Tuesday, November 06, 2012

a strange conversation

Sometimes our egos allow us to get sucked into pointless conversations. My ego writhed in demonic, tentacled annoyance at what I perceived to be yet another instance of Canuck self-righteousness regarding America's problems (no disrespect to my Canuck friends, most of whom don't bitch so goddamn much). In this case, it was movie blogger Corey Atad who, on his Twitter feed, wrote:

COREY: The idea that many Americans have to line up for several hours just to vote blows my mind. What the hell is wrong with you guys down there?

I replied in two tweets: There're about 0.33 billion Americans, most of whom are of voting age. No matter what format voting takes, you can expect lines. (Even if you factor in the relatively low rate of participation.)

Thus began our Twitter exchange.

COREY: If the system was better setup, with easy access at the polls and early voting in ever state then lines would be reduced.

KEVIN: I'd probably change a lot more than access. The Electoral College, for one thing. Why not a true democracy? One man, one vote?

[Note how conciliatory I am; I deflect to another issue. But Corey's having none of it. He presses his perceived advantage:]

COREY: Well, Canada doesn't have representation by popular support either, but at least we can vote without any trouble at all. [emphasis added]

KEVIN (now miffed): I think talking is easy, but IMPLEMENTING is hard. Radically changing a system takes money, time, and effort-- especially money.

COREY: In Canada we have a non-political agency called Elections Canada. They run all federal elections. Easy as that.

[I'm starting to get the impression that Corey is very young, very naive, and not too aware of American politics. Seeing simplicity where there is only complexity is a big, big mistake.]

KEVIN (two tweets): Feel free to propose a "simple" solution to the powers that be. You'll quickly discover how "simple" it is. (Not that I disagree w/you re: voting access, etc.)

[Note the second attempt at conciliation. But it falls on deaf ears. With righteous fervor, Corey presses on:]

COREY: The solution is extremely simple. The total lack of political will to change things is the problem.

KEVIN: You have to consider the financial aspect, too, though. Things don't just-- poof-- appear because of a mere act of will.

COREY (scornfully): As though running elections in America is currently cheap. Hell, standardizing and simplifying things would likely be cheaper.

KEVIN: Oh, I agree! We've been mucking around w/campaign finance reform for years. Everyone's got a "simple" proposal to fix things. [Note the THIRD attempt at conciliation. But Corey is young, aggressive, and tone-deaf. He doesn't catch on to subtle hints. He and his idealism press on:]

COREY: The difference is that my simple proposal is already used on most developed countries. Examples of how to do it exist!

[I peruse Wikipedia.]

KEVIN: So you got me curious as to Elections Canada. I see that their budget is $110,501,000. Multiply x 10 for 10X the US population...

COREY: $1.1 billion is nothing. Each party has spent almost as much in advertising alone this election.

KEVIN: Wow-- so cavalier with our money! Heh. $1.1 billion is nothing, eh? That's the mentality that led us into our current hole.

[I thought that was pretty witty. Corey didn't. You might not, either.]

COREY: It's nothing when you're talking about one of the most fundamental rights for all citizens.

[Corey's determined to make a mountain out of a molehill. Fatigued, I attempt to bow out. Probably should have tried harder to quit the conversation.]

KEVIN: Gonna have to agree to disagree on this. I'll leave you to your idealism. Long lines are inconvenient, not a rights violation.

[What Corey says next confuses delay with prevention.]

COREY (two tweets): They most certainly are [a rights violation, he means]. Anything that discourages the exercising of a fundamental right is, by definition, a rights violation. And the concept of partisan politicians running elections is mind-bogglingly idiotic. It's basically asking for trouble.

KEVIN: I'll remember that when I'm queuing for a movie.

[Why don't I have my own radio show?]

COREY: It's not a fundamental right in a democracy to go see a movie, but it is to cast a ballot.

[I was ready for this. He's attempting to show a disanalogy.]

KEVIN: Pursuit of happiness isn't a fundamental right? Hmmmm.


COREY (two tweets): You can be denied a service or a good, but voting is a right that should not be impeded in any way. A democracy where the access to voting is determined by politicians who disenfranchise voters is not really a democracy.

[Corey has just opened up Pandora's Box, and doesn't even realize it. He's lucky I didn't pursue his obvious folly. We CAN be denied goods and services? WHICH ONES, pray tell? And where do such denials end? Ah, this reeks of statism.]

KEVIN: Nice dodge! By the way, I *have* to blog this conversation. HAVE to. Ha ha!

[Again, attempting humor as a form of conciliation. But again, Corey is too self-serious to notice.]

