[sixties-l] ELECTION DAY: A Means of State Control

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon Jul 24 2000 - 20:21:40 CUT

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    > ELECTION DAY: A Means of State Control
    > http://www.freerepublic.com/forum/a397a31fb52f0.htm
    > Source: Chronicles http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/
    > Published: November 1996 Author: Robert Weissburg

    > Election Day
    > A Means of State Control

    > Interpreting elections is a national spectator sport, offering as many
    > "meanings" as there are board-certified spin doctors. Nevertheless, all of
    > these disparate revelations, insights, and brilliant interpretations share a
    > common unthinking vision: elections, despite their divisive, contentious
    > character, exist to facilitate citizen power over government. Whether
    > ineptly or adeptly, honestly or dishonestly, government is supposed to be
    > subjegated via mass electoral participation. This is, it might be said, The
    > Great Democratic Belief in Popular Sovereignty.
    > Less understood, though hardly less significant, is that control flows the
    > opposite way: elections permit government's effective management of its own
    > citizens. The modern state's authority, it's vast extractive capacity, its
    > ability to wage war, its ever-growing power to regulate our lives, requires
    > constant reinvigoration via the ballot box. Moreover, and even less obvious,
    > properly administered elections promote cohesiveness, not acrimonious
    > division. Indeed, the periodic reaffirmation of the political covenant may
    > be election's paramount purpose, relegating an artificial choice between
    > Tweedle Dee [Gore], Tweedle Dum [Bush] to mere historical details. Like the
    > atmosphere, this phenomenon appears nearly invisible, escaping both popular
    > attention and scrutiny from talking-head television pundits. Even scholars,
    > those investigating civic matters of profound obscurity, with few exceptions
    > (particularly my former colleague, Ben Ginsburg) are neglectful. Put
    > succinctly, marching citizens off to vote -- independent of their choice --
    > is a form of conscription to the political status quo. Election day, like
    > Christmas or Yom Kippur, is the high holiday, a day of homage and
    > reaffirmation, in the creed of the modern state.
    > Those at the Constitutional Convention well understood this conscriptive
    > function. Though the Founders are now fashionably branded as
    > unrepresentitive elitists who distrusted the downtrodden masses and
    > oppressed women and toilers of color, what they never doubted was the
    > political usefulness of elections. James Wilson and Elbridge Gerry openly
    > acknowledged that a vigorous federal government required extensive popular
    > consent, freely given by the ballot. Voters could not, and should not guide
    > policy, but without periodic popular authorization, how could the national
    > government efficiently collect taxes, compel obedience to its laws, solicit
    > military recruits, or gain loyalty? This is what "no taxation without
    > representation" is all about: the ritual of consent. Elections, however
    > tumultuous or corrupt, bestowed legitimacy far better and more cheaply than
    > brute force, bribery, appeals to divine right, or any alternative.
    > Opposition to the direct election of senators, predictably, arose from state
    > sovereignty advocates -- allowing citizens to vote for such a prominent
    > national office would only enhance centralism.
    > Elections as a means of state agrandizement, not popular control of
    > government, was clearly grasped during the 19th century's march toward
    > universal sufferage. Today's liberal vision of the common folk clamoring
    > "empowerment" via the vote is much overdrawn; extension of the suffrage was
    > often "top-down." The modern, centralized bureaucratic state and
    > plebiscitary elections are , by necessity, intimately connected. To Napoleon
    > III and Bismark the freshly enfranchised voter was the compliant participant
    > in their push toward unified state authority. Casting the national ballot
    > liberated ordinary citizens from the influence of competitors -- the church,
    > provencial notables, kinfolk, and champions of localism. Elections soon
    > became essential ceremonies of national civic induction, a process
    > ever-further extended as wars evolved into expensive million-man crusades.
    > Modern dictatorships are especially taken with elections, typically combined
    > with some form of compulsory voting, as means of state domination. The
    > Soviet Union's notorious single-party elections with 99+ percent turnout are
    > the paradigmatic but hardly unique example. Many African nations boast of
    > near unanimous turnout to endorse their beloved kleptocratic leader. The
    > Pinochet government of Chile even went so far as to make nonvoting
    > punishable by three months in prison and a $150 fine. While it is tempting
    > to dismiss such choice-less, forced-march elections as shams, the investment
    > of precious state funds and bureaucratic effort confirms that elections are
    > far more than mechanisms of citizen control of government.
    > In general, the electoral process, whether in a democracy or a dictatorship,
    > performs this citizen domestication function in many ways, but let us
    > examine here only three mechanisms. To be sure, the connection between state
    > agrandizement and elections is not guaranteed, and much can go astray.
    > Nevertheless, over time the two go together. The first mechanism might be
    > called psychological co-optation via participation: I take part, cast my
    > vote, therefore I am implicated. All of us have been victims of this
    > technique beginning, no doubt, as children. Recall, for example, when mom
    > wished your acquiescence to visit hated Aunt Nelly. Despotically demanding
    > compliance, though possible in principle, was too costly. Instead, mom
