Democracy is a Barrier to Freedom
Alexander Haney, Fiscal Policy Contributor
Opinion - Democracy is the best system that the world has ever seen insofar as liberty and freedom are concerned. But, being the best so far does not make it the best possible. Voting is often deemed as not only a privilege, but a societal duty. Too regularly, apathy toward the electoral system is met with a rebuke involving some cheap cliche about the sacrifices of those who have fought and died to preserve the very right to vote. It is nothing short of a travesty that our collective consciousness has accepted the idea that voting is equivalent to freedom, or even necessarily a measure of liberty. Democracy is tyranny with a soft edge, as it is impossible to vote one's self free. The action in itself is an oxymoron.
In considering the tyrannical regimes of the world, past and present, absolute power is a common denominator. The governments of the USSR, its satellite states, Cuba, Ba’athist Iraq, Fascist Italy, even the monarchical kingdoms of pre-parliament England are all examples wherein complete power rested with a single person. To quote the Observer columnist, Michael Malice, “[p]eople will say with a straight face that having one choice for a leader is tyranny – but having two is freedom.” I have never personally known a candidate to perfectly reflect my views on every issue. As voters, we cast a ballot for a person who is supposed to do just that: to speak for us on every issue that arises at whatever stage of the political pyramid that person occupies. So regularly, a person’s vote comes down to voting against the other option as opposed to voting for someone they actually believe in. With this mindset, voting for a third party is essentially a wasted vote.
Unfortunately, like every other aspect of the American system, politics is over-regulated, severely limiting the ability for other parties and candidates to make serious runs for office. At the state level, representatives in state legislatures are elected to single party districts, which means that only one party's candidate can win in each district. Therefore, it behooves a candidate to join teams with one of the major political parties at the time, effectively strangling would-be competitor parties in the proverbial crib. The most successful third-party candidate in American history was Teddy Roosevelt, of the Progressive Party, in 1912. He carried 27.5% of the popular vote and 88 electoral votes. The next closest was Ross Perot in 1992. He managed 18.9% for the Reform Party, but failed to win any electoral votes. Since the mid 1800s, Republicans and Democrats have fielded all of the candidates that have become president.
There are two major factors which have allowed the two party system to continue to exist, despite the public’s general distaste for the two dominant parties. The first is the perception that only those belonging to one of the major parties is a legitimate candidate at any level of government. According to Gallup, the last time Congress held an approval rating higher than its disapproval rating was 2004 Jan 12-15, at 48% to 45%. Even with this less than impressive trend, Republicans and Democrats have an overwhelming control over Congress, and have for decades. Currently, there are only two senators who do not identify with a particular party: Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) and Sen. Angus King (ME). Sanders had not identified himself as a Democrat prior to running for the presidency during the 2016 election campaign season. Once that was over, he quickly returned to being an Independent. King has historically labeled himself an Independent, but has tended to lean Democrat in his voting, most recently citing the same six reasons given by liberal Democrats for voting against the now-confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch. Sen. Rand Paul (KY), on the other hand, is a registered Republican who passes the eye test on being a Libertarian. He has even said he believes that “a libertarian twist or a libertarian influence in the Republican Party is good.” In a poll conducted of Libertarians soon after the 2016 election, among twelve possible candidates, Rand Paul carried 32.7% of the support, a clear first place finish.
Sanders and Paul help to exemplify that, at the very least, candidates feel as though they need to identify with one of the major parties. Likely, that is true. However, they also help shed light on a much more nefarious factor. Nefarious in intention is far worse than by simple unintended externality. Campaign finance rules dictate that a political party can only get public funding for a campaign if it received 5% of votes from the previous election. A higher threshold exists (15%) for a candidate to even be allowed on the debate stage. Third parties get notoriously little media coverage, thereby limiting their exposure. It is very difficult to cast a vote for a person who has never been heard of. Republicans and Democrats, with immense power both at their disposal and on the line, have a vested interest in limiting the choices each voter has from election to election.
Democracy is intended to prevent a tyranny of the minority. It does so, however, by trading it in for a tyranny of the majority. Tyranny is tyranny, period, regardless of its totality. Consider it this way - ten people are in a room, where they will vote on which ice cream flavor will be served. There can only be one flavor served. Four vote for chocolate, three vote for vanila, and three vote for strawberry. With the most votes, chocolate wins. The issue is clear, in that although only 40% voted for chocolate, 100% will get chocolate. 60% of the group is forced into a decision they did not make. Even if the result was 9/1/0, one person is still forced, by sheer numbers, to go along with something he does not want. It is a fallacy that a majority rule is any more morally right than a system which places complete power in the hands of a single person. In either scenario, at least one person is at the mercy of the decisions made for them by the others. Majority rule is a form of egalitarian collectivism. Collectivism, by its nature, cannot take into account the rights of the individual, opting instead to make happy the greatest percentage possible. Following that train of logic to its end, it is acceptable to sacrifice a single human life in pursuit of the good of the many. I firmly reject that argument on the grounds that every single life is sacred, by virtue of its sheer existence, thereby making the forced sacrifice of one immoral, no matter the benefit to the collective. I believe that most people would take the same stance if they were ever to find themselves as that proverbial sacrificial lamb. In other words, it is much easier for a person to sacrifice what is not theirs.
Edward Abbey, author and environmentalist, once stated that “...few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others.” Voting is not an example of exercising one’s freedom, if done only for the sake of voting. Many districts have laws forbidding voters from taking pictures, or otherwise documenting their ballot. In what way is the silent and obscured action of filling in a bubble making one’s voice heard? Roughly half of an electorate (especially at the presidential level) winds up unhappy with the outcome of an election, yet that mass of people are still subject to the whims of the prevailing candidate. That is not freedom. In its best case scenario, American democracy is Russian Roulette with two very subjective chambers.
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