Now begins that strangest span of hours in political punditry, in which attempts to divine the outcome by reading the tea leaves of early voting, and the chicken bones of polling-place anecdotes, intensify despite the fact that we’ll know the actual outcome tonight. Maybe. Some of these races are close enough to make recount dramas possible, and there are likely Senate runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia. We have early voting that stretches out weeks before the election, and elections that might not be over for weeks after the polls close. It’s a triumph of political-class marketing, kind of like the way Christmas shopping season starts in July nowadays.
It is customary for pundits to begin Election Day columns with a ritual encouragement for everyone to go out and vote. The conservative pundit often feels obliged to add that you should only vote once, in the precinct where you are legally registered to vote, and only if you’re alive. To be brutally honest, I haven’t got the heart for the usual “everybody get out and vote” stuff. Turnout is not the sole, or even primary, measure of a republic’s health, and I’m a bit weary of the “pump up our base, depress the opponent’s base” tug of war, in which herds of voters are driven into, or away from, the polls like cattle. If you care about what’s going on, you don’t need any pundit of either Left or Right to remind you to vote, much less remind you on the morning of Election Day. People who don’t give a damn, casting uninformed votes for superficial reasons, aren’t a great asset to democracy, and I see no reason to badger them into dropping by the voting booth. Vote if you care enough to make the effort. I hope a lot of people care enough to vote. The business of encouraging them to care was conducted months ago.
Election Day is a football game in which the teams remain motionless, while the goal posts move. This one’s going to have a lot of goal post moving. No matter what happens, there will be pundits of both Left and Right standing by to assure readers that it was either a triumph or a debacle. The truth is that we won’t really know what happened until a long time from now, long after the last recount drama and runoff have played out, because it matters what our elected representatives do, not merely that they win elections. It is the great, and I suppose understandable, delusion of the political class that political events are ends, rather than beginnings; elections are victories, and passing a bill “solves” whatever problem it was supposed to address. We should all have learned by now that it doesn’t work that way.
We should also understand that political measures are insufficient to control the political class. In other words, the notion of “punishing” politicians who screw up the country by voting them out of office is a childish fantasy. Elections cannot be the only restraint on the ambitions of the Ruling Class. That’s why we have a Constitution, and it has become too threadbare to serve the purpose for which it was designed. It got that way because generations of Americans allowed it to get that way. Voting blocs decided, one after the other, that whatever goodies they were being offered would justify nibbling a little piece out of our founding documents. To this day, there isn’t much likelihood of the American people rising up en masse, across Party lines, and demanding a full restoration of the Republic they inherited. That should serve to illustrate the dangers of placing excessive faith in elections as the altar upon which limitless power is sanctified. The Ruling Class has too many carrots and sticks at its disposal to insure that a real “wave” election never happens. At this point, government changes the people more often, and more comprehensively, than people change the government.
We could make that stop, but it would require a degree of cooperation with one another, and faith in one another, that seems beyond our grasp. The restoration of individual liberty and capitalist freedom would make reform-minded Americans into enemies of the State, and it is a terrible enemy, not least because the State and its happy constituents have a unity of purpose that the remainder of the American people rarely achieves. Look at what happened the last time merely balancing the budget was suggested; we were terrorized into thinking it would be Ragnarok on the Potomac. The System and its supporters, including a good number of Republicans, did a fairly thorough job of demonizing, demoralizing, and suppressing the only great popular reform movement of our lifetimes, the Tea Party. That’s one of the reasons so many Republican leads in this “wave” year are so thin – the candidates won their primaries by defeating the Republican voters they needed to put them over the top.