    > "democratically" discussed alternatives with you, including cleaning house
    > or going to the ballet. Given such choices, you "freely" opted for visiting
    > Nelly, and your subsequent complaints were easily met with "you freely
    > decided."
    > Such co-optive manipulation extends beyond devious parenting; it is the
    > essence of modern management psychology. Beginning in the 1920's, industrial
    > psychologists realized that "worker involvement" usefully gained
    > cooperation, especially when confronting unpleasant choices. Let workers
    > conspicuously offer their "input" and they will be far more malleable.
    > Internal "selling" to oneself flows from public choice. Personal
    > participation need not even occur -- it is the formal opportunity to add
    > one's two cents, or the involvement of others, that is important. Provided
    > executives define the range of options and control decision-making rules,
    > this "worker empowerment" benefits, not subverts, management. That
    > manipulative inclusion can be labeled "democratic" and "enlightened" and
    > flatters "worker insight" is wonderful public-relations icing on the cake.
    > This process applies equally to elections. Recall the 1968 presidential
    > contest -- a highly divisive three-way race of Hubert Humphrey, Richard
    > Nixon, and George Wallace in which the winner failed to gain a popular
    > majority. Nevertheless, despite all the divisiveness, Ben Ginsberg and I
    > discovered that views of national government, its responsiveness and concern
    > for citizens, became more favorable following the election among voters than
    > among nonvoters. This was also true among those choosing losing candidates.
    > Involvement transcended and overpowered the disappointment in losing. Even a
    > nasty, somewhat inconclusive campaign "juiced" citizen support for
    > government. The pattern is not unique -- the election ceremony improves the
    > popularity of leaders and institutions regardless of voter choice.
    > Elections are also exercises in "Little Leagueism" to help prop up the
    > political status quo. That is, potentially dangerous malcontents are
    > involved in safe, organized activity under responsible adult supervision
    > rather than off secretly playing by themselves. All things considered,
    > better to have Lenin get out the vote, solicit funds, ponder polls,
    > circulate petitions, or serve in Congress. This is equally true in
    > democracies or dictatorships -- regular electoral activity facilitates
    > "conventionality" (regardless of ideology) among those who might otherwise
    > drift to the dangerous, revolutionary edge. This is especially true where
    > bizarre groups overall constitute a relatively small minority. At a minimum,
    > humdrum details and ceaseless busy work hardly leaves any time for sitting
    > around a cafe plotting revolution.
    > Even if all potential revolutionaries are not "domesticated" via the
    > election process, the easy availability of elections helps keep the peace.
    > Why risk mayhem when public employment by stuffing ballot boxes is so
    > simple? In the 1960's Black Power movement is the perfect poster child. The
    > urban guerilla movement back then seemed imminent -- the infatuation with
    > Franz Fanon's celebration of violence and similar mumbo-jumbo rhetoric, the
    > macho allure of the automatic weapon, and the gleeful, "in-your-face" public
    > paramilitarism demeanor. Urban riots were everywhere; Newark and Detroit
    > became virtual garrison states. Comparisons with Northern Ireland or Lebanon
    > were not absurd.
    > Nevertheless, the pedestrian seduction of public office easily overcame this
    > intoxication with violence. The Malcolm X Democratic Club and similar
    > entities suddenly materialized while numerous cleaned-up revolutionary
    > agitators entered "the system" as "progressive Democrats," often occupying
    > positions set aside for minorities. The "Black Mayor" became
    > institutionalized. The passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, its
    > extensions, and generous subsequent interpretations made black electoral
    > mobilization a national government priority. The federal registrar served as
    > the neighborhood convenience store for "selling out." Within a decade, the
    > once-familiar "revolutionary" agitator spewing forth cliches about
    > insurrection was a political antique. By the 1980's, it was impossible for a
    > "take-to-the-hills" Black Power revolutionary even to think about competing
    > with elections.
    > The transformation of revolutionary Black Power into humdrum conventionality
    > highlights the third way elections domesticate potential disruption:
    > tangible inducement (or bribery, in plain English) to malcontents. The
    > "cooling out" via granting a piece of the action is a time-honored American
    > tradition, from 19th century populists and socialists to the 1960's antiwar
    > movement. Entering "the system," at least in highly permeable American
    > politics, wonderfully corrupts revolutionary ardor. At a minimum,
    > rabble-rousers in remission must come out of hiding to collect their salary,
    > sit in their offices, boss around subordinates, issue press releases, accept
    > financial contributions, and, if necessary, bounce a check. If Maxine Waters
    > (D-CA) seems like an out-of-control ballistic missile, imagine her unchecked
    > by the obligations of high public office. As a comfortable congresswoman,
    > she is far more constrained than if preaching the street-corner
    > revolutionary gospel or a tenored professor with an endowed chair. Ditto for
    > the thousands of others contemplating revolutionary violence but who now owe
    > their prestige and income to elective office. let the most ambitious attend
    > endless dull committee meetings. The very existence of this electoral
    > opportunity, apart from the bodies enrolled, is critical -- the prospect of
    > a few well paid prestigious sinecures, like playing for the NBA, can work
    > wonders on millions.
    > This relationship between rising electoral involvement and the demise of
    > 1960's style revolutionary radicalism helps to explain our collective blind
    > eye toward the extensive corruption in "minority politics." Why do the
    > Protectors of Democracy, from the ACLU to Common Cause, seem so unconcerned
    > with racial gerrymandering, districts composed largely of illegal aliens,
    > abuses of absentee ballots, outright selling of votes, and other nefarious
    > customs when such practices bring blacks and Hispanics to office? More must
    > be involved than just having Third World standards. The answer is simple,
    > though seldom articulated: rotten boroughs, our versions of autonomous
    > homelands, are part of the bargain to guarantee domestic peace. The actual
    > outcome is irrelevant; what is important is that up-and-comers, would-be
    > "community leaders," are brought into "the system." Fundamentally, shipping
    > a few dozen would be agitators off to legislatures of city councils, even
    > felons and dope addicts, hardly puts the national enterprise at serious
    > risk; consider it midnight basketball for the civic minded. If Washington,
    > D.C., can survive Marion Barry, the entire nation is bulletproof.
    > Elections are but one of many tools of social control and, as with all
    > tools, mere use does not guarantee success. Critical details of
    > administration and organization must be attended to -- matters of timing,
    > sufferage, modest enforcement of anticorruption laws, countervailing power
    > within government, and so on. Nor do elections come with an unlimited
    > lifetime warranty to remedy deep political problems. It is doubtful whether
    > elections would solve much in Bosnia or Rwanda, while the jury is still out
    > for Russia and South Africa. Elections are wondrous, circuitous devices, but
    > not all powerful magic.
    > Having described this little understood but critical purpose, what lessons
    > can be learned? Two in particular stand out. Most evidently, if one wishes
    > to maintain one's ideological purity, remain uncontaminated in the quest for
    > a higher truth, avoid elections. Those seeking to transform society via
    > "playing the game" will inevitably be metamorphosed by the game itself. This
    > lesson should be heeded by everyone from fundamentalist religious groups to
    > those promoting the redistribution of political power in the United States.
    > Purity and empowerment via elections do not mix. The loss of revolutionary
    > zeal among the formerly faithful, an inclination towards "wheeling and
    > dealing," and being comfortable with petty enticements need not result from
    > flawed character; pedestrian opportunism comes with the territory. If this
    > seems farfetched, one only has to review our history: virtually every
    > splinter group, no matter how idologically noble or distinct, that ventured
    > into the electoral arena, has been mainstreamed and today exists as a
    > domesticated, digested fragment within the Democrat and Republican parties.
    > The surrender of purity via electoral absorbtion need not, despite evidence
    > to the contrary, be a particularly good deal. There are costs, and no
    > guarantee of gain, for getting into bed with the state. You might even get a
    > serious rash. Groups that have devoted themselves extensively to electoral
    > achievement, especially for economic advancement, have seldom, if ever,
    > accomplished much beyond politics itself. This has surely been the case with
    > black infatuation with electoral success since the mid-1960's. Despite all
    > the voting rights laws, federal court interventions, registration drives,
    > and elected black officials, blacks as a group continue to lag behind whites
    > on most indicators of accomplishment. In some ways, conditions have
    > deteriorated. By contrast, Asians and Indians have made remarkable strides
    > without any electoral empowerment. Like polo, electoral politics may be a
    > worthwhile sport only after first becoming economically successful. How this
    > plunge into electoral politics will play out for today's moral issues --
    > abortion, pornography, religion, sexuality -- remains to be seen.
    > The second lesson is the converse: if domestication is the objective, get
    > the would-be revolutionaries, extremists, grumblers, and malcontents
    > enrolled. Are anti-government militias posing a problem? Take a clue from
    > the Motor Voter bill and allow voter registration at all firearms and
    > survival equipment stores. Voting, even corrupt voting, should be as
    > convenient as possible. Rig the district boundaries so that leaders must
    > serve time in their state capitals and Washington, D.C., consorting with
    > generous lobbyists. Make those with talent precinct captains, election
    > judges, convention delegates, county commissioners, and paid advisors to
    > established political parties. Within the decade the militiamen will be as
    > threatening as an agitated American Legion post forced to give up its bingo.
    > In sum, as we observe the 1996 campaign, we should not be distracted by the
    > details. Far more goes on than selecting candidates. Despite the acrimony
    > and divisiveness, all the talk of a people freely exercising soveriegnty, we
    > are witnessing a ceremony for reinvigorating the covenant between citizen
    > and state. All sorts of would-be trouble makers are being domesticated and
    > brought into "the system." Those who attempt to escape will be brought to
    > the attention of the Department of Justice.
    > FReepers, I commend to you this eye opening article which I first read back
    > in 1996. It changed the way I view elections forever. Perhaps it will change
    > yours as well.
    > This thread is dedicated to all those who believe that elections are only
    > the means by which the citizens control the state and have never considered
    > the fact that they are also one very important means by which the state
    > controls US!

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