A California couple was complaining the I.R.S. had just taken more than $80,000 in taxes from them when they sold their business. They had built it from scratch and sold it for a quarter-of-a-million dollars. They claimed they didn't know they would be liable for the taxes.
That kind of story hits home, especially when you run your own business. It also makes you wonder what kind of an idiot they had for an accountant. I was grieving with them, when it occurred to me to ask if they were voters. No, they didn't vote they said. It was just too much trouble. Too bad they didn't lose the entire quarter-million.
Although it is not spelled out in the Constitution, it is a fundamental American right to complain about our government. That doesn't happen to be difficult these days. The schools turn out students who can't read or write. The government at virtually all levels spends more than it collects. The Defense Department's state-of-the-art weapons function only under ideal conditions. Legislatures across the country are busy saving us from ourselves. The streets are not safe. Our rights are constantly under attack.
When the constitution was written, basic rights were limited to very few citizens - white male property owners. Today, one of those rights - the right to vote - extends to just about everyone over the age of 18 - the exception being convicted felons. Funny thing, the vote. It is far more than just a right. It is an honor, a duty, and a privilege. It is our collective voice. It can shout a message to our legislators, but today, it is a whisper.
So few of us vote now, it is possible for a very small but well-organized group to control elections. It is more than possible. It is the order of the day. Low voter turnouts guarantee us candidates who represent only a small fraction of the electorate. Political consultants have made hay with this knowledge. Here's how it's done.
Voters are ranked by their propensity to vote. This information is available at any Registrar of Voters' Office. Those who vote most frequently are targeted with mailers, by phone banks, and precinct walkers. These are the voters who literally control the elections.
Those who sit home and fail to exercise their franchise will be bound by the laws, rules, and regulations formulated and passed by legislators for whom they did not vote. When they are affected negatively - which seems to happen with alarming frequency - they will whimper, whine, and complain. But they will not vote. They will say their vote doesn't count. The irony here is that in fact by not going to the polls, they did vote. They said, "Everything is just fine the way it is."
This strains the patience of the serious voter, but it is welcome news to the narrow interest group(s), which can place its candidates in office. The media refer to this phenomenon as voter apathy. No it's not. It's laziness, it's stupidity. It is simple to sit back and smugly say these people get the government they deserve. The sadness is, those of us who take the time to cast a wise and well-considered vote also get the government they deserve.
With ever-increasing attacks on our freedom of choice, we should never forget, our vote is the ultimate in the right to choose. We might encourage more voting by using a simple expedient. When we hear someone whimpering about how they have been poorly treated by the government, we ought to ask one simple question: "Did you vote?"