The eloquence of a box unchecked
By Steven Hayward at The Weekly Standard
One way of looking at this presidential election is to think of it as a fluke, though not one the Founders didn’t anticipate. It is not unusual for a major party to choose an exceedingly weak or implausible nominee – think of Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, or Michael Dukakis – who is clearly unacceptable to a majority of Americans. But this year both parties decided to nominate insupportable candidates. And we’re all anguishing about what to do. The next four years look to be a test of James Madison’s line from The Federalist, “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”
Lefties and other antiwar activists used to like to quote a fragment from Bertolt Brecht that runs, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” I’m wondering if this idea might be modified as follows: “What if they held an election and nobody voted?”
This thought came to mind reading Thomas Sowell’s latest column, in which he laments our major-party choices this November. He opens with this declaration: “It’s not easy being a good citizen when both major parties seem to be offering options that spell disaster for the country.” If anyone might be expected to fall into the #NeverHillary camp, you’d expect it to be Sowell. His catalogue of the likely exploits of a Hillary Clinton administration is sobering. But the economist just can’t bring himself to make a positive case for Donald Trump and wonders sensibly whether a Trump victory could be disastrous for Republicans: “Voting for an out of control egomaniac like Donald Trump would be like playing Russian roulette with the future of this country. Voting for someone with a track record like Hillary Clinton’s is like putting a shotgun to your head and pulling the trigger. And not voting at all is just giving up. Nobody said that being a good citizen would be easy.”
Is there any way voters might limit the damage? Let’s leave aside whether voting for the Johnson-Weld Libertarian party ticket is a reasonable option. (William Weld stumbled badly when he said recently that Merrick Garland and Stephen Breyer were examples of good Supreme Court nominees – he shredded the ticket’s libertarian cred with that comment.) I wonder about Sowell’s line that “not voting at all is just giving up.”
How about some disaffected national leaders of both parties start a mass movement to withhold votes for president in November as a way of delegitimizing the winner? What if this election came in with a massive “undervote,” i.e., a regular turnout for House and Senate races, but with tens of millions of missing votes for president? The “winner” would clearly lack a mandate for much of anything. It is already certain that the next commander in chief will take office with the lowest public approval rating of any incoming president ever and will have little or no traditional “honeymoon” period. Why not make it more obvious that the country doesn’t trust the next president to do very much?
To be sure, both Trump and Clinton would charge ahead anyway, but would be so weakened by the implicit repudiation of the voters that he or she wouldn’t have much political clout. A negative mandate from the voters would have the salutary effect of requiring Congress to step up and govern more vigorously and responsibly than it has in decades. There are several other corollaries to this proposition. One might be a declaration that the Senate will simply refuse to confirm any Supreme Court nominee—period. Leave the Court tied 4-4 for the entire next presidential term, or let it shrink further through death or retirement. We already put too much authority on the Supreme Court to sort out our political disagreements. A moratorium on the Court would nudge us back to some of the lost habits of self-government.
This is about as close as the American people could come to voting “none of the above” or sending a signal of “no confidence” in a new administration. In other words, a voter strike would be a clear and unambiguous message that the American people do not consent to our executive leadership. It would be analogous to a general strike, which is something that hasn’t been seen in an advanced nation for decades. (Emphasis added)
But such is the disgust of Americans with the governing class today that the extreme situation in which we find ourselves requires an extreme response.
There are lots of flaws with this idea and its inspiration, starting with the nagging fact that the familiar Brecht quote is inauthentic — the original line came from Carl Sandburg, and Brecht apparently added on to it for his own use. Typical of our times: You can’t even trust a crappy old popular quote. (At least it wasn’t attributed to Tocqueville.) In any case, it used to annoy me that antiwar protesters who quoted the hybridized Sandburg-Brecht line didn’t go on to read the rest of Brecht’s improvisation:
What if they gave a war and no one came?
Then the war will come to you.
He who stays home when the fight begins
And lets others fight for his cause
Should take care. He who does not take part
In the battle will share in the defeat.
Even avoiding battle does not avoid
Battle, since not to fight for your cause
Fighting on behalf of your enemy’s cause.
The most serious argument against a voter strike is simply that we live in a time of extreme politicization whose momentum favors the designs of the left. The Administrative State, which ought to be more fully recognized and called out as the partisan creation and primary tool of liberalism, really is a machine that runs of itself. But 50 years of hoping the next Republican administration would succeed in advancing serious reforms have brought us to . . . Donald Trump. Maybe it’s time for a general strike.
Steven Hayward is the author of The Age of Reagan and writes daily at Power Line.
What a conundrum this election has turned out to be: The Criminal Organization Masquerading As A Political Party has nominated The Single Most Easily Defeated Candidate Possible while The Stupid Party ®™ RNC nominates The Single Candidate Most Unlikely To Beat Clinton!
On a lighter note, here is Steven Hayward’s
Hat tip to “Chris-to-Fear” for this and the BLM sign:
And now, in closing: