Tuesday, August 7, 2007


I remember reading Carl Sandburg's biography of Abe Lincoln. In it he described a late night: Lincoln not yet elected to the presidency, but deep in thought about this republic he was a part of. He stared into a dying fire, thinking about democracy.

In the latest National Review, Jonah Goldberg writes ("PUT 'EM TO THE TEST", NR, August 13, '07, pp. 30-31) about the problem with low voter turnout in America. He relates the story of an activist in Arizona last year who had a scheme to bribe Americans into voting by having ballots double as lottery tickets. Aiyee. Wrong approach. Goldberg points out that the expectations among left-leaning scholars and most journalists is that if more people voted, it would pay huge dividends for the Dems. He writes,
"Rock the Vote and its various sister organizations are simply dishonest when they say they want people to vote. What they really want is for people to vote for a prepackaged 'youth' ideology that includes the usual wish-list of liberal policies..."

While Goldberg argues that getting out the vote wouldn't necessarily play into the Democrat's hands, he also asks the surprising question, "If more voters isn't the answer, how about fewer?" If it is true that left-wing activism is geared toward expanding the numbers of voters to include the illiterate, the uninvolved, the ignorant, the lazy--wouldn't a good counter move be to raise the standards by which you are allowed the vote? Horrors!

Goldberg argues that the voting standards of today are arbitrary. For example, there are plenty of teenagers out there who are more informed and savvy about government than masses of registered and "qualified" voters. He points out that people are very savvy about things they care about, and otherwise pretty ignorant. He asks, "So why should those who don't care about voting be harangued to vote? I don't get to vote on who should make it into the Rose Bowl, so why are we so desperate to get the input of people who know less about government than I do about football?"

Finally he asks,
"What would be so awful about a simple test of civic knowledge?...I'd suggest the test immigrants must answer in order to become U.S. citizens."

What indeed? A test would raise the bar, and in doing so would restore to the right to vote its place as an esteemed, civic activity.

I have an idea that it was the conundrum of offering power to the people--an irresponsible, distracted populace--that worried a sleepless Abe Lincoln on more than one night.

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