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We Can't Afford the Silencing of the Voice of "We, the People"

We use the metaphor "herding cats" to describe a situation in which someone tries to govern the collective behavior of creatures who have only individual goals and agendas, and little interest in being governed.

The metaphor might equally be "herding citizens." Like cats, "We the People" haven’t shown much in the way of collective goals recently. We don’t agree on where we are or where we want – or ought– to go in the next year or the next 20 years. Indeed, we don’t even agree on who "we" are. The present flap over abortion demonstrates this: women are not to be allowed to make decisions about their own pregnancies – the "We"of this issue is primarily males.

Charles Pierce observed: "There was no "we" in the final presidential debate this year. In no area have we as a self-governing nation so abandoned our obligations as we have on foreign policy. In no area are we so intellectually subservient to expertise, and to the Great Man Theory of how things should be run. In no area are we so clearly governed, rather than governing ourselves. The president, at least, occasionally seems to be aware not only that this is true, but also that it puts the whole experiment of self-government in mortal peril."

John Atcheson recently proposed a National Voter Qualification Test, a multiple choice test with an interesting twist: the third choice for each question is "I hate big Gubmint".

I don’t support any kind of voter qualification test, though I imagine that those who hate big government may have already have disqualified themselves. But I wonder if haters of "big Gubmint" therefore support anarchy.

In the US the word "anarchy" is parsed primarily as lawlessness and total lack of government, organization, leadership or order; as political and/or social chaos, and as rule by violence.

In the wider world "anarchy" is more often used in the classical sense of having no overarching government with coercive powers, nor any centralized political hierarchy driving public decision-making, but rather small, local self-determination and non-violent actions taken by stakeholders or individuals who will directly reap – or suffer– the consequences of their decisions and actions.

That sounds like democracy with a small ‘d’, and runs counter to the present top-down money & media-driven politics and religious and ideological mythologies, all of which require some kind of "archy" to control individual and social behaviors and herd the cats where they should go.

Though they hate big Gubmint, and perhaps endorse anarchy, these haters nevertheless want government to: (check all that apply)

__ regulate who may marry  who 

__ outlaw individual responsibility for contraception and abortion

__ spy on any citizens, prosecute whistleblowers

__ prevent workers from forming unions


The Stakes Have Never Been Higher.

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__ decide who deserves death by drones

__ allow extrajudicial torture and indefinite detention

__ start wars without consulting Congress

__ determine who should pay taxes and who should receive government help

__encourage the private sector to profit from health care, schools, student loans, prisons, manufacture and sale of weapons, water distribution

__ other

Interestingly, studies have shown that people don’t first inform themselves – read, argue, listen – then decide to vote. It is only after they have decided to vote – and how they want to vote – that they do those things, and generally pursue only information that corroborates what they already believe.

George McGovern practiced a politics of compassion and decency that placed humanity above the dollar. His politics didn’t win elections.

When we deny women control over their own bodies we demean ourselves. When we engage in drone killings and torture we degrade our great nation. When we justify the killing of little children on the grounds that it saves money, we step outside the range of human compassion and decency; we become the terrorists we condemn, the barbarians we fear.

Will this election will show us who we are and what we care about? I‘m doubtful: I fear this election will mainly show us that the infusion of billions of dollars into political campaigns will buy enough voters to change who "we" are, and determine the will of "We the People."

Yet I remain hopeful that I’m wrong. I think Hurricane Sandy is already teaching us that we need and care for each other, need good government and common goals, that we are not just cats or independent haters of Gubmint.

We’re not cats. We can do better.

Caroline Arnold

Caroline Arnold retired in 1997 after 12 years on the staff of US Senator John Glenn. She previously served three terms on the Kent (Ohio) Board of Education. In retirement she is active with the Kent Environmental Council and sits on the board of Family & Community Services of Portage County. Her Letters From Washington has been published as an e-Book by the Knowledge Bank of the Ohio State University Library.  E-mail:

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