to no avail. Antitrust laws passed a hundred years ago broke the industrial monopoly of robber Barons by squelching the power of money and forcing a healthy competition. Some how if we could design a system of antitrust laws to force a healthy competition among PACS and lobbies it may work better. The sixty-four thousand-dollar question is, how? Well, taking the high price of elections and inflation into account make it sixty four million dollar.

Mirza A. Beg can be contacted on and

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