The Vote – The Free Citizen’s Moment of Glory: Democracy’s Feat of Transforming Discontent into a Ballot Mark
On November 6 – again, like every four years – the American people will be called to the polls and made the democratic offer: You may vote! Here rules democracy! Here you have the magnificent right to be allowed to choose who you want for President and in the House of Representatives. In contrast to the kings of olden days who the people had no say in choosing or the dictators of today who still smell something fishy or even subversive in any election proposal, Presidents in the homeland and model of democracy, the USA, have it tough: their subjects choose with a ballot mark who should govern them in the coming years. Nevertheless, our enlightened modern politicians – quite credibly – are supporters of the popular vote, and have good reasons to be:
a) It is not a check on power that the personnel in power are elected by the people in a democracy, but just confirms that a continuous relationship of rule should exist; that an “above” and a “below” are necessary. Democratic politicians are convinced that humanity is divided into two types: leaders and followers. They are further convinced that the former, the leaders, have the right and the duty to say to the latter type, the led, what’s up and what they have to do and put up with; even that their beloved people would be up shit’s creek if it were not for a ruling elite with a complete state monopoly on violence to give them orders, thus to dictate nothing less than their conditions of existence. This inherent relation between above and below is not up for debate in the democratic vote; even more: Every act of voting is an affirmative “yes, sir!” to a democratic system of rule.
b) And something else that is not up for a vote in a democratic election: the national cause (in our case the USA) as a capitalist super-power at home and abroad. The entire organization of offices with their extensive apparatuses in which this national cause is objectified – from the Departments of the Treasury and State up to Labor and Health and Human Services – is not up for a vote, but only the political figures who should be in charge of these administrative posts with their well known list of tasks in the next term of office. The democratic election confirms not only the modern method of rule, but also its central projects: there shall be a market economy, and thereby all life and activity depends on the growth of capital. And as if to confirm that this economic maxim can’t be good for most of the ordinary inhabitants of a capitalist state, there are plenty of social agencies to flank it – to manage the many, many so-called “disadvantaged” who are created by the growing capitalist wealth. That the social budget makes up the largest share of the national budget is – considered objectively – not a praise of this economic system, but solely evidence of poverty in a very literal sense. And again: this state is not called into question by checking off a ballot mark, but quite fundamentally confirmed.
How is the people’s discontent democratically-constructively processed?
If normal life in a democratically managed capitalism depends on the growth of capital, if the subjects have the conditions of their existence dictated from above, then dissatisfaction with these conditions is inevitable. The democratic method of rule now makes a special offer to this discontent: rule is always only “for a time” and the harmed interests are periodically given an opportunity – to do what? To authorize a different ruler over their life circumstances – at least for four years; and then one four-year period joins the next ...
This discontent from below is made useful for the candidates in their competition for power. That’s why this dissatisfaction is constantly referred to by the candidates, sometimes even incited – yet also at the same time guided. Because it is clear that the discontent aired in a democracy should definitely not degenerate into criticism of the system – on the contrary. The discontent is from the outset supported from above by an extensive public sphere and lots of opinion makers – indeed, it is already defined and politicized in the affirmative sense.
Take, for example, the keyword “jobs”: The democratic interest in this and criticism is: “The people need jobs, and the jobs aren’t there.” Objectively, this is first-rate cynicism: the desire for a job is synonymous with the desire for toil and wear and tear!... In the market economy, however, this is the “lesser evil,” since this economic system holds an alternative ready, an even worse sort of damage, namely: unemployment. Democratic politics are responsible for nothing less than the economic relations that create this unemployment: the political system enacts and enforces the fact that work and making a living take place under the command of private owners. Thus working and making a living are made dependent on the growth of the private ownership of capital. Politicians make use of this fact in a very dishonest way: it is “free enterprise” that is responsible for the creation as well as elimination of jobs, not them, the politicians – so they are not to be held responsible for the damages experienced by the wage-earners. But, conversely, they are responsible for the so-called framework of economic growth – so one should welcome their power over the conditions of working and making a living, so that wage-earners find what they need unconditionally, namely: work.
That’s pretty brazen: Democratic politicians want the voters to recognize that their power is what’s needed as the only possible remedy. However, the same politicians do not want the people to recognize that this power surely makes them creators of the distress and anxiety which is supposed to be remedied.
