Monday, November 20th, 2017

Why go to the polls?


Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Apr 5, 2012; Section:Opinion; Page Number:4A

Why go to the polls?
Respect the limits of politics

My parents asked me an interesting question Tuesday morning. They asked if I was planning on voting on the way to work, and for whom.

I told them I wasn’t sure if I was going to vote at all. There were no contested local elections in my ward so my only choice was for president.

“I could live with either Romney or Santorum as the nominee.”

They were surprised by my answer. I had missed very few elections since my 18th birthday. Even given the horrible candidates to choose from when I lived in Milwaukee, I usually puzzled out one reason or another to pick a candidate.

But on Tuesday I was given a choice between two conservative candidates, despite the claims of their partisans. For different reasons, each of them gave the Republicans a good chance of defeating President Barack Obama in November.

I could live with either one. If I spent the time helping my son with his math homework, I was not going to lose sleep regardless of the outcome.

I realize this is heresy. I realize that I’ve probably offended everyone who proudly wears the “I voted” sticker like a red ribbon at an AIDS walk.

But did I really need to go to the polls?

Writing in the Appleton Post Crescent (wouldn’t that be a half-moon?), Mike Muoio would not only bring the crashing weight of societal scorn upon me, he would add a fine. Muoio not only believes voting is a societal obligation, he believes it should be mandatory.

Muoio believes, “Mandatory voting justifies and legitimizes the government we live with, as the majority of us will grant it legitimacy via mass endorsement.”

Because nothing confers legitimacy faster than state power forcing people to vote. It worked so well for the former Soviet Union, for Libya, for the former Warsaw Pact countries, right?

Muoio also claims that it would make our politics more moderate if we forced people who didn’t want to vote to vote. This is wishful thinking at best. There isn’t evidence that candidate behavior changes with higher rates of voter turnout.

He also claims campaigns would spend less money because they wouldn’t need to spend on get-out-the-vote efforts (GOTV). However, GOTV is only one part of a campaign, and with a wider electorate, campaigns would actually have to spend more money, not less, to reach the apathetic voter that is only going to the polls because he or she will be fined if they don’t go.

Muoio makes a false assumption that it is the responsibility of everyone to be consumed by politics and to be as participatory as he would command.

Our republic shouldn’t be about mandatory involvement in the political process, but that the political process should have little involvement in the affairs of our lives.

The idea of the citizen legislature works two ways. It shouldn’t be a career, and when someone chooses to avoid politics it shouldn’t haunt them with mandatory participation.

Christian Schneider, writing for the Wisconsin Interest, made a similar error when he chastised U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan for not having the ambition to put his political career ahead of his family and run for president.

Ryan has small children at home and has repeatedly said that they are a major reason why he wouldn’t run. But Schneider presumes he knows best and pointed to other happy, well-adjusted children who survived the White House.

Schneider misses the point. Ryan has decided where the limits are for his involvement in public life. As a conservative, Schneider should recognize that creating such a limit is not something to be criticized but praised.

How much better would we be if more people followed Ryan’s example and said there is a limit to political ambition and no more? We cannot live entirely in the political sphere without being consumed by ideological passions, and that is the real road to tyranny.

We must have respect for our fellow man that wishes only that the political world would leave him alone, or at least respects the boundaries he sets. When we rediscover that respect, we can rediscover our respect for a limited government.

By the way, on Tuesday night I was voter number 169 in my ward.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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