On Sunday, November 3rd, the Leesburg Daily Commercial, no doubt echoing calls from countless other newspapers across the country, exhorted its readers to exercise their right to vote this Tuesday. Voting, we were told, is not just a right, not merely a responsibility of citizenship, but a moral obligation. Thankfully, they stopped short of adding that the most moral choice would be for the vulture capitalist and part-time cult leader, Mitt Romney. (They have Russ Sloan, Cal Thomas, Star Parker, Deroy Murdock, and Jay Ambrose for that.) But, in this instance, the obvious and odious predilections of the Daily Commercial are of secondary importance. Today, it is not their choice to which we take exception, but their insistence that we must make a choice of our own. The proposition that we must participate in Tuesday’s plutocratic license-renewal process because it is the right thing to do is anything but self-evident. For it is the willing participation of the citizenry in our hollow shell of a democracy that confers legitimacy upon it. And the last thing our corrupt system deserves is legitimization.
No matter which highly-bankrolled candidate wins this general election, he will be able to claim that his presidency has been duly authorized by the sovereign people, acting in accordance with carefully regulated and fair [cue chuckling by Rick Scott] electoral procedures. Thus, even if one votes for the loser – perhaps following the lesser of two evils mantra that has proven so devastatingly effective at coercing compliance with duopoly – one inadvertently strengthens the undesired rule of the victor. As a thought experiment – just for fun, you understand, since we are obviously not supposed to indulge in such cerebral eccentricity – imagine that only a few thousand people in the entire country exercised their right to vote. How legitimate would the winner of that election be? That same problem already exists, of course, since very large numbers of voting-age Americans (and yes, Rick, they’re 99.99% eligible) do not participate today. The Australians regard that as a serious problem and compel their voters to go to the polls. Although America and Australia share a steadfast commitment to anti-intellectualism, in this case the American preference for moral suasion over statutory fines is certainly preferable, and our refusal to think about this problem too much has happy results. Being forced to vote for corporate oligarchy would complete our transition into a perversion of Madison’s idealized republic, adding a layer of Soviet-style sham to our post-Soviet kleptocracy.
The sole area of procedural reform that we are allowed to discuss – predictably, it cropped up in today’s Scripps Howard editorial – is the survival of the cobweb-encrusted electoral college. If, once again, a president wins the electoral college without securing a popular majority, we will ultimately respect the process that has been thrown at us by the dead hand of the past. The last thing we want to do, after all, is disrespect the framers by tampering with their masterpiece – unless we have a chance to tell consenting adults what they are at liberty to do in the privacy of their own homes. And that brings us to the ultimate problem here: process is only a secondary measure of legitimacy. At the primary level – the level at which we may withdraw our support from existing processes or propose new alternatives – lies moral judgment or, at least, the expedient invocation thereof. And whose judgment prevails in this arena?
Silly Billy (Number One)
Having learned nothing, it would seem, from his embarrassing endorsement of Richard Nixon, the Reverend Billy Graham spent a considerable amount of somebody’s money on a full-page advert in Sunday’s Daily Commercial and many other newspapers across the country. Encouraging his far-flung flock to “vote for Biblical values,” he chose to concentrate, for some reason, on the ever-titillating topic of human reproduction. We must, he urged, “protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman.” In other words – for he did not spell it out explicitly – we must vote for the presidential candidate whose religion has heretofore been ridiculed by the Reverend’s organization. We must ignore all that liberal-sounding language in the New Testament that focused on helping the poor, healing the sick, and generally being nice to one another. Jesus is such a peaceable fellow that he will just turn the other cheek whenever we slap him in the face.
For the Christian right, reinterpreting the framing of the federal Constitution is a piece of cake when you’ve already rewritten the Bible. There’s nothing in there that might pertain to corporate crime, the destruction of the miraculous planet on which we live, the commoditization of our fellow creatures, or the killing of innocents in perfectly unnecessary wars. Just keep the gays from being naughty and we’ll all go to heaven. Why is it that this putatively Christian nation allows its religious values to be redefined and limited in this way? Wasn’t the Protestant Reformation supposed to encourage people to read the Bible for themselves instead of slavishly following the interpretations and dictates of a distant ecclesiastical power? Wasn’t centralized religious authority viewed as the handmaiden of monarchy and the enemy of liberty?
The evangelical churches’ obsessive focus on abortion and gay marriage is extremely convenient for the contemporary state. It allows self-righteous and mentally slovenly Christians to reassure themselves that they are following the First Commandment, while all around them it is being torn to bloody shreds.
The Death State
We have written elsewhere about America’s trail of shattered lives and bodies in Iraq and the distinct possibility that a similar fate may befall the Islamic Republic of Iran, with barely a murmur of protest from our esteemed moral leaders. Since those sins of the past and the possible future do not seem to have impressed themselves upon the consciences of our most virtuous hymn-singers, we must also remind them about the sins of the present. As the third episode of the presidential debate/soap opera made painfully clear, both gargoyles believe wholeheartedly in the need for, and wisdom of, America’s relentless campaign against terrorists in the remote mountains of northern Pakistan. Unfortunately for both our biblical and constitutional values, they do not seem to care one whit about the enormous human cost of that campaign. They do not even possess the intellectual strength to perceive that the undeclared drone war has itself become a horribly counterproductive war of terror in its own right. It is almost as if we are bound and determined to show militant Islamists how terror should really be done.