Unfortunately, the voters let themselves be persuaded by the role of the politicians. The recognition of this role is then the basis for the political competition for votes, which means: the “dependent workers,” who have nothing themselves, need nothing more than an aggressive power hungry individual. If that is the need of the people, then an electorate that has been well educated from above will ultimately let itself be told a lot of other things as well: The people should be so kind as to rack their brains as to what these power-mongers have to deal with! They should look at their own worries about work and life from the leader’s perspective. For example, the following problems:
- How the people with their worries cause worries for the responsible politicians;
- Where should the higher-ups get the money for so many cases of hardship;
- Or: whether the people with all their distress will really remain well-behaved. And indeed long before they rebel, but already in voting: the people should kindly not fall for vote-offerings from the left or the right – but only established democratic clubs.
The existing discontent in a democracy is downright institutionalized in the competition for power: namely, as the opposition. This institutionalized opposition does two things: firstly, the opposition protests the non-necessity of any harm, because this harm is a result of bad governing. For example, the opposition party lays the blame for the financial and budgetary crises on the administration in power: The damage is not a necessity of the capitalist economic system, but stems from the failure of the respective leadership figure. Secondly, the opposition stands for the dishonest equation that more success for the nation coincides with greater success for the subjects. Again, an example from the financial crisis: how can America and the Americans restore their glory, what with the budget deficits and the situation on the labor market? – merely by chosing the wise standby leader from the opposition who serves the only national interest; the figure who is dedicated to “representing all America” and not any special interest groups.
If that is intelligible to the voters and their own success or failure plonks together with successful management and leadership of the nation – then they are praised as a “responsible citizenry.” But the opposite is true: The electorate reaches the heights of irresponsibility when they delegate responsibility for their own lives to authorized political leaders; whether it is a new crew or the same old one.
The electorate does not make this decision frivolously. As long as the subjects take their own damages not as a result of policy, but of wrong policies; as long as the citizens bring up their dependence on the political force not against the political and economic order, but take this dependence on the political power as an opportunity to hope for a little consideration and somehow more favorable treatment by the authorities – the voters await suitable offers from the competitors for power.
And the rival politicians make these suitable offers: they expose themselves on election day to the electoral vote. This is the only sort of dependence that democratic leaders are subjected to, because the voice of the voters decides “merely” who may sit in the oval office – and who has to sit outside and be in the opposition. And here the candidates can’t be tightwads and have to make a lot of offers to the majority of the people – to appeal to every voter’s taste.
Candidates get going and advertise themselves as having all sorts of advantages, first of all their “qualifications.” The most important item of this qualification in a capitalist nation is “know-how” on “the economy as a whole.” This economic know-how focuses on – quite one-dimensionally – who best governs “economic growth,” i.e. the growth of the companies and the banks. The logic is this: because all members of free enterprise America depend on successful business, the freedom of those seeking to make profits is ultimately in everybody’s benefit, especially the many people who need a job. Whoever has the right “can-do” attitude on “the economy,” selling the freedom of profit-seekers as beneficial to everybody, refrains entirely from who depends how on work and who gets what benefit from work. Specifically: The best possible use of labor power (lots of work, low wages) benefits businesspeople, not workers. What it means to be economically qualified for America can be seen from the statements of Obama, Romney, and their associates: only one thing can follow from the “greatest recession since the Great Depression”: precisely the disaster that the activities on the balance sheets and budgetary calculations of the business leaders wreaked for ordinary people, and still wreaks – precisely this disaster is the good reason to wish ever more success for these business leaders and their political sponsors!
You can see from their campaigning that the candidates interested in political power prey on a harmful habit of their subjects. The electorate takes its own dependence on the success of capitalist calculations as a condition of life with no alternative. This is ruinous and qualifies them to hand responsibility over their own living conditions to democratic power wielders; to people who use their power exclusively for the promotion of capital in the USA.
Other preferences besides economic expertise are also popular in voting for leaders. Because elections are about the democratic method of enthroning rulers, these leaders are embellished – quite apart from any “competence” that supposedly enables the candidates to take charge of the environment, the family, or other area – with a virtue that the political consultants establish above all other professional qualifications: the “ability to lead.” It is remarkable: In the middle of the most beautiful democracy and as an essential component of successfully infatuating the electorate, here quite unselfconsciously the arch-category of any relation of rule marches on: A great leader leads and then is successful when the led follow? This should be a contradiction to democracy? It quite obviously isn’t! The democratic version of the “cult of the leader,” “success drive,” proves itself in two areas: first, by emerging victorious from the primaries and intra-party intrigues; and second, in successfully putting one over on the voters. The praise for this aggressiveness in democratic elections means the “advantage of being the incumbent” is a nice trade off for the opposition’s bonus of being able to represent the electorate’s dissatisfaction.
