Thursday, May 28, 2009

Democracy in Action

Frank Askin writes today in the New Jersey Star Ledger about the seeming incontinuity in preserving the sanctity of the secret ballot by virtue of a Senate filibuster. Money quote:

And how do the opponents of the EFCA plan to defeat the bill? By getting the forty Republican members of the 100-member U.S. Senate to block it with a filibuster!

In other words, they are going to protect the democratic right to vote by a vote of just two-fifths of the total Senate.
I think this is right on one level and missing the point on another. As Matt Yglesias has argued again, and again, and again, the ability of a minority of senators to substantively block the legislative action of the entire country is frustrating and counterproductive and needs to change.

That said, it's important to remember that 1) the idea of preserving the 'sanctity of the secret ballot' doesn't necessarily have anything at all to do with procedural maneuvers at the disposal of United States senators and 2) all this sanctity of the secret ballot talk is pretty demonstrably bullshit.

Consider for a moment the following situation: There's an election between Barack Obama and John McCain. The Obama campaign has access to every voter for 40 hours a week during which time they can have mandatory meetings to encourage voters to vote for Obama, while attacking McCain using a variety of factual and baseless claims. If the voters don't attend the meetings they can be fired from their jobs. And if the voters advocate for McCain during those 40 hours/week, there's a decent chance they'll be stigmatized and/or fired. The McCain campaign can try to contact voters, but not during those 40 hours/week, and it's difficult because at the mandatory Obama campaign meetings they encourage voters to throw the McCain campaigners off their porches and/or call the cops on them. After a couple of months of this there's a vote.

Sound democratic to you?

This is an admittedly extreme example, but if you substitute the word 'employer' for Obama and 'labor/union' for McCain, you'll get a rough idea of how things sometimes operate. When anti-card check folks talk about the sanctity of the secret ballot, or democracy, or whatever, this is the type of thing they're trying to keep in place.

I know I say this a lot, but that's fine if your an employer. They're not being evil or unethical -- I'd try to preserve a situation like that too, and I'd oppose anything that tilted the playing field in another direction. But, the Chamber of Commerce doesn't care any more about preserving the secret ballot than they do the Easter Bunny. Neither do labor unions for that matter. It's worth keeping in mind when you're getting barraged by 30 second TV spots.

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