Incendiary, Indefensible & Wrong


Mr. Vadum’s Silly Screed Against the Poor

On Friday, a man named Michael Vadum published an article in the American Thinker, the title of which  provides a tidy lesson in how our national discussion has lost its way.

Registering the Poor to Vote is Un-American is a pretty good title, if your point is to get attention, carry water for your media mentors and make a name for yourself as a provocateur. It is, after all, bold, counter-intuitive and deeply provocative. 

It is also, facile, unsupported by anything like serious argument, and morally indefensible.

Draw your own conclusions from what Vadum has written, but this is a fair summary.

Liberals favor voter registration drives, he contends, because the poor, once registered, tend to vote themselves entitlements. Organizing the poor as a means of subverting democracy has been the fundamental strategy of the left since Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven argued, in an article published in the Nation forty-five years ago, that getting the poor to vote was the key to subverting capitalism.

That article, Vadum warns us, was no less than the domestication of a Trotskyite plan to end America as we know it. And, in a theory embraced by his media patron Glenn Beck, the unholy trinity of Frances Piven, Saul Alinsky and Barack Hussein Obama are putting the final nails in the coffin of capitalism using the hammer (somewhere in here there has got to be a sickle) crafted by Piven, a University of Chicago trained Ph.D. who teaches at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

There are three problems with this.

First, Vadum assumes that the motivation to register the poor to vote is, consciously or not, a strategy employed in support of the Cloward-Pliven strategy, to force a crisis in the public welfare system that, through the recruitment of more participants than the system can bear, will bring concerted political pressure to adopt a program by which the poor are ensured a guaranteed income from the federal government. 

Whether that was a plausible political strategy at the outset of the Great Society is debatable. Whether  it is a plausible strategy now is even more so. 

What is beyond debate, however, is that there exist valid, independent reasons to register poor voters without preconceptions as to the social policies – existing or posited – which they will ostensibly embrace.

It strikes an odd note, in a country where voting rates in the 2008 presidential election peaked at about fifty-eight percent of eligible voters to suggest that expanding participation in the franchise to the forty-percent of the population who are eligible to vote, but chose not to do so, is not a good in and of itself. 

Low voter turnout  bespeaks a population disengaged from self governance, either by apathy, ignorance, or a lack of understanding as to its own capacity to affect change. If the point of America is to be a functioning, self-governing society, then encouraging those to whom the franchise has been extended to use their vote is a self-evident good.

(Indeed, back-peddling in the face of his critics on Saturday, Vadum assured us that it is neither his intention nor his wish to see anyone disenfranchised.  He seems content to allow the poor to vote in the abstract, provided they don’t actually go ahead and do it.)

Second, Vadum assumes a model of democracy that is wedded to preserving the distributional status quo: the present system, in which one percent of households control over one third of all wealth. 

That system, of course, is neither a social accident nor the result of a free market playing out over time. Rather, it is the result of myriad public policy choices, made over decades, regarding the manner in which income is defined, assets are permitted to accumulate, wealth is taxed, and public welfare priorities are set. Choices that, in America, are theoretically the business of the people.

Vadum rails against the inclusion of the unproductive classes in these decisions presumably because those who do not “contribute” to the wealth of the nation ought have no say in how it is dispersed. Until Friday, I naively believed that the question of limiting the franchise – in law or fact – to freeholders had been settled, but apparently there exist among us people so avaricious as to be willing to reopen that debate, or at least people so servile as to curry favor by reopening it for them. 

After decades of declining wages, aggressive attacks on organized labor, and the systematic export of our industrial base to Red China in the relentless search for a sweeter bottom line, the incapacity of the growing underclass to contribute wealth to the society in which they have been relegated to bystanders can hardy be laid at their poorly shod feet.

Third: Un-American. If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, Americanism is the rhetorical destination of choice for demagogues, a shiny bow wrapped gaudily round a box devoid of argument. Vadum can be forgiven for a view of distributive justice that would make Marie Antoinette blush, but I’ll be damned if he can be forgiven for wrapping it up in the flag.

The point of democracy is not to rig the game in favor of oligarchy. The point is to effectuate the will of the people. And when vast numbers of those people have been left by the wayside in an economy that rewards those who move money over those who create value, when their neighborhoods have been decimated by mortgage fraudsters and their cities bankrupted by financial schemers, when their jobs have been given to third world workers who toil like slaves for subsistence wages, when they have been reduced, year by year and cut by cut, from citizens to consumers to factors to be milked and discarded, not in the interest of America, but in the interest of those who have perfected the business of extracting wealth from Americans and concentrating it in ever fewer hands, it is altogether understandable that Matthew Vadum might be a little frightened as to what those inconvenient masses, if shown to the polls, might actually have to say.

Justice Louis Brandeis surfaces on the web these days – a good thing in its own right – to remind us that “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Until Friday, I would have guessed we could all at least agree on which of those two options counted as Un-American. 

Michael Vadum seems to think otherwise. 

Give him credit. In the battle for democracy, at least we know where he stands.

Cleveland Heights, 4 September 2011