After competence on the issues and leadership, stressing the credibility and trustworthiness of the candidate is essential in the arsenal of democratic campaigning. Although the candidate runs for the highest state office, here the human touch comes fully into its own – the politician, the higher being, is a “person like you and me,” “a normal guy.” This is one area the intelligentsia would call “silly” but is obviously important: is he a family man? What about his faith? What do his jeans say about him? Can he tell a good joke and drink a beer at a sports bar? All this testifies to the important category of “trust.” What does this trust imply? In their character as democratic subjects who are permitted to authorize figures to rule over themselves, the voters put aside the programs of the candidates and pay attention to their alleged human qualities. The voters do this merely in order to assure themselves of the personal traits of trustworthiness and credibility of the figure to whom they grant a political blank check by authorizing him to rule. Voters imagine Obama and Romney as simply a family member or a doctor or a used car dealer they can trust, but that’s only to help them make their decision for supreme leader of the nation: because the national boss has so much decision-making power over them, they would like his presented private character to assure them that he is not screwing them. Quite ordinary people can easily think such double things as voters.
There is a popular complaint from the politicized public sphere about this disposition of voters to decide their vote based on the presented private character of politicians. This attitude is considered “non-political”; for example, the New York Times carps: “voters examine candidates often to a fault ... [they] readily acknowledged that their decisions would be driven as much by personal chemistry and biography as by political positions and policy” (10/13/2012). This sort of criticism of voting behavior is wrong: firstly, because a ballot mark that comes about in such a way counts as much or as little as any other; more is neither required nor conceded in being an informed voter. And secondly, it relates to the blind trust a follower has in a leader – what should be “non-political” about this or incompatible with democracy?
Although politicians solicit trust, many voters have lost their trust in politicians. These voters act as if they had painstakingly convinced themselves that politicians are rotten people who deserve nothing but distrust. Some voters – actually, most of them – say that every politician would flunk their character test; that they have an abysmally low opinion of all politicians, who are “nothing but crooks.” Apart from the fact that it is slightly implausible when habitually participating people consider the totality of politics a “dirty business,” it is amusing that the democratic method of rule still holds one more offer on hand for this species of political skeptic: the choice of the “lesser evil.” Except that they can’t too seriously mean “evil” – who would ever authorize cholera to prevent the plague? Democracy allows voters only constructive criticism – meaning: the rejection of one power monger is identical to the authorization of another – so voters then jump aboard the “lesser evil.” These voters choose donkeys or elephants or greens or libertarians to prevent the other or vice versa – and then they think they have done a good deed: namely, so that “America” does not go (further) downhill or goes uphill (again).
Voters for the lesser evil connect this nationalist viewpoint with the self-confidence that they have personally kept their distance from the rule and were not taken in by the Mr Clean ploys of the campaigner. Well, they have already been taken in by the ploy of the system of rule called democracy, namely by turning any criticism of politics into an improvement suggestion and authorizing an alternative, thus ensuring that the discontent emphasized by critical people is transformed into a ballot mark – of course, only if critical people jump on board too.
Conclusion: Voting is wrong
Democracy is a stately method of organizing the dependency of the rulers on the willingness of the subjects to get involved. Democracy officially recognizes this dependency, which exists in every form of rule and every dictatorship, then concentrates it on one day every four years and reduces it to the one decision that the democratic electorate may legitimately make for the leadership: who should be the leader? Where – so called, in this country – “authoritarian” governments pull out all the stops and do not recoil from censorship in order to convince their people that they are undoubtedly well governed, democratic leaders every few years merely need certification that a majority of the voters found themselves to be comparatively better or even merely less poorly governed than by the competition. This is how the discontent from below is transformed into empowerment of above.
After the election, this then means “shut it, buddy! You have chosen the government which now rules over you legitimately. If you do not like something, then just vote again in four years for different decision-makers in power.” In the meantime, obey. Because in the name of their voters, a sovereign, elected government never has to bend to a protest against the harm caused by its policies – such protest is known as “pressure from the streets” and crushed if necessary.
If the democratic procedure of rule is to work, it needs a responsible and united people of voters. Voters are figures who appreciate this method of rule as a privilege – the rule actually leaves it up to them who should rule them – and enjoy this sort of “participation” in power, where the powerful are, after all, capable of doing it differently. Voters are people who are well behaved in terms of their democratic authorities – that is, as empowered subjects of their rulers.
That’s why in 2012 it’s also true: voting is a big mistake.