COREY (two tweets): Not a dodge. Pursuit of happiness doesn't mean you must always get what you want. Voting rights and access cannot be so limited. A democracy where the access to voting is determined by politicians who disenfranchise voters is not really a democracy.

[Corey has said the above before, verbatim. I assume it's a talking point or a slogan.]

KEVIN: I think you've swallowed a few too many myths re: disenfranchisement. Access to voting is NOT determined by politicians who etc., etc.

And that seems to be the end of the conversation. For now, anyway.

Honestly, I have no idea where Corey's slogan comes from. Me, I'm going to saunter up to the local high school tomorrow morning and vote. My access won't have been controlled by any politicians; I won't have been disenfranchised. You're disenfranchised only if you're actually prevented from voting, and even then, the issue is complex: if, for example, a voting station closes at a certain time and you're too slow to get there, that's not the voting station's fault-- it's your own! Think this through, man!

Corey's a good guy. I've noticed that he prizes his own contrariness; many of his tweets are about how his opinions run against the grain of the mainstream. Despite that chest-beating "I just gotta be me" urge, he strikes me as sincere, though perhaps a bit too earnest for his own good. A few more years' hard living ought to straighten him out; very few people are incurable idealists, after all. Once he gains some respect for the forces he's up against, he'll sing a different tune. That, or he'll keep banging his head against the wall, frustrated by those silly Americans.

I say all the above at the risk of sounding like a condescending asshole, but hey-- if that's what I am, then I own up to it. As Denis Leary once famously sang, "I'm an asshole!" Meanwhile, I think Corey's views on the American electoral process could use a bit more research and a bit less magical thinking. Solutions, such as the one he's proposing, cost money. That money has to come from somebody's budget. Budgets are planned, so changes in budgets have to be discussed. For massive, country-wide change to occur, then, a mass of discussions must also occur. Who says that all such discussions will end up at the same place, leading to immense, concerted action? That sort of action is a puerile utopian fantasy. America is a gloriously fractious country; there are no guarantees of concerted anything. It's naive simply to call perceived inertia a "total lack of political will." Would that it were so simple!

PS: Canada's electoral system has its own problems with enfranchisement:

Canada’s first-past-the-post voting system, a legacy of the British parliamentary tradition, has the potential to distort electoral outcomes and leave entire provinces, regions and minority groups out in the cold, with little influence on government, Chorney says.

“It would have been much better to have a mixed proportional system in place, like they do in Germany,” he said.

Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother's eye. (Matthew 7:5)



John from Daejeon said...

A little United States/Founding Father history about the importance of The Electoral College to these "United" States of America.

Who knows? If things don't get better and actually take a really bad turn, Rick Perry could actually end up President. Well, President of the Republic of Texas--only Texas might now include just a bit more middle-American landmass. It could end up at the southern boundaries of Cook County to the north, the eastern outskirts of Las Vegas to the west, and the northern Virginian boundaries out east.

As many might think this is just a far-fetched novel idea (pun intended), just think for a moment about the rich and powerful oil and gas industry without EPA oversight, and don't tell me they don't drool over their pillows like crazy every night dreaming about such wonderful scenarios. Sort of like how I know that a lot of my good buddies in the Oil Sands of Alberta think the same way and would be more than glad to jettison the free spending liberals in Quebec and in B.C. if they could.

Nathan B. said...

Kevin, you had me right up until the P.S., where I am forced to part ways. Most Canadians do not like the idea of proportional representation because that form of government tends to lead to governmental gridlock and in some cases (e.g. Israel) far too frequent elections. The current and traditional system in Canada allows the government substantial mobility if it achieves a majority, which it usually does. Obviously, this Chorney guy disagrees with the merits of this, but that's just his own private opinion, not a scientifically-derived law or observation.

That said, Canada has seen some problems in recent federal and provincial elections. There was the "robocall" scandal involving automated calls to people in certain ridings, advising them that their voting stations had been changed when they had not. There have been some issues with political parties spending beyond legal limits and then having to pay fines after the election. Worst of all, just like in the US, it is possible in Canada for a government to lose the popular vote and yet win an election. I don't know if this has happened at the federal level, but it happened in my own province of BC only several elections ago.

All things considered, though, I think that all of these have been, in the grand scheme of things, minor problems (except, perhaps, the last). It is remarkable how faithful Canadians, Americans, British, the Australians and the New Zealanders have been to their democratic principles. There have been no Putins in Canada, nor any Chavez-figures in America.

If a Canadian wants to have a chip on his shoulder vis-a-vis the US on a given issue, the topic of elections seems a very strange beginning.