I say these things not to counsel despair, but to encourage resolve. Resolve cannot be fostered by soft-pedaling difficulties or making unrealistic promises about the rewards of a single election. But that election is worth winning, precisely because elections are beginnings, not ends. It should be clear to everyone on the right side of our political culture – right down to the most iconoclastic libertarian and the cynics who think the biggest difference between Democrats and Republicans is their media coverage – that sitting home on Election Day purchases no safety. The ambitions of the State and its acolytes have long since sharpened into aggression. You may not care about them, but they very much care about you. The death of federalism means there is nowhere to hide. And you shouldn’t want to hide, because that is contrary to the spirit of independence. Principles count for very little when they are merely written on paper, for paper can be torn and discarded. Principles must be lived, and held in the heart. That’s why it doesn’t mean much when a populace that has become comfortable with the suppression of speech through intimidation declares that free speech is doing just fine, because we’ve got the First Amendment protecting it. We won’t keep free speech for long with that attitude; notice how relentlessly certain elements of the Ruling Class chip away at it, because they understand how robust dissent dilutes power. Principles must be lived and expressed, not hoarded in a vault.
Elections are one way we express our principles – or, more to the point, reward skilled political leaders who do a good job of expressing those principles and promising to protect them. But what you do between now and the next election – the way you live, the culture you shape – is of enormous importance too. Every expansion of political power is preceded by a loss of faith by a critical mass of the electorate… a concession that some important part of American life can no longer be left in the hands of free people. How much stronger our nation would become, if we could all get over the silly notion that a government too inept to launch a website, or handle the response to a viral outbreak, can “fix” us by taking control over our lives and fortunes!
Today is important – perhaps even historic – but you need to settle in for the long haul, and extend your resolve to 2016 and 2020 as well. If the Republicans take control of the Senate, there will be a gigantic effort from Democrats and their media allies to portray it as the most futile and meaningless of victories; there have already been essays written about how GOP victory in 2014 merely sets them up for a crash-and-burn defeat in the even more important 2016 contest, because the Republican Congress will inevitably be portrayed as under-performing (and let’s face it, those portrayals might be accurate.) They’ll be blamed for everything that goes wrong, and given credit for nothing that goes right. The generic public loathing of Congress will become loathing of Republicans, whose every bold initiative will be either stymied by crafty Democrats in the minority – who will play much harder ball in the Senate than the relatively genial Republican minority ever does – or vetoed by the President.
That storyline will only shape the 2016 elections if we allow it to. It only works if we view 2014 as the end of a saga, and the next two years as an epilogue. It’s going to take longer than one election and two years to make things better. And it’s not going to be the work of national politicians alone. If Republicans are convinced there’s no way they can win with their own party voters, they’ll make their peace with the System and collect what rewards they can. Through both apathy and contempt, voters send the message that they lack confidence and resolve. And if the GOP doesn’t win the Senate in this election, they won’t be a very effective minority in the Senate, or a particularly inspiring force in the 2016 elections, if they see their voters walking away with expressions of disgust, muttering that voting was a waste of time and they’ll never bother with it again.
There are many diseases that can weaken the spirit of independence. None is so effective, and so contagious, as despair. From the leftist politician who tells his constituents they can’t survive without his help, to the conservative voter who decides Republicans aren’t worth voting for, despair erodes our confidence and creates opportunities for the expansion of power. No single election will ever be enough of a victory to rout despair from the battlefield; it has reinforcements, reserves, and strong lines of supply. The Ruling Class is in this fight for the long haul, and they’re quite happy with incremental victories. They use the time after each election to plant seeds for the next power grab, launch programs that can never be repealed, and pour authority into bureaucracies no American citizen will ever be given an opportunity to vote against. Independent American men and women should likewise begin planning the next drive for victory as soon as the 2014 results are known. The good news is that you can do it by living your life, standing up for your principles, keeping in touch with your elected representatives, and shaping the culture that will define the next election.
The dirty little secret of Big Government politics is that for all the wealth the Ruling Class has taken, and all the power they have tucked away in the vaults of bureaucracy, they’re still afraid of us. They’ve made great progress toward subduing us, and redefining what we’re allowed to do for ourselves, or even vote upon… but they haven’t achieved total victory yet. You can see it in their eyes when they’re nervous, hear it in the things they blurt out when elections aren’t going their way, and they unleash their anger and contempt on those who vote against them. One election makes them nervous. If you want to see them terrified, win two. Then you’ll get to see despair go to work on them for a change.