In September, a joint report by Stanford and New York University, Living Under Drones, concluded that of the approximately 3,000 people who have been killed by drone attacks in Pakistan (precise numbers are understandably elusive), only 41 had been confirmed as high-value terrorist targets. But 881 people, of whom 176 were children, were completely innocent civilians. The report exposes President Obama’s insistence that the attacks are “a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm Americans”1 as a brazen lie. And the accounts given by the victims of Obama’s “focused effort” reveal it to be absolutely devastating in human terms:
Some of the most horrifying testimony comes from Khalil Khan, the son of Malik Haji Babat, a tribal leader and police officer. ‘My father was not a terrorist. He was not an enemy of the United States,’ Khalil’s legal statement says. ‘He was a hard-working and upstanding citizen, the type of person others looked up to and aspired to be like.’
Khalil, 32, last saw his father three hours before his death, when he left for a business meeting in a nearby town. Informed his father had been killed, Khalil hurried to the scene.
‘What I saw when I got off the bus at Datta Khel was horrible,’ he said. ‘I immediately saw flames and women and children were saying there had been a drone strike. The fires spread after the strike.
‘I went to the location where the jirga had been held. The situation was really very bad. There were still people lying around injured.
‘The tribal elders who had been killed could not be identified because there were body parts strewn about. The smell was awful. I just collected the pieces that I believed belonged to my father and placed them in a small coffin.’
Khalil said that as a police officer, his father had earned a good salary, on which he supported his family. Khalil has considered returning to the Gulf, where he worked for 14 years, but ‘because of the frequency of drones I am concerned to leave my family’.
He added that schools in the area were empty because ‘parents are afraid their children will be hit by a missile’.
This morning’s Leeesburg Daily Commercial featured a front-page photo of a Romney supporter brandishing two signs: “Christians 4 Romney” and “Benghazi 4 Americans Dead Why??” An obvious victim of successful idiot-baiting by the right wing, this woman is one of the many clueless Americans who believe that “they hate us because of our values.” In one of the bitterest ironies of our age of irony, there is actually much truth to this slogan, but not, of course, the truth alleged by the right. If they hate us (and if they do not already, they surely will in due course) it is indeed because of our values – the values we live by, not the values we preach. For the people of Pakistan, and the even-less-noticed people of Somalia and Yemen, the United States stands for senseless yet intentional and premeditated murder on a massive scale. The United States is evil.
Silly Billy (Number Two)
Normally, when this website denounces sanctimonious homilies on the pages of the Leesburg Daily Commercial, the targets for our contempt are the humble servants of our magnificent, munificent job creators. But today, we save our strongest condemnation for the one man who usually stands head and shoulders above the rest, Bill Maxwell of the Tampa Bay Times. We have often wondered how this bleeding-heart liberal finds his way into the pages of our local rag. Our assumption has been that his presence was a token gesture at balanced reporting, a posture that succeeds in fooling quite a few readers. But now we know the real reason: Bill Maxwell believes in the system, so much so that he gave us this:
Voting is a duty of citizenship none of us should take for granted…. Merely complaining about the issues and the candidates is useless. Eligible voters who choose not to vote have no legitimate place in political discourse. [Emphasis added.]
With all due respect, Bill, screw you. As an initial matter, you are wrong on theoretical grounds. The greatest contribution to political theory made by the founding of the American republic was the notion of the sovereignty of the people.2 That sovereignty is not confined merely to those who vote. “We the People” means all the people.3 There may not be goodness in every American, but there is a little bit of sovereignty in there somewhere. To attempt to strip non-voting Americans of their sovereignty is a political crime that far exceeds the plutocratic machinations of Rick Scott and his brethren. It is, in fact, the ultimate offense.
Theory aside, eligible voters who, having understood the manifest and manifold horrors of the contemporary state that the corporate media conceals so effectively, decide that they can not, in good conscience, lend their support to such a system, should have their voices amplified, not silenced. They are the only ones who retain a right to complain. And they have no blood on their hands. Everyone else4 – everyone who legitimizes the state by participating in its rituals – is endorsing evil.
- See reporting by the Mail on Sunday. ↩
- We will leave for another day consideration of the distinct possibility that this innovation was a masterstroke of political artifice, enabling the elite to overturn the regime that was insufficiently respectful of property rights. ↩
- Yes, Bill, we know it did not originally mean black people. And we know that South Africa’s emergence from apartheid was inspiring. But you of all people should be painfully aware that the spirit of apartheid lives on, most noticeably in the United States’ ludicrous “war on drugs” and in the recent return of our old friend, Jim Crow. Most fundamentally, Bill, do you really believe for one minute that a vote for the Great Black Hope is going to make any significant difference in the quality of life for black Americans? ↩
- The only caveat to the foregoing argument – the only escape clause for both the Daily Commercial and Bill Maxwell – is the issue presented by the third parties on the ballot. As we have discussed elsewhere, these include some genuinely intelligent, decent, and moral platforms. They are also completely marginalized and suppressed. Does voting for a third party constitute a protest against the evil of the current dispensation or does it amount to an indirect endorsement thereof, since the would-be dissenter has been drawn into the electoral web? Neither the Daily Commercial nor Bill Maxwell make any mention of this issue. We seriously doubt that it has ever occurred to them, and we see no reason to let them off the hook on the basis of an argument they haven’t even thought about making. ↩