This column by ACRU Policy Board Member J. Christian Adams was published March 23, 2015 at PJ Media.
There’s nothing that excites someone to vote like being forced to do it. But federal force is one of President Obama’s favorite things, so his recent announcement that mandatory voting might be a good idea is hardly a surprise.
Normally, Americans have an aversion to being told what to do. Imagine if a president had proposed mandatory prayer for all Americans. Most previous presidents thought prayer was a good idea, so why not prayer for everybody — by mandate?
Mandatory voting is just as unappealing. After all, part of the right to vote we hear so much about also includes the right not to vote. Americans have the constitutional right to reject the political process, check out and not vote. In fact, one might argue electoral apathy is a sign of a nation’s health. If things are going well enough, if people are content, then voting isn’t a priority. Voting only rises in importance when the government manages to screw up people’s lives enough to make voting important again.
Deciding not to vote is still casting a ballot of a different kind. Or as Neil Peart put it in another context, “if you chose not to decide you still have made a choice.”
Let’s return to mandatory prayer.
President Obama thinks mandatory voting is a good idea. As a progressive, he subscribes to the theology that a better, brighter future is just around the corner if only the machinery of government can be properly tuned to get us there. Apathy and nonparticipation, to progressives, is one of the pesky by-products of freedom, slowing our journey to utopia. Once everyone is forced to vote, those teeming masses will raise their collective fist high in the air and transform the country.
But what if a president preferred raising up America’s hands in mandatory prayer?
Naturally, we know what the progressive secular left would do with such a proposal. Laughter, ridicule and endless citation of the Free Exercise clause would follow. The pro-prayer president might respond that nationally mandated prayer — let’s just say on Fridays, for convenience — “could lift up and transform the nation.” But the laughter from the left would drown out the pro-prayer president. After all, we are a nation that believes in people exercising freedom of conscience, right?
So what if a president proposed mandatory speech? Every American might log onto whitehouse.gov and register their views on every issue. More speech is good, right?
Not a big fan of prayer or speech? Then fill in the blank with what you like best for your own mandate. Mandatory church. Mandatory quartering of troops. If not troops, mandatory quartering of AmeriCorps volunteers. Mandatory gun ownership. Mandatory party membership. Mandatory recycling. Mandatory exercise followed by mandatory community picnics. Mandatory kale.
All of this starts to sound, dare I say, rather un-American. See, mandates are the ways of totalitarians.
Americans believe in freedom. If you don’t want to vote, don’t. Some elections just aren’t worth your vote. Some elections, you might not find a single candidate to be acceptable. If you choose not to vote, you still have made a choice.
But this is a president that seems all too comfortable with mandates, rules, and edicts, and is all too uncomfortable with freedom. Years ago, Dorothy Rabinowitz called Obama the “alien in the White House.” She wasn’t talking about where Obama was born. She was talking about how Obama doesn’t fit into the American experience of freedom or love of country.
Obama playing with the deeply offensive idea of mandatory voting only adds to this assessment.
So why do progressives want to force everyone to vote? It’s critical to understand this, because mandatory voting isn’t the only process scheme they’ve cooked up to transform the nation.
Obama’s comments flow from how progressives view voting. They don’t view elections as individual Americans carefully assessing candidates and casting an informed ballot for the candidate for whom they believe is the most qualified.
Instead, to progressives, elections are about flexing collective political muscle. Progressives view elections as groups mobilizing and voting in bloc fashion for group interests. The candidate is less important than the cause. I discovered this when I proposed that early voting be curtailed so that voters could make a more informed decision.
Some ridiculed the quaint idea that elections are about making informed decisions on the best candidate.
To progressives, the only decisions voters must make are to look in the mirror, identify their sub-group to which they belong, go to the polls and represent that subgroup’s interest against the ruling-class, gun-toting, God-clinging faction standing against them.
Progressives genuinely believe that they don’t hold total power only because large groups of disaffected economically downtrodden Americans don’t vote. Progressives believe if they just tinker with the process rules — mandatory voting, automatic voter registration, elimination of Election Day, elimination of precincts — they will elect enough progressives to transform the nation.
Once they dictate the process, they believe they will own the policy.
In the good old days, the progressives didn’t have to worry about the election process. They took power the old fashioned way — with truncheons, street trials, and commissars. Let’s be thankful we don’t have a president attracted to that sort of history.