Now Make Me Do It: The Mythical Apathy of the Electorate
Many liberals and progressives, not to mention conservatives and wingnuts, bemoan the apathy of the electorate. It isn’t enough to just vote, they insist, once you elect somebody you have to actively force them to represent you, and they cite Franklin D. Roosevelt who said, “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.” The problem, they claim, isn’t with the system or with our representatives, but with us for not being organized and active enough to make our representatives represent us. Many elected representatives claim that they would like to represent their constituents, but, like FDR, they can’t unless they are made to.
If true, this would reflect poorly on us as a people. We have a basically good system, and some good representatives, but we are just too lazy and apathetic to make our representatives represent us.
This is all a lie. Let me give you an example. Back during the Bush administration a lot of people wanted to see Bush and Cheney impeached. In one district the desire for impeachment was so high that activists were able to collect signatures from more than 80% of the residents asking their representative, John Olver, to support impeachment. But when he was formally presented with the petition, his response was, “Spare me! I’m well aware that the overwhelming majority of my constituents want me to support impeachment. I will not.” His response would have been the same if the petition had signatures from 100% of his constituents. It wasn’t that people were too apathetic to care, or too lazy to try to make him represent them, it was that our Constitution never gave people the power to exercise their will through their elected representatives. As both the Bush and Obama administrations made clear, our government does not allow public opinion to influence policy decisions. We are not a democracy or a republic. In the United States power is vested in the hands of the government, not in the hands of the people.
In both a democracy and a republic, by definition, supreme power over government is vested in the hands of the people. In a democracy, the people exercise their power directly by voting on budgets, policy issues, and other matters of import, but in a republic the people exercise their power indirectly through their elected officials. In the United States we have no such power. We can ask our representatives to represent us, we can protest if they don’t, but we have no way to make them do our will because we have no power over them. Once they are elected, they are free to represent us, if they wish, or they can, if they choose, represent their big campaign donors, their personal ideologies, the interests of a foreign country, or anything else they want. We can petition until we turn blue and protest until we get ourselves shot, but we have no way to sway them. Sure we can wait until their terms of office, the only time they’re supposed to represent us, are over, and then try to elect somebody else who can’t be held accountable, but while our representatives are in office, while they are supposed to be representing us, we cannot make them do so.
Of course we can ask Congress to impeach them, but Congress doesn’t like to impeach its own Members. If one Member was impeached, other Members might be subject to impeachment in revenge, so that’s a can of worms they prefer not to open. Sometimes they threaten impeachment, or even begin impeachment proceedings, but they don’t impeach. There have been impeachments of some district judges, but no sitting President, Supreme Court Justice, or Member of Congress has ever been impeached: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment_in_the_United_States
If your representatives appears to be representing you, it is because they chose to or their big donors told them to, not because you made them do it. You have no power to make them do anything. When you vote, you are not voting for representatives, you are voting for petty tyrants who may or may not represent you and over whom you have no power whatsoever. Once their term of office is over and they are no longer representing you, you cannot bring back to life the dead from the wars they funded with your taxpayer dollars or renounce the debts they incurred that your granchildren will still be paying . The damage they do while in office can be irreparable and you have no control over them while they’re in office. You can try to elect somebody else, somebody who tells smoother lies, but you will have no real power over them either.
Of course with corporate money even in local politics, gerrymandered districts, easily hacked and totally unverifiable central tabulators, you can never know for sure that your vote for a new representative was counted at all, no less counted for the candidate you tried to vote for.
Yet approximately 50% of the electorate vote anyway, hoping against hope that their vote might be counted and that they might be represented. The other half of us know better.
In a democratic form of government, a vote is the most precious right of all because it is the way that people exercise their power over government, either directly or through their representatives.
We do not have a democratic form of government in the United States. The Constitution gave us a plutocracy where we have no power over government to exercise.
So don’t berate yourself and your neighbors for not making your representatives do their jobs. You can’t. The 39 plutocrats who wrote the Constitution, the wealthy elite 1% of their time, made sure that you wouldn’t have that power, as they didn’t trust the “mob and rabble” of democracy and wanted those who owned the country, people like themselves, to always rule the country.
You’re not apathetic. You’ve been had.