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I was talking to a gentleman the other day who took great pride in the fact that he doesn’t vote. He said, “Well, one thing is for sure, nobody can blame me for all these gangsters in office. I’m 53 years old, and I’ve never voted for any one of them in my life, and never will.” I pointed out to him that I’d heard that philosophy before, where people have convinced themselves that by not voting they’re striking a blow against corruption. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is, the decision not to vote is, by definition, a vote for the person you want least, since, if you did vote, you’d vote against him. So, whether you vote or not, you’re having an impact on the election. The only difference is, when you don’t vote, you’re allowing others to determine your fate.
In the 2000 presidential election the state of Florida determined the election. George Bush was declared the president by 537 votes. That means that if 538 more people would have voted, they could have prevented Bush from becoming president, and also prevented the senseless deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people and over 3,000 Americans. I’d say that alone should disprove the validity of sticking one’s head in the sand.
Many Black people tend not to realize the impact that an election has on their every day lives. Many of us think that it really doesn’t matter who is elected to office, “none of them are going to do anything for us anyway.” With our history I can understand that sentiment, but the fact is, voting is not only important to get the people you want into office, it’s just as important as a tool to keep the people you don’t like out of office—in fact, that might be even more important.
The election of George Bush is a perfect example of that. Bush has not only been a disaster in terms of the war in Iraq, his policies have also had a devastating impact on the daily lives of ordinary people. He has ravaged the American treasury to the point that he has made it all but impossible to fund programs brought about through the New Deal.
In 1933 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the quintessential liberal Democrat, created “The New Deal” in order to bring America out of the Great Depression, a time when Americans were starving in the streets. The New Deal had two components—one to help the economy to recover from the effects of the Great Depression, and a second component to give relief to the American people and insure that we would never be placed in a position of total destitution again. To help heal the economy Roosevelt created programs that regulated business, controlled inflation, and brought about price stabilization; to bring relief to the people he signed The National Labor Relations Act which guaranteed workers the right to collective bargaining, and he created the Social Security Administration to guarantee workers some sort of income once they became too old to work. He also signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which protected workers rights and set a minimum wage for workers. Now, in the past five years, Bush has done more to destabilize the New Deal than any president since its enactment.
The Republican Party has been trying to repeal the New Deal every since it was enacted close to 75 years ago, but New Deal programs have been so essential to the quality of life for ordinary Americans that they’ve been unable to garner the votes. So now, instead of attacking the New Deal head-on Bush has simply devastated the country’s financial resources to the point that New Deal policies and programs will very soon become impossible to fund.
Due to our apathy, we’ve allowed this man to bring a grave injustice upon the American people. Imagine what life was like prior to the New Deal: There was no such thing as Social Security, so when a person became too old to work they had no income, so they had to depend on their children for support. And there was no such thing as Medicare, so when the grandparent got sick the medical costs would devastate three generations of the family. These conditions kept lower and middle class families in such dire need for funds they had to accept whatever crumbs the business community would throw at them—and remember, at that time there was no Fair Labor Standards Act to protect a worker’s rights, or a minimum wage, so businesses could treat you anyway they wanted, and pay you whatever they wanted. As a result, in many cases the entire family, including the children, had to work long, hard hours, under sweatshop-like conditions. If you complained you’d be fired, and the entire family would suffer. In a very real sense, it was a form of slavery.
Think back to the “Little Rascals” we use to watch as kids, at how poor and raggedy they were, or the cartoons we use to watch, where a landlord would come to the door (always portrayed in a Black suit) and would tell a begging and crying mother that she had one more day to come up with the rent or she and her family would be thrown out in the snow. That was an accurate portrayal of the way people lived in those days, and those are conditions that Bush and many conservative Republicans would like to restore in America today.
In spite of our claim to believe that all men are created equal in this country, many of the founding fathers brought an unshakable belief in a class system with them from Europe. As a result, we’ve always had two competing philosophies in America—the Jeffersonian philosophy, represented by the Democrats, that we should all have equal rights; and the Hamiltonian philosophy, represented by the Republicans, that the upper class should be privileged. We’re currently witnessing a graphic example of those competing philosophies at work in the cases of Paris Hilton and the recent commutation for “Scooter” Libby. Paris did end up serving her time, but only with tremendous public pressure. And the Libby commutation is a textbook case of unequal justice.
Alexander Hamilton said the following during the debates of the Federalist Convention:
“All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and wellborn, the other the mass of the people.... The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive an advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government.”
In essence, he said that the government should be run by the “wellborn,” because poor and middle-class people are “unsteady,” and therefore, needed to be kept in check. When you get beneath all of the spin and all of the high sounding and moralistic verbiage, that is the Republican philosophy. When they say they believe in “state’s rights”, what they really mean is that the southern states should have had the right to discriminate to their heart’s content without federal interference, and when they say “free market,” they mean that business should be able to charge the consumer whatever they like, and pay their workers as little as they like, as long as the consumers keep buying, and the workers keep accepting the jobs—but of course, under such a scenario neither the consumer nor the workers are given a choice.
Under the Jeffersonian, or the Democratic, philosophy, the primary reason for a nation to exist is to protect the interests of the people. Jefferson meant for this nation to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Under Hamiltonian, or Republican, philosophy, the people are a nuisance, and their only value is to serve the “wellborn”. Hamilton wanted to see this nation be of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich—and it’s rapidly becoming just that. We’ve become a society where the pursuit of happiness has become secondary to the pursuit of a job. Instead of working to live, we must now, live to work. There’s only one way to change that—by wresting control of our government from the grip of big business, and the only way to do that is by becoming conscientious and well informed voters.
Eric L. Wattree, Sr. n can be reached at