Citizen Power and the Political Bell Curve

Wednesday 19 May 2004 at 22:03

The presidential election has always been a choice of lesser evils.

I remember now. I remember how it started. [1]

I changed my registration from independent to democrat when I learned that participation in Colorado caucuses requires political affiliation -- you get to participate in the caucuses of your chosen party.

I thought that by getting involved in the political process earlier, I might help improve the choices. Unfortunately, I've still never participated in the caucuses. This year it became clear that the presidential choices are made well before the Colorado caucuses.

So much for that idea. Maybe I should change my registration back to independent if I'm not going to make it to the caucuses anyway. Sigh.

The balance of power in the US has definitely lost its balance. I think the main problem is that voters have checked out of the process. This has two effects I want to discuss here. First, by choosing not to vote, citizens surrender their own power to those who hold power. It makes the power-hungry more powerful than they would otherwise be. Second, I think our leadership are more extreme than the political views of the general population and I think voter apathy is the cause.

The Constitution divided power into four groups. The government was divided into Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, and the People were given the power to determine who would lead the Executive and Legislative branches and the power to dismiss some in the Judiciary the members of the House of Representatives. The Bill of Rights granted the people other rights and powers. The cynical genius of the Founders was in setting the power-hungry in opposition to each other. Machiavelli's (and Thucydides' and Homer's) advice is deeply honored: power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Dividing the power sets the inevitably corrupt power-mongers against each other, thereby limiting the damage any can do to the citizenry, and limiting the damage they can do to one another. But the voters are the lest power hungry of the bunch and a critical check against abuses of power among the three branches of government. If the voters excuse themselves of their responsibilities, then perhaps the most important stabilizing influence in the system fails. The powerful assume greater power and the potential damage from the inevitable corruption increases.

The second effect makes matters worse. Political views in America almost certainly fall into a traditional bell curve. The majority of the people are in the middle and a minority are in the extremes whether Democrat or Republican. Those at the extremes are voting. The half of the country that does not vote comes from the middle. This has the effect of flattening the bell curve and thereby making the extremes considerably more important to the politicians. We end up with leadership that reflects the more extreme political views on both sides. The campaigns will play to the middle, particularly when the extremes are so evenly divided. But their actions when in office will betray their more extreme leanings. If everyone were voting the curve of the voting population would more closely align with that of the general population. The leadership would have to respect the middle in action, not just words. We would end up with leaders more closely aligned with generally more moderate views of the country as a whole. Instead what we have is a political bell curve imbalanced toward the extremes.

These two effects leave us with more extreme leaders, more powerful leaders, and by Machiavellian law, more severe corruption.

Negative campaigns tend to turn off those who might otherwise vote. This works to the advantage of the extremists, because those who abandon their right to vote are in the middle of the curve.

Please know that your vote counts. Politicians have to consider how their actions effect voters. There are all sorts of people polling voters to see how the campaigns are going. If you are not a voter then your views don't show up in the polls and the politicians will behave accordingly.

Please help to restore the balance of power in the US. Reclaim your power -- however small or irrelevant it may seem. Please educate yourself about the issues and the candidates. Compare them to your own values and vote for the lesser evil -- whichever you think that is. Abstaining from the vote is not an effective form of protest. You don't show them anything by letting the extremes of the political spectrum decide.

[1] I'm intentionally alluding to "I Remember Now" from Operation: Mindcrime by Queensryche. The album begins:

"It's ten minutes past curfew. Why are you still up? Hallo? Hallo? Perhaps you need another shot. That should do it. Sweet dreams, you bastard."

"I remember now. I remember how it started. I can't remember yesterday. I just remember doing...

what they told me. (...told me ...told me ...told me)"

For you poor souls who aren't familiar with "Operation: Mindcrime" here are a few other choice lyrics from Revolution Calling to help you understand to what I'm alluding:


Got no love for politicians, Or that crazy scene in D.C.
It's just a power mad town
But the time is ripe for changes, There's a growing feeling
That taking a chance on a new kind of vision is due

I used to trust the media to tell me the truth, tell us the truth
But now I've seen the payoffs everywhere I look
Who do you trust when everyone's a crook?

Revolution calling ...


I used to think that only America's way, way was right
But now the holy dollar rules everybody's lives
Gotta make a million doesn't matter who dies

Revolution calling ...

el chele commented

22 May 2004 at 21:46

Eric - I think that part of the struggle you are having in deciding how to have an impact on the political system is that you've internalized the "popular" conception of the political structure in the US. Paraphrasing Nietzsche: "The Constitution is a modern idea, that is to say, it is a false one."

The Constitution most certainly did not "divide power into four groups"--it divided power into two groups: the Federal government and the State governments, with the balance of power subtly but firmly tipped in favor of the former. The passage of the 16th and 17th amendments and the Federal Reserve Act at the beginning of the 20th century removed the few remaining checks on Federal power. At that point the Federal government became a National government and it has not stopped growing since.

We have a National government that is out of control--and you can caucus and vote all you want and you will do nothing more than feed the system. In the end revolution--guns and bloodshed not bumperstickers and politically-conscious "Rock The Vote" warm-fuzzies--is what is headed our way.

For more on the myth of the Constitution, I recommend The Hologram of Liberty by Boston T. Party.

el chele

eric commented

28 May 2004 at 08:54

I stand partially corrected about the Constitution and have made some corrections above. But I think my arguments about the effects of not voting still stand. See my longer response here: