"It is not democracy of any conceivable kind to hold an election at regular or irregular intervals for the purpose of deciding by ballot whether you will be shot or boiled in oil".
– C. H. Douglas
Howard Buffett, who served four terms in the United States Congress, representing the 2nd Congressional District of Nebraska until he retired in 1952, recently wrote for HUMAN EVENTS (published weekly at 1835 K. Street, N.W., Washington 6, D.C.) some very vital notes on democracy and elections. Following are a few excerpts.
After pointing out that the founders of the United States made provision for suffrage and the right to discuss freely the conduct of their ruling officials, Mr. Buffett says:
"Yet there is another factor of overriding importance. It is the right of the people to decide by their ballot the basic policies that the government will follow. Lacking opportunity to vote for or against basic policies, the right of election is not worth possessing. Without a choice on policies, the business of casting ballots becomes a mockery and a fraud... (Emphasis added.)
"Let me illustrate. A decisive factor in American life today is the policy of our government of intervening in the affairs of foreign governments. Regardless of their personal attitude on this policy, most people will agree on its importance to our national life. Former President Hoover expressed this general recognition at the 1952 Republican Convention in these words, 'And if I seem to stress our foreign policies, I do so because within them lies the future freedom of men and women in America.'
"Despite this vital importance, can anyone honestly contend that the American people have had a genuine voice in either the initiation of this foreign policy, or in its continuation? If so, when, where, and how?
"In the 1940, 1944, 1948 and 1952 presidential elections, neither the platforms nor the presidential candidates of the two parties took stands that gave us a real choice. Those who controlled the machinery of the two parties, in four straight elections, have deliberately eliminated any opportunity for the voters to approve or reject the existing foreign policy.
"This reality is in sharp contrast with the situation portrayed in an official Army indoctrination bulletin dated February 23, 1951. This issue of Armed Forces Talk is entitled, 'How Our Foreign Policy is Made'. Perhaps the most naive paragraph in that text is as follows:
"'One way in which citizens in general help to make foreign policy is through their votes in national elections. The people elect the President and the members of Congress. If the people don't like the policy followed by the President or by Congress (sic), or the foreign policy plank in the platform of a political party, they can make their opinions felt by electing officials who advocate another policy.' (Emphasis added.)
"The people can elect officials who advocate another policy only if there are on the ballot candidates who advocate another policy. But even if such candidates are on the ballot, they must surmount the elective strength of the party organizations. For the major parties are controlled by those who have decided that the people shall not have a choice." (Emphasis added.)
The foregoing notes, written by a member of one of the major U. S. parties who served no less than four terms in Congress, are most significant.
Mr. Buffett then goes on to suggest corrective action, including these lines of approach:
"Obviously the people can only recover their right of choice by independent counteraction. The practical method is to go directly to the candidates with a vigorous questioning program. Candidates espousing alternative policies would then have a chance to be heard, their ideas discussed, and the people would again hear both sides.
"Whether you approve, or disapprove of existing national policies, the transcendent merit and fairness of such a constructive action should be apparent. If current policies are sound, genuine debate and discussion will increase their popular acceptance; if not, reexamination is the most constructive move possible.
"And so we begin to realize the need of a drive for intelligent voting. But there are other virtues to this project. Most Americans sense that the right to vote in itself means nothing. The Russians also hold elections. And while we do have a choice of candidates, the lack of a choice of policies is beginning to make our elections too suggestive of the Russian kind." (Emphasis added.).
Mr. Buffett suggests that not all candidates would welcome a campaign for intelligent voting. Some would resist inquiry on the part of the electors because they expect to ride into office on a popular leader's coattails and slogans. Others will resent being smoked out publicly and asked to take a stand on controversial issues. But, says the former Congressman, the behaviour of candidates will in itself constitute a yardstick of their trustworthiness. Those who are not prepared to take a stand on the great issues, but who want to talk in vague generalities and make the election a popularity contest and rest their case on the formula of a smile and good word for everybody, plus an uncompromising stand in favour of the Ten Commandments and against sin generally, would be revealed for the humbugs they are.
Honourable candidates, however, would welcome a campaign for intelligent voting. As the electorate became better informed on the basic issues, and the candidates' stands more widely known, a candidate's chance of success would increasingly depend upon his stand on the issues rather than his 'popularity' rating.
Powerful opposition, says Mr. Buffett, would come from the back-room managers who have been nominating Tweedledum on one party ticket and Tweedledee on the other, and then shouting the popular refrain: Vote as you please, but vote.
* * *
The former Congressman does not see any insurmountable problem in implementing a movement for intelligent voting. Already many clubs and groups are active in "get out the vote" campaigns. These groups are non-party, so that their position to formulate questions and present them to candidates would be entirely objective. Likewise, their community importance would enable them to publicize the resulting answers. Says Mr. Buffett::
"Such organizations would take no position on the issues themselves. As a type of moderator, they would become instruments of education for intelligent voting — a distinctly non-partisan patriotic service."
Formulating intelligent questions presents no great problem, and, Mr. Buffett suggests, the intellectual exercise brought about by the effort to construct such questions is in itself constructive.
Among questions which might be put to candidates, Mr. Buffett suggests these:
These questions, writes Mr. Buffett, which are nothing more than a few examples, could probably be better framed; but certainly they embody issues on which responsible and intelligent citizens have the right to know the beliefs of candidates before election day. Upon the handling of these issues depend the lives, material welfare and future happiness of the American people.
Former Congressman Buffett concludes with these words:
"You can expect that some candidates will slyly try to evade any commitment on such questions. Their response will give you a measure of their fitness for office. It can be taken for granted that the office-seeker who ducks issues before he is elected will follow the same pattern of behaviour afterwards. The time to get his number is before he is elected.
"These warning words are not sounded in disparagement of candidates. Most candidates are following the advice of old hands at the game, and years of indifference by voters have richly rewarded the office-seeker who was strong on back-slapping and slippery on issues. It is our responsibility as citizens to cure this situation. It can only be done by forcing candidates to take a stand on issues."
* Reprinted from the June issue of THE CANADIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE, Flesherton, Ontario. $2.00 a year.
The threat to genuine democracy from within as well as from without should be evident to anyone contemplating the deterioration in our parliamentary institutions as described by former Congressman Buffett and by Major C. H. Douglas, the author of the policy known as Social Credit.
These are serious endictments — and obviously with solid basis — by men eminently qualified, to prefer them. We shall ignore their warnings only at a tragic cost.
Without enjoying results in accordance with our will, we have no genuine democracy. With war, revolution, man-made financial depressions, crime and corruption, the order of this century, we would suggest that we are a long way from true democracy. And extending the vote is hardly the remedy, for the deterioration has run concomitantly with the extension of the franchise. The franchise needs in some way to be coupled to responsibility, not further extended to irresponsibility.
We might observe, too, that while the prospective candidate should be investigated as to his reliability and integrity, and his policies closely examined, before he is elected, this does not imply that the electors' duty and responsibility ends at the ballot-box. Indeed, it just begins. For the successful candidate becomes the representative, in a true democracy, of the electors, not of some 'party'. And he is duty bound to obey and serve his electors — not some party machine or whip.
But it is the responsibility of the electors to make known to their representatives their will and 'policy' (desired course); and it is the responsibility of the electors, after and between elections, to insist upon obedience to their will. This may well mean the application of sufficient pressure upon their representatives to neutralize and defeat any and all attempts by 'back-room managers' to draw into their private service our elected representatives.
It is only old-fashioned common sense that, during the term an elected representative serves his constituents, he is their hired man; and it is their responsibility to see to it that he knows their wishes at all times and that he does not fall into the service, or under the totalitarian influence, of third parties — whether they be 'party' machines, whips, or common blackmailers.
Unless and until the electors are prepared to assume their responsibility, all talk of democracy is idle and futile.