Responsibility vs. Rights

Law, Politics, Race

I don’t normally resort to name-calling on this blog, but Ted Rall is an idiot. Here is what he says about voters who don’t know that Bush is rich, or that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11:

The fact that these yahoos are allowed to vote is an abomination. Their ill-considered ballots cancel or dilute those cast by those who do the heavy lifting that makes them good citizens: keeping abreast of current events, researching issues, studying candidates’ positions.

He goes on to suggest that there be some kind of a political literacy test before you vote. Now, he is a cartoonist, so I suppose this is all some kind of joke — but it isn’t a funny one. Here’s the problem: Either you believe in democracy or you don’t. If you don’t then let the oligarchs rule the country and shut up. If you do, then everyone gets a vote. Period.

Let’s say there was a vote in your state about whether or not to allow factories to release gases into the air that could potentially destroy the ozone layer contribute to global warming [Thanks Mark!]. Now the actual effects of this policy are unclear, because one group of scientists say that the gases are going to accelerate global warming, while another group of scientists say that there is no evidence to that effect. Should you not be allowed to vote because you don’t know the first thing about atmospheric science? Should we have a test that checks whether or not you know how many carbon molecules there are in carbon-dioxide? Of course not. These are decisions that affect everyone and everyone should be allowed to have a say. How do you make a decision if you aren’t a scientist? You might do some research and teach yourself basic molecular chemistry, or you might do what most people do — follow the lead of those whose opinion you respect: friends, media personalities, newspaper editorials, or perhaps your political party, church, or other community organization. This is how democracy works. If you don’t like it, get out there and try to get people to join your party.

Sure, people have a responsibility to educate themselves, but they have a right to vote. There is a very important difference between the two.

This is historically important because every time the franchise has been extended — to men without property, to blacks, to women — there have been those who argued that the newly enfranchised voters would simply vote for their bosses, masters, or husbands. It was believed they would be mere tools without a voice of their own. In some countries, such as Australia and Brazil, there are laws that everyone must vote. People make the same arguments — that these votes are easily manipulated. But I would much rather live in a country where everyone was required by law to vote than in one that continued to block people’s right to vote. Moreover, if the Democrats win this year, it will be because they successfully enfranchised more voters, not because they limited the right to vote.