Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Don’t wait—capitulate

Jerry Stratton, August 15, 2008

The ACLU has made its opposition to telecom immunity clear; what they never made clear was what they were going to do about it other than ask for donations. Over the last year ACLU e-mails, starting with a “don’t wait for ’08” slogan, have been filled with empty threats. When I read the first one, I thought for a moment that the ACLU was showing some backbone. It sounded like they were saying “vote against telecom immunity or else!” to the Democratic congress. But or else what? As I read through that first e-mail, they never answered this critical question.

  1. “every time Congress acts—or fails to act—we’ll mobilize our more than half-million ACLU members to take action.” But what action? They don’t say.
  2. “We’ve already put Congress on notice.” But notice of what? They don’t say.
  3. “We won’t let a single member of Congress off the hook when it comes to abandoning the Constitution.” Really? And what are you going to do about it? What hook?
  4. “Our job now is to put them on notice—before they vote—that we won’t tolerate wavering, waffling, or wimping out.”

They won’t let anyone off the hook, and won’t tolerate waffling. But what does that mean? It doesn’t appear to mean anything. As soon as it passed they reverted back to anti-Bush rhetoric instead of holding the Democratic congress that passed this bill responsible, too. That only confirmed to those who voted for immunity that they did the right thing. The ACLU is not willing to call on its members to not vote Democratic. They’re not going to recommend voting for someone other than Pelosi just because she voted for this bill; they’re not going to recommend voting against Reid either. Their threats were empty. And so telecom immunity passed.

Why should representatives care about letters generated by the ACLU? Communications with representatives don’t matter unless they’re backed with action. Unless ACLU members are willing to not vote Democratic, there is no incentive for Democrats to care. Nor is there any incentive for Republicans—some of whom voted against similar ideas in the Clinton years—to woo ACLU votes. Now that the Democratic Congress has passed telecom immunity, all the ACLU is proposing is to sue somebody else.

While the ACLU was issuing empty threats to congress, I received the following question from a blog reader:

I would like to ask for advice. What can I do to aid in the effort towards legalizing drugs? Is it possible, or is it wasted effort? With the first election that I am eligible to vote in at my doorstep, I feel very discouraged. If our government can control so much of what this country does, how they live, and what they believe, then really, what can I do?

My advice is to vote for politicians who support ending prohibition, and do it even if you don’t think they can win. Do so locally as well as nationally. One of the nice features of our government is that much of what actually happens is local; if your city, county, or state deprioritizes prohibition enforcement, that makes a difference.

But it’s important to really vote for the issue. If you look at polls on medical marijuana, for example, you’ll see that consistently a majority supports it. But as long as they aren’t willing to vote on the issue it won’t go anywhere. The problem I see is that many voters today vote against someone rather than vote for issues. They won’t vote for the opposition party under any circumstance; they’re afraid to vote for a third party because they’re afraid that the “wrong party” will win the election—even though the “right party” doesn’t support them either.

This is true for any issue. What you want, as a voter, is to be a “swing voter”: someone who is willing to vote based on issues rather than along party lines.

Remember, you’re not electing a candidate, you’re electing an issue. If you vote for a candidate even though they compromised on an issue dear to you, then you are voting for that compromise. If you vote for a candidate even though they vote for a law you oppose, then you are voting for that law. The candidate will be gone in four or eight years. That you have shown you are willing to vote in favor of that law lasts your entire life. Politicians can’t see what you think, they only see how you vote.

This is especially true in the current presidential election. Both major candidates are sitting senators: anything that they claim to support, they can act on now. Anything that they claim to oppose, they can act on now.

Senator Obama, for example, did not have to vote for telecom immunity. But he knows that in today’s partisan climate, everybody who opposes telecom immunity is too afraid—or too full of hate—not to vote for him. But potential middle-of-the-road voters might be willing to vote for him now that he’s tough on security. The extreme Bush Derangement Syndrome of the anti-immunity left, including the ACLU, has marginalized them.

When otherwise very smart people start arguing that it isn’t important how a candidate votes, as long as they get elected, that’s a good sign that otherwise smart people aren’t going to be happy with that candidate. You can’t just “chill out” during the campaign, expecting bad votes to become good votes after the election. Every vote is part of the campaign, and the campaign goes on forever.

August 28, 2008: Make a difference as a voter

A few days after writing Telecom Immunity, I received the Senate election issue of America’s First Freedom. The NRA has become the model of an effective issues-oriented political organization. How does the NRA succeed where others, like the ACLU, fail? They weren’t always so successful. In the seventies it looked like an absolute gun ban was inevitable. Once the government sets its sights on prohibition it is practically impossible to stop. Alcohol prohibition took the Great Depression to repeal and still left it up to the states. Great Britain has moved from banning firearms to arresting newspaper deliverymen for keeping printer’s knives in their cars.

So how did the National Rifle Association reverse what looked like an unstoppable trend? Rather than more and more gun bans extending to more and more knife bans, existing gun bans have been allowed to sunset, most states now support concealed carry, and politicians go out of their way to downplay their anti-second amendment votes. What happened? The answer is in this issue of the NRA magazine:

The mainstream media focuses on the partisan breakdowns, but for gun owners, what counts is if there is a majority in the Senate that supports Second Amendment rights.

Second paragraph in, they make sure that politicians know they’ll recommend voting for second amendment supporters regardless of party.

The endorsements that follow are bipartisan. From Alaska’s beleaguered Ted Stevens (R) to Montana’s Max Baucus (D) to Virginia where they give a shout of support to both the Democratic and Republican candidates, politicians know that if they support self-defense, the NRA’s members will support them. They’ll support them with votes, with contributions, and with action.

If you want to make a difference as a voter, that’s how you do it. Vote the issue, not the party.

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