By John F. Di Leo -
In the fall of 2019, Republicans suffered a few serious defeats: Democrats won governor races in Kentucky and Louisiana, and consolidated the state legislature of Virginia.
Too many Republican voters in both states told pollsters and reporters that the Republican candidates just hadn’t "earned their votes." They hadn't made the case for election, or reelection, or they'd lost the glow they used to have. Oh, these voters still consider themselves Republican, and voted Republican for other races, but since these particular Republican candidates didn’t "earn their votes" they denied them the prize of victory, allowing an opposition with whom they disagree on virtually everything to win instead.
We shouldn’t think that this thought process is limited to Republicans, by the way. We have also seen many of the Democratic candidates for president drop out, always citing a lack of funds, volunteers, and personal support in the polls.
In one week, Sestak, Bullock, and Harris all dropped out of their race for the nomination, all citing that same lack of support… And when voters were asked why, they simply reported, "these candidates haven’t earned my support."
Not "I don't think this is the most electable choice on my side of the aisle," but rather "I don't choose to reward this person with my vote."
This odd concept isn't completely new; it's been percolating for some time. Growing up as a conservative in Illinois, I certainly remember many an election that turned on just a few percentage points, and the same answer was given for the reason that people skipped the election, or skipped that race, or even intentionally voted for someone they hated instead of the candidate they agreed with. “The candidate just didn’t earn my vote,” they say, or "My vote is a precious thing; I'll only award it to someone who deserves it."
Voters of a certain age still recall with sadness how Bill Clinton was able to win two terms without winning a majority of the popular vote either time. H. Ross Perot took a lot of votes from George HW Bush and Bob Dole, sure… but that’s not the reason Clinton won. Bill Clinton won because so many Republicans didn’t think George HW Bush really wanted to win, and because they didn’t think Bob Dole was exciting enough. They just didn't feel their nominee had "earned their support," so they sat back and allowed Bill Clinton to win.
Are you beginning to see a pattern?
When did we begin thinking that elections are about candidates earning our votes?
Is political office some prize – like America’s Got Talent or Star Search – in which we reward the most deserving candidate with a cool title, a sash or tiara, and a year of shopping market openings and TV guest spots?
Our Founding Fathers would be horrified.
Somewhere along the way, Americans forgot the view of public service held by our founders. You shouldn’t want political office; you should only seek it because you know that the job you do will be so important that it will be worth the sacrifice. It is not for personal advancement that you seek it; It is to help the country.
In fact, as a citizen in a constitutionally-limited republic, your vote is not a reward for a slick presentation, an attractive face, or the display of some talent like the Miss America pageant.
Our vote was consciously intended to be a selfish act, something we do for ourselves and our families and friends, not something we do to reward the candidate.
Personally, I can hardly list all of the many times that I voted for someone I didn’t like, or who definitely had not earned my support… but who I voted for anyway, because I knew that he or she was the better person for the job. An election is an either-or choice, you pick the one of the two who is objectively better for the country.
In the end, punishing someone for a bad campaign or a low energy attitude … allowing his opponent to win even if the opponent will be worse in the office… is a terribly self-destructive act.
Think back on that 1992 election, when just enough Republicans decided to punish George HW Bush for not seeming to want it bad enough, so they let Bill Clinton win the White House. Who did that help? The punishment didn’t do anything to George Bush; it just allowed him to retire a little earlier. But placing Bill Clinton in the White House cost the country billions of dollars in economic errors… and created foreign-policy messes from which we still suffer today.
There is much we need to correct in the American education system. Our understanding of civics, and in particular, of the founding fathers' vision, is woefully lacking in almost all sectors.
But I would argue that first among these destructive modern errors is that Americans have forgotten that crucial concept: the self-interest of the ballot box. (in the Federalist Papers, this was considered its greatest genius.)
The Framers designed a system in which millions of voters, voting for their own interest on election day, would almost magically work together to create that wonderful result: the selection of the best government for us all.
Tragically, we have too many Americans today who really don’t vote their self-interest on election day… voters who don’t think about what the candidates will do to them, their neighborhoods, their children and grandchildren, if elected.
Instead, too many voters think about which candidate they would like to have a beer with, which candidates seem to want it more, which candidate seemed more exciting, more likable, “more like me.”
All those who voted for Democrat state capitals this year, for whatever reason, voted against their own interests, as well as voting against everyone else’s.
We all benefit from conservative governance… The conservative policies of lower taxes, fewer regulations, safer streets, and economic growth, are good for everybody, not just for Republicans!
But as long as American voters are discouraged from considering their own interests in the ballot box… as long as they think of elections as a prize to award, rather than as a sacred civic trust… our republic will remain threatened, precariously balanced on a very dangerous precipice.
Copyright 2019 John F Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based transportation manager, trade compliance trainer, writer and actor. His columns have been regularly found in Illinois Review for over 10 years.
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