A cynical mood pervades the country. The electorate, having failed a major test in lip reading last time around, is not prepared to listen to renewed blandishments from candidates. The safest and wisest course may be not to choose at all, as Ralph Nader would have us do.
His proposal for a "none of the above" option on all ballots reflects a general frustration with a political process that regularly serves up lip-service establishment candidates. However, the negative option vote could create a rolling blockade of disaffected voters who would in effect reject all government as unsafe at any speed. Without constitutional provision for a prolonged period of inconclusive elections, anarchy could result.
It's a development worth contemplating.
At the turn of the century, anarchism was considered the most dangerous political philosophy of its time. In 1901, after the assassination of President William McKinley, the United States barred anarchists from entering the country. Anti-anarchist hysteria resulted in the death penalty for Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants circumstantially linked to a payroll robbery and murder in South Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1920.
In Europe, anarchism remained a viable movement until after World War I, when many of its adherents switched to communism. Organized under a political movement known as syndicalism, the European anarchists advocated social change through the passive resistance of laborers. Earlier, those who advocated change by violent means, led by Mikhail Bakunin, had been ousted from the movement's mainstream by Karl Marx in 1872.
It is the Bakunin legacy of violence, terror and assassination that is popularly associated with anarchism. True anarchists assert that man's natural goodness is corrupted by participation in the coercive institutions of government and business. The deep commitment to individual and human rights, as well as sympathy for ethno-centric values, would put them at the center of the change that is sweeping the world today.
The mundane rationale for maintaining centralized government boils down to little more than arguments about the indispensability of traffic lights, which is the moral equivalent of excusing Mussolini's excesses because he made the Rome-to-Naples express run on time. Sensors in roads and cars can govern traffic speed and flow without lights or traffic signs and the resultant busy work for law enforcement. Some day anarchism may be reinvented on the foundations of modern technology.
Just as royal despotism succumbed to representative government because such was judged the best way to empower all individuals in a society, so might liberal democracies discover that technology has rendered them obsolete. The ideal of one-man, one-vote may be better served by interactive video.
Unfortunately, representative government has empowered monied special-interest groups over individual citizens. And politicians doting on these special interests cloak their true allegiance in language designed to limit choices and shift the political dialogue to inconsequential issues.
Is anyone, therefore, surprised that Willie Horton has re-emerged in the current campaign disguised in a Japanese kimono? Or that Samurai economics would serve up the trade deficit (which we can't control) as an issue more important than the budget deficit (for which we alone are responsible)? Or that we have backed off "free trade" (since we are one of the more protectionist nations in the world) and are now touting "fair trade," a bit of campaign jingoism without any economic foundation?
It wouldn't be surprising if many Americans, deciding that they've had enough of lies and manipulation, simply sit out the election. In fact, the support in Connecticut for anti-candidate Brown and non-candidate Tsongas is a clear measure of the "none-of-the-above" sentiment. This rejection of government as dysfunctional is in the anarchic tradition, and if New York and Wisconsin voters are as capricious as the Connecticut yankees, Jerry Brown could become our first anarchist presidential candidate.
Unless new candidates emerge in both parties with real promise to regenerate the ossified institutions of national governance, there will be unabating passive resistance to candidates whose surface differences are orchestrated to hide the fact that their campaign coffers are all filled from the same till.
Democracy is being reduced to a game of musical chairs played to a seductive tune that keeps political careerists constantly scrambling for seats of power. Primaries sustain the illusion of choice by wiring the rest of us into the political Muzak. Probably the only way to escape the numbing get-out-the-vote drumbeat on election day is to lash oneself to the nearest lamp post, at least 200 feet from the closest polling place, beyond the earshot of campaign commercials.
Andrew Ciofalo teaches journalism at Loyola College.