Apathy, The Cornerstone of Self-Respect

Hoo-boy. For a long time now the columnists have been groaning about how voters got a motingator case of the apathy. At first I wasn’t sure what had the papers in such an uproar. It would have cost me a quarter to find out, and I was only about fifteen cents interested. I was worried, though. Apathy sounded like poison ivy that got into the feed trough in the newsroom and got everybody itching and scratching.

Turns out, apathy means some people won’t buy snake oil. When there’s nothing to vote for, they don’t vote. I studied about it, and figured what apathy boiled down to was common sense and self-respect. So I ordered myself a barrel of it on the Internet.

(Actually, “apathy” is from the Greek “a-” meaning “meretricious gunch that would embarrass a Madison Avenue advertising executive,” and “-pathy,” meaning “Don’t buy any of this stuff.”)

OK. As I write this, I don’t know which version of Al Gore will be our next humiliation. The pools suggest George.dot.Gore as distinct from Al.dot.Gore, and that Hillary, the Fridge That Ate New York, is going to. (I’m not sure that made chronological sense.) One blessing at least will be hearing less from the current National Embarrassment and his trusty humidor Monica.

But I understand apathy. In fact, I’m for it. I’ll tell you why.

Suppose that education were important to you. Who would you vote for?

Twaddledee, and Twaddledumb: “Our children are our future and I am deeply committed to giving them the best . . ..” (Politicians talk in intermittent italics because it generates a mind-numbing rhythm.)

Whoopee-doo. But we all know that neither party will raise academic standards. Neither ever has. Neither has any reason to. Both have reasons not to. Restoring the high schools and universities to respectability would entail bucking blacks, feminists, and the teachers unions. That’ll happen any day now, I reckon. Most likely, about a week after bobcats start eating collard greens.

In short, as far as the schools are concerned, you’ve got no reason to vote.

Suppose you figured the armed services ought to be in reasonable shape. Who would you vote for?

The Tweedles: “Our forces are the best-trained and best-armed young people we have ever had . . .”

Like hell they are. The military is in a shambles. Morale is lousy, officers are bailing out, recruiting is down, all largely because of social engineering. Neither party will do squat about it, because that would require bucking the feminists, of whom they are terrified.

Why vote?

Now, when I read the daily pestilences published hereabout, they talk about apathy as if it were a moral defect in the public. People don’t vote, see — about a hundred million of them don’t vote — because they’re lazy, or selfish, or not real patriotic, or don’t have both oars in the water. If people don’t vote, the papers believe, there’s something wrong with the people.

Tell you what. I see things a little differently.

If I were making moonshine up the holler (that was ten years ago, and there ain’t a trace of that still left, do don’t bother looking) and a hundred million people stopped buying left-handed whiskey from me, I might wonder whether there was something wrong with the moonshine. Too much lead from bad radiators, maybe, and everybody was going blind. Or the fusel oil made their heads ache like something ugly had crawled up in there to live. Most usually, when people don’t buy something, they’ve figured out something about it. Ain’t that so?

I reckon the papers want everybody to vote because it makes the system look legitimate when it isn’t. You’ve seen elections in dictatorships like the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Last Wednesday, when 99.9 percent of the electorate votes, 99.8 percent of it for the Maximum Dingaling. Why, what a functioning democracy. How voluptuously respectable. The turnout doesn’t affect anything. It just makes the system look good.

I guess it’s about the same here.

The genius of the American political system is that it allows the right to vote while withholding the power to decide anything of importance. It’s better than a Ponzi scheme, because it’s less obvious. As long as the economy lets everybody have a Subaru and a Palm Pilot, nobody will notice. But to make it look like more of a democracy than it is, you need an appearance of Participation, of hard-fought political battles in which the Common Man shapes the Destiny of the Country. (Lots of capital letters means it’s real patriotic.)

In short, the rubes have to vote, to keep the system from being too obviously what it is, and too obviously what it isn’t. Elections are window-dressing for decisions that are going to be made anyway. If you don’t believe me, ask anybody in Wheeling.

Now, I’m just a country boy, and don’t understand higher ideas. But what it looks to me like is, the country isn’t run by Washington and the gummint and the people and departments and elections. Really it’s run by a vague cloud oozing out of Harvard, an ill-defined class consisting of academics, bureaucrats, the media, and their allies and prisoners. They control all the rest. Best I can tell, it’s not an organized conspiracy, with black helicopters and little transmitters planted in peoples’ teeth. It’s just a bunch of people who all think the same things and figure they know better than everybody else and don’t want to let anyone else play. It works. They make the decisions that really matter.

I mean, what do you suppose would happen if the media allowed honest debate, followed by a binding national referendum, on subjects that people really care about — say, affirmative action, bilingual education, compulsory integration, illegal immigration, and obscenity in entertainment? They’d die like bugs in a Roach Hotel. I’m not sure how abortion, the right to bear arms, and prayer in the schools would fare. I promise, though, that you will never be given a straight-up vote on them, or see both sides fairly argued on television.

Why? Because the amorphous cloud, the Ruling Gas, knows what would happen. Government in America is the process of keeping from the people the decisions that matter most to them. I expect that was what Thomas Jefferson and George Mason and the gang had in mind. Don’t you?

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