The idea of One Man, One Vote is one of my favorite parts of the Myth of Democracy. I’m a pretty avid history student. I wouldn’t pretend to teach it like Glenn Beck does but I’ve read all eleven volumes of Durant’s The Story of Civilization. Not once in this magnificently rendered and detailed saga of Mankind’s antics do I remember an example of a true democracy. It’s an ideal, like communism or true love, which has never existed but in imperfect approximation. We suppose that Athens had a democracy and if you don’t count slaves and women it was a pretty good try. But there never has been a society of any size, no matter how dedicated to the ideal, that has achieved anything close to One Man, One Vote.
Our modern ‘democracies’ usually hold out this ideal, which is really just an illusion, that because the plebes go to their local elementary school and pull a lever or dip their fingers in purple ink that they have had some influence over laws and policies which will affect their lives. It’s a sweet theory but in practical fact voting has approximately the same effect as praying. You know it can’t hurt and it makes you feel better, like you are a part of things, but it’s hard to know if your vote or your prayer has any real bearing on what happens. That’s the dilution effect. Then there is the asymmetry effect, the fact that in realpolitic all votes don’t count the same. It is easy to see that in contemporary politics, dollars are more influential than votes. You know something is completely out of whack when candidates like Meg Whitman spend over a hundred million bucks to get a job which pays several hundred thousand a year, when it costs a billion to run for president. You don’t even have to do the math to smell something fishy. To get this equation to balance you have to assume that there are moneys being shuffled around which are not visible to the naked eye, the political dark matter that keeps the universe from collapsing.
The Supreme Court, with the Citizens United decision, has all but codified and institutionalized the principle that money talks. The ruling classifies corporations, which are financial entities, as individuals who enjoy Constitutional rights. In other words, now money has the right of free speech, it can vote. From a Court which likes to wear the garb of non-activism, this is probably the most sweeping example of legislation from the bench that The Poet’s Eye has ever observed. It could almost be seen as progressive activism in that it extends rights to a whole new species, money.
Our democracy is as simulated as a video game. There are video games that make us believe that we are bowling, playing golf, destroying monsters, flying spaceships and making music when we are really doing none of these things. Voting is the video game that makes us believe that we are living in a citizen-governed country, a democracy, when we are really living in a plutocracy where Nintendo or Goldman-Sachs owns the game and we only play it. Party politics and elections are purely show business. Money makes the important decisions.
The Poet’s Eye sees a very simple way to get honest with the whole subject of special interest money and elections, SELL VOTES. Let’s get naked with the paradigm and the reality, quit the pretense of One Man, One Vote and charge it to One Dollar, One Vote and you can buy as many as you can afford. Make it like American Idol where you can vote as many times as you are willing to accept the charges on your phone. This would streamline the hypocrisy, slice overhead, cut out the middle man. No need for expensive assassination ads and boiler-rooms full of phone callers, no unions or PACs or c-6 money laundering organizations, just buy the votes directly on the open market. Ah, Dollarcracy.
This plan would also be great for the economy. The money from the votes would go directly into the treasury instead of into the pockets of foreigners like Rupert Murdoch. The way things stand, a candidate needs to take obscene amounts of questionable money from special interests and spend it on television ads. Advertising and media companies ought to pay windfall profits taxes during election years because they are the only ones making money on the deal. And why should we limit who can buy these votes? Let’s sell them to the Chinese or BP or anyone else who is feeling lucky about owning a Senator or two and has the money to advance their interests by influencing American laws or policies. We shouldn’t be shy about this because it would show us just where the power resides in the world. For the government it would be like printing money, which they already do, only better. They would be encouraged to have more elections. Hell, let’s vote on everything. One Dollar, One Vote. If you’re voting Yes on a road project or a school, your dollar goes directly to the project. That way if a contractor was trying to use political influence to have a project funded he could take the money that he would normally have spent for bribes, political contributions and hatchet ads directly on votes instead which would fold back into the overall project budget, the bribes would fund the project. It’s poetry in motion.
The Poet’s Eye sees that this proposal is akin to political mysticism but if votes were a buck apiece, we would either learn the value of a dollar or the value of a vote. Until we have real election finance reform, all other reforms will be impossible. We can play Virtual Democracy if we prefer or we can use what minor but valiant influence we can exert to elect those who are most likely to move us forward instead of backwards. Otherwise it might as well be One Dollar, One Vote.
And I don’t give a damn about a greenback dollar, spend it as fast as I can.
For a wailin’ song and a good guitar, the only things that I understand, poor boy, the only things that I understand. — Hoyt Axton