“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Winston Churchill
Over the last few months many of the Americans who voted for President Obama in 2008 are expressing disillusionment and even anger at some of the things the man they elected is doing. These people have only themselves to blame. They would have known exactly what to expect from then-Senator Barack Obama if they had exercised due diligence before casting their votes.
Voting is the only dangerous activity that the uninformed, irresponsible, and careless are encouraged to engage in. We don’t see public service announcements urging the untrained to handle guns, or to drive on the public streets. Yet every autumn public service announcements urge all of us to exercise our right to vote.
Elections have consequences. The dangers of a misplaced vote can be just as great as those of a mishandled gun, or a recklessly driven car; and there will never be a democratic nation where this is not true. Ronald Reagan understood how fragile democracy and freedom are. “Freedom,” said Reagan in a 1961 speech, “is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Thomas Jefferson warned more specifically about the dangers of ignorant voters: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
Voters Make Tragic Choice in 1932
Germany’s 1932 parliamentary elections make a useful case study. In a free, fair, democratic election, the German people put their government in the hands of Adolph Hitler’s National Socialist party. A large plurality of voters in Germany’s multi-party parliamentary system voted National Socialist, and millions more voted for the Soviet-backed German Communist Party. These two radical socialist parties got a clear majority of votes cast.1
The millions of ordinary Germans who voted for National Socialist (Nazi) candidates were doing monstrous harm to their nation, but that was obviously not their intention. They voted as they did because they thought a Socialist government would bring relief from the economic hardships that the Treaty of Versailles and the worldwide economic depression had been inflicting on the working class.
They voted for candidates who promised to strengthen and rejuvenate their nation. Because they didn’t look deeply enough into the backgrounds and character of the party’s leaders, they did not foresee that the very Nazis who were promising to help them would bring devastation to their country. Nor, for that matter, did they foresee that the Soviet leaders who funded and ran the German Communist party would soon send the Red Army to brutalize those Germans who survived the war.
In the months leading up to the elections, the Nazis and Communists had been accusing each other of betraying “true” socialism and colluding with capitalists. Both accused the other German political parties (notably the Social Democratic Party, which finished second to the Nazis in its 1932 vote total) of supporting the capitalist status quo. Neither radical party was honest about its true agenda, which in both cases was power, repression, and domination.
Hitler believed that most people were simple-minded and easy to manipulate, and he made his views clear in a book published six years before the 1932 elections. (This is one of the many red flags that should have made German voters more reluctant to trust the man.) “The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted,” said Hitler, “and their understanding is feeble.” Tragically, the behavior of German voters in 1932 confirmed Hitler’s opinions.
Among the victims who suffered most from the choices German voters made in 1932 were the German people themselves. Millions of them were killed in the war that their chosen leader started in 1939. Most of those were killed by Communist soldiers from the Soviet Union, after Hitler’s 1941 invasion of that country.
When the Soviets turned back the invading German army in 1943, they launched a counter-offensive that was every bit as brutal to German civilians as it was to the German military. Communist soldiers gang-raped hundreds of thousands of German women, while their leadership did little or nothing to stop them. It is estimated that some ten thousand German women died of rape-related injuries and suicides in 1945 in Berlin alone.
The millions of German voters who voted for candidates of the Stalin-backed German Communist Party in 1932 surely would have voted differently if they had understood the de-humanizing oppression that Communist leaders like Josef Stalin inflict on the peoples they control. And, most certainly, those who voted for Hitler’s National Socialists would have voted differently if they had taken the effort to learn more about the character and intentions of that Party’s leaders.
More Recent History
German voters are not unique in having voted for leaders who ended up dominating and oppressing them. In 2007 voters in Gaza put candidates of the political party/terrorist group Hamas control of their government; new democratic elections are not expected any time soon.
In 1998 Marxist candidate Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela in a fair and honest election. Within a few years he had nationalized various businesses, including news media. With firm control of the media, Chavez was re-elected in 2006. He quickly pushed through a referendum to eliminate Venezuela’s two term limit for the presidency, thus paving the way for his own continuation in power. Only time will tell what methods Chavez might resort to in order to retain his power, if control of the media proves insufficient.
When American Voters are Careless
American voters, like those in other nations, have shown a willingness to go to the polls and cast their votes without first exercising due diligence. Four of the last eight governors of Illinois, for example, have been indicted on criminal charges. Three of the four have served or are serving prison sentences, and the fourth, Governor Rod Blagojevich, may well be joining the other three before the summer is over.
Illinois is certainly not the only state where the voters sometimes choose criminals for positions of political power. Louisiana and Arkansas, to cite two others, both have a long history of public officials who end up in prison.
It’s true that none of the criminals who persuaded Illinois voters to put them in the Governor’s Mansion have ever tried to seize dictatorial power, but then again none of them ever had control of the government of an entire nation.
The closest thing to an overthrow of democracy that Illinois politicians have ever been able to get away with is ballot stuffing (creating bogus votes by using the names of dead people, for example) on behalf of themselves or their political cronies. It is widely believed, for example, that dead voters in Illinois helped determine the outcome of the 1960 US Presidential race.
Fortunately for all of us, voter fraud is a difficult thing to pull off, especially when at least some of the officials with oversight (beginning with the US Attorney General and his Justice Department) are not themselves corrupt. The very fact that three recent Illinois governors have done time is a testiment to the effectiveness of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, a bureau of the Justice Department.
The larger problem in American history, as in other places, is legitimate voters who cast their votes without first doing their homework.
Obama Voters Suffer “Buyer’s Remorse”
In 2008 American voters made Chicago political insider Barack Obama President of the United States. He had to battle his way to a close victory in the primary elections, but his margin of victory in the general election was a comfortable seven percentage points. Today, just a year and a half into his presidency, many of the sixty-three million Americans who voted for him in November of 2008 are expressing disappointment at the radical nature of the President’s appointments and agenda.
The millions of mainstream Americans who voted for President Obama did not realize they were choosing a leader who would populate his administration with leftist radicals like Anita Dunn, Cass Sunstein, and Van Jones. Ordinary Americans did not foresee that the President would appoint an Attorney General who would refuse to prosecute burly members of a radical black rights group who had armed themselves and blocked the entrance to a polling place to keep white voters out.
Many of the people who had been impressed with the candidate’s vague promises about bringing “change” have expressed dismay at the kinds of change the new President has been effecting. The vastly increased government spending, the government takeover of most of the health care industry, and the threats to impose draconian limits on how much fossil fuel Americans can use; have all been unpopular with the very voters who put the President in office.
Why Voting is a Solemn Responsibility
Proper pre-election day diligence would have protected these voters from the remorse they are feeling today. A carefull look at President Obama’s friends, sponsors, mentors, and voting record would have made it clear that he is a left wing extremist with no respect for the traditions and values of mainstream America. The good news is that he does not seem to be trying to ban opposition political parties, or demand direct control of the news media, or use the military to intimidate his opponents.
The bad news is that some future President might do all these things, if American voters don’t start doing their homework before filling out their ballots.
1Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, p. 115