You will find no pressing election day coverage here. For that, there’s Twitter.com. Instead, I want to fulminate for a few hundred words about civic responsibility on election day.
By now, you have seen the silly music video titled “#TURNOUTFORWHAT” by Rock the Vote. If you haven’t and want to watch it, God help you here it is:
The title is an awkward play on the pop song “Turn Down for What” by Lil Jon, one of several vapid celebrities who make guest appearances in the video. “Turning down,” as the kids say, means being sober and responsible. “Turn down for what,” then, is a rhetorical challenge that means roughly —to quote the wordsmiths at Urban Dictionary —”i am f****d up and will continue to be all night no matter what.”
Set aside all of the video’s many flaws: the fact that Rock the Vote is a progressive advocacy group rather than a middle-of-the-road civic engagement group, as it presents itself; the fact that most of the video’s celebrity participants do not regularly vote (good!); the fact that the video’s participants are depicted therein repeatedly flaunting California elections law. The point of the video is that young people should turn out to vote.
Which brings us to the counterpoint, a man-on-the-street video shot on campus at Texas Tech University, a school known more for its athletics than its schooling. The interviewer asks Tech students basic civics questions (e.g. “Who won the Civil War?,” “Who is vice president of the United States?,” “Who did we gain our independence from?”). Their responses will drive you to despair for the republic.
If Rock the Vote has its way, these students are at a polling place in Lubbock right now voting for Wendy Davis. That’s because, for Rock the Vote and a good portion of the public, high voter turnout is desirable in and of itself as an expression of democratic values.
This is pretty obviously nonsense, as a litany of democratically-elected despots demonstrate. Whether voter turnout is good or bad depends entirely on the quality of the voters. To paraphrase a cool dead guy, we have in the United States a republic, but only if we can keep it.
Before I am run out of town by people wearing peach stickers, let me state that this post is not an argument for restricting the franchise. Nor do I write this to bash people who haven’t stayed current on their subscription to The Economist. Uneducated, low-information voters can cast ballots as an expression of values even if they have no knowledge of historical and policy trivia.
But what to do when voters have no understanding even of the values that undergird the United States, to say nothing of the trivia? If the Red Raiders above cannot identify who won the Civil War, can we really expect them to understand the values of freedom and equality under the law that are enshrined in the Reconstruction Amendments? I think not.
In a democratic republic, preparing young people for responsible citizenship is paramount. This process requires a caliber of civic and moral education not provided by government schools. It also requires a great deal of personal responsibility from students who, dare I say it, would be better off turning down for once.
—M. Blake Seitz is Editor-at-Large of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE
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