Monday, October 18, 2004

Your self-righteous civics lesson of the day, from someone else whose name ID is nothing

Tom DeLay is refusing to debate his opponent. The Daily Kos points to DeLay’s comment that “A debate would be for his [challenger Richard Morrison’s] benefit, not for mine,” and asks, aren’t debates supposed to be for the benefit of the voters. I’d like to elaborate on that. The Galveston County Daily News story cited by Kos quotes DeLay saying that Morrison’s “name ID is nothing,” and DeLay doesn’t want to raise his profile. DeLay, in other words, is openly and unapologetically counting on voter ignorance, on the differences between their views not being laid before the electorate, and on not having to go before any forum where he might be contradicted or his positions examined critically. Bush’s Boy in the Bubble act writ small. And he’s not the only one. Following the Galveston paper’s website’s links, I find that 69% of Texas’s congressional and state legislative candidates, including DeLay, refused to respond to Project Vote Smart’s questionnaire.

Putting the elements of this story together creates a larger picture of utter contempt for democratic processes and, by extension, for the electorate. One element of this which we’ve become so desensitized to that you probably missed it: DeLay’s stated reasons for refusing to debate Morrison are all hyper-pragmatic, without the smallest sop towards the ideals of democracy. I mean, he’s talking about “name ID”...IN PUBLIC! A campaign manager might speak like that in private, but a candidate in public? It might be the real reason for not wanting to debate, but DeLay announces his cynical political calculus to the world as if it were a legitimate reason, which they should accept and say, “Why of course I shouldn’t expect him debate his opponent, if it might help make his opponents’ name and opinions more familiar to me.” It’s as if Bush had said he wanted to invade Iraq not for WMDs or to bring democracy, but because he wanted the oil, and was going to keep it all himself.

This is, truly, how a republic collapses. People like DeLay think that not just debates, but the entire political system, is for their benefit and theirs alone. Not everyone gets literally to pick and choose their own electorate, as DeLay did when he redrew the boundaries of his district to ensure his easy re-election (one reason this particular electorate might not recognize Morrison’s name), but the continual refusal of imperious candidates to speak to possibly hostile audiences or media or even to the other candidate displays a fundamental reversal of the principles and values of representative democracy: election campaigns and elections are not about the candidates speaking to the people, but about the people choosing the representatives through whom they will speak.

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