The Corner

‘We the People,’ Cont.

On Monday, I had a post about the responsibility of the electorate for electoral outcomes. Most conservatives say that people have a responsibility for themselves. They have a harder time saying that people are responsible for their votes.

Some people — I’m sure you know a few — are reverential about the people. “The people, the people, the holy people. The people are always right. But sometimes their leaders let them down.” I discarded that view long ago, if I ever had it. The people are often wrong — willfully, or willingly, wrong. What’s more, they have a right to be wrong.

Several years ago, I was on a panel at Davos. The subject under discussion was religion in American politics. I was wearing the black hat, of course: My job was to say that religion was kosher, so to speak. This was not a popular position in that atmosphere.

In the Q&A, a man confronted me about some school district in Kansas, I believe: They had allowed the teaching of “intelligent design,” as I recall. How could I defend that? I said a few things. Toward the end, I said that I believed in local control of education. And I concluded with this: “As a general principle, people have a right to be wrong. It’s part of freedom.”

Honestly, I thought the man would have a coronary. He was so upset, I thought he would require medical attention.

In the last years of the Cold War — what turned out to be the last years — my conservative friends and I would often talk about the left-wing people serving in Congress. The ones who always seemed to be defending and excusing the Soviet Union and its proxies, and trying to thwart Reagan at every turn. The likes of Ron Dellums, Pete Kostmayer, John Kerry, Chris Dodd, John Conyers — the whole crowd. I would remind my friends that these people did not shoot their way into Congress — they were all elected, by good ol’ Amurricans, fair ’n’ square.

The people are responsible for the people who represent them, in our system.

Another memory: For years and years, conservatives said — do they still say this? — “Black Americans are by and large conservative. They are churchgoing, they are for law and order, they are against abortion. They would vote for us, but they are bamboozled by their leadership: by Jesse Jackson, Ben Hooks, Al Sharpton, and that whole poisonous gang.” I repeated this line for a few years too. But then I stopped, thinking the line both condescending and wrong. Maybe people vote the way they do because they want to? Maybe they know what the choices are, hear enough from both sides?

Just because someone votes the “wrong” way, doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Remember this, too: There’s a secret ballot in this country. Jesse Jackson doesn’t know how you vote.

I had a friend who always talked about “real America.” “Real America,” to him, was gun ownership, Rotary, and conservatism. I would tease him by saying such things as “Hollywood, the New York Times, and Harvard are as American as the flag, motherhood, and apple pie. Divorce, adultery, and abortion are as much American pastimes as baseball.” He would simmer.

What can we do? Our best, is the answer. Make our case. Answer misinformation. Stay in the fight. Lead horses to water. As to making them drink — i.e., vote the way we want — I don’t really know.

Why did I spit out the leftism I was fed in Ann Arbor, when others digested it, satisfied? I’m not completely sure. Why did some, such as Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, and half the other National Review pioneers, quit Communism, while others stayed, on and on? I’m not really sure. I am fairly sure that people are responsible, to a considerable degree, for the way they think and vote, in this, a free society.


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