There is an old saying: Not to philosophize is to philosophize. The word “philosophize” in this context means generally to speak or act in accord with a given set of first principles. To philosophize is to identify and critique those first principles, to do what Socrates referred to as examining your life. For Socrates, doing this, identifying and critiquing the basic principles by which you live your life, was so important that he famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” (I refrain from identifying the wag who subsequently said, “The unlived life is not worth examining.”)
Whether you do examine the principles upon which you act or not, however, you do have some. Everyone has to start somewhere. So it is possible, by watching what a person does and listening to what a person says, to identify what their first principles are. To state this another way, there is a logic to even the most bizzare thinking, since a person’s speech and conduct does, or should, follow consistently from the principles upon which they base their lives.
There are those moments, however, when a person’s speech does not accord with that person’s conduct. There are also those moments when a person says something that contradicts something else that person says. When that happens, it is an indication that the speaker’s first principles are not what that speaker claims that those principles are. The inconsistency makes identifying the speaker’s first principles more difficult, but not impossible. As another old saying goes, the truth will out, and if you stare at the overall speech and conduct of a given person or group, you can generally identify the real first principles.
Sorry for the philosophical blather, but I said all of that in order to say this. All political parties in the United States claim “freedom” as a first principle. “Freedom” is one of those terms like “justice” and “liberty” and, for that matter, “love” (that last one is beyond my pay grade), terms that are often boldly asserted but almost never defined. Roughly speaking, however, “freedom” in its political sense is most often identified with yet another ill-defined term: democracy. Democracy as an ideal was best described in Lincoln’s immortal words: government by the people, for the people and of the people. It is, in whatever representative form it takes, the participation of the people in choosing how their government will operate.
Among the many ways that that participation takes place, probably the most prominent is the right to vote. We in the United States do not exercise that right as fully as we should. It is the rare campaign that draws more than fifty percent of the people to the polls. Nevertheless, the fact that practically every adult in the country has the right to vote is a signal indicator that ours is a democracy and that freedom is a fundamental first principle of our way of life.
Those who are presently in charge of the Republican party loudly agree that freedom is a first, if not the first, principle of our government. Consistent with that statement, they vigorously pursue a program of eliminating government restraint on individual actions. They wish, for instance, to eliminate governmental regulation wherever possible. They want, and largely have succeeded in obtaining, the removal of any regulation on the ownership and possession of firearms. They demand that the government play no role in things like health care.
In all of these pursuits, these people act and speak consistently with their idea of freedom, which is, by and large, an idea of freedom as the absence of restraint. So it strikes me as exceedingly inconsistent for these same people to demand restraints on the right to vote. Their stated reason for doing so is to eliminate fraud. A noble goal, except that there has been absolutely no showing that there is any significant problem with fraud at America’s polling stations. There is absolutely no doubt that imposing voter ID’s would effectively disenfranchise two groups: the poor and the elderly. Yet there has been no demonstration, nor even any effort at a demonstration, that imposing the ID requirement would produce any benefit to compensate for this serious deprivation of a core democratic right.
That leaves us with only one option. The demand for voter ID’s is so inconsistent with the insistence on personal freedom that we are forced to assume that there is another, more basic principle at work here. Sadly, that principle amounts to a grave accusation — that those presently in charge of the Republican party hold another principle more dear than freedom and democracy. That other principle can only be the assumption and retention of control of the reins of government. This is a frightful accusation, a serious condemnation of people who have, presumably, given their lives to public service. It is, however, unavoidable, given their statements and conduct. It is also, quite likely, a key to why the political scene, always messy at best, is now in such a state of chaos. The people’s work seems almost irrelevant. The country is being constantly put on the edge of bankruptcy in pursuit of the principle of power. Until this stops, until our representatives turn from pursuing their own power and face the real problems of our country, we will continue to suffer the erosion of our rights and the degradation of our way of life.