Democracy! How the devil have you lived so long?

“I’ll never vote for anyone named ‘Twinkle,’” wife Charlotte announced suddenly, as we perused our ballots in the voting booth on a sunny election Tuesday. “She can’t be serious.”

Char could only be referring to Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, one of three candidates for the presidency of the Alabama Public Service Commission, protector of our electricity, gas and water rates. Since it was a primary election the competitive trio were all Republicans; two were men.

Twinkle the candidate

Twinkle the candidate

I felt called upon to adopt my best political-science-father-superior persona and assure Char that Twinkle was indeed serious. She had already scaled the Mount Olympus of Alabama politics, chairmanship of the state Republican Party. Upon expiration of that term of office, Twinkle was taken under the wing of no less than GOP Gov. Bob Riley, who made her a senior advisor in charge of furthering free enterprise and the American Way. Now Riley was unleashing her on the stodgy drones of the PSC, who dwelled in their den chanting the incantations of amperes, volts, joules, megawatts, and “no rate hikes!”

“Politicians set great store by their names on a ballot,” I told Char. They struggle for every gimmick to make those names stand out. As practical politicos they know many persons enter the voting booth without the faintest idea of who they will vote for, or even which candidate is running for what post.  Rather than confess their ignorance, they will latch on to the most attractive name in each race.

Clod hassles Aristides

Clod hassles Aristides

How could it be otherwise? It would take a genius or a professional pol to keep track of the maze of judgeships, county coroners, state representatives and constitutional amendments which benumb the average voter every election day.  I once knew a member of the Mississippi Public Service Commission named ‘Norman A. Johnson Jr.’ who vowed to always have the longest name on the ballot. If he ran into an opponent with a longer handle, Norman would spell out his own middle name. If that didn’t do it, he would turn ‘Jr.’ into ‘Junior.’ Though ‘Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh’ sounds like the reincarnation of an Irish fairy, I reckon she will do well,” was my summation. And so it came to pass. I voted for Twinkle, and smacked my lips in satisfaction when learning next day she had got 48 percent of the vote, enough to put her in a runoff with one of the male candidates.

But the Devil does not let sinners long enjoy their repose. An infernal curiosity forced me to the computer to look up the recent history of all three candidates. Among the data was an interview of the trio by a newspaper panel. From their answers it was instantly obvious that one guy opposing Twinkle, Jack Hornady, was an engineering type who knew that ‘megawatts’ does not define a large rioting area of Los Angeles.  He seemed perfectly at home with consumer rate scales, electrical grid power flows, and where Einstein got the idea for that theory. In short, he was the perfect choice to run a technical commission, but he got the lowest number of votes.

Next highest vote-getter was Matt Chancey, owner of a communications and marketing business who was cast into the runoff with Twinkle. But from his answers to the newspaper interview I could not be sure that he was alert to nuclear power plants and what transpires in their innards. Yet he was a hard-nosed businessman who probably would take no guff from politicians and utilities, so there may be a little hope here.

Twinkle, on the other hand, emerged as a doppelganger of Barack Hussein Obama, declaiming on hope, political infighting, change, her utter conservatism, and good feelings. I could not discern from her answers if she was solidly grounded on the differences among gas, electric, or log-fire heating.  But it proved a moot point. Although she won the party primary, she was defeated in the general election by a women even less versed in technical matters than she.

Well, nobody ever said democracy is perfect. But I wonder how the idea has lasted for so many centuries.  The Twinkle election seemed to prove that democracy is a process of choosing the least reliable and most entertaining person to run everyone else’s business. Even when its imperfections are not blatantly obvious, some reporter will dig deep and blast a new failing all over Page 1 or the TV screen. Most troublesome is the fact that democracy has always been a chancy gamble in a world of kings, aristocrats, and dictators,

Ancient Greeks, who invented the process, could never seem to get it right. They seemed comfortable running a democracy in the same city with the institution of slavery. Athenians, Democrats all, turned tyrannical outside the city limits. They sailed about the seas conquering other cities and ruling them in an authoritarian empire. Their premier philosopher, Plato, predicted that democracy will always degenerate into anarchy and end up in tyranny.

Those Greeks had an interesting wrinkle in their democracy called “ostracism.”  It was a special election in which disgruntled voters could decide which politicians they most disliked. They did this by writing the name of the hated politico on a piece of pottery and tossing it into a box. If more than 6,000 pieces of pot were counted, the election was ruled legal — then the man whose name most often appeared on the pot shards was banished for 10 years.

And so it happened to a politico named Aristides, a fellow so upright that even his enemies admitted he deserved his title, “The Just.” This boy was so squeaky clean that after the battle of Marathon he was the only general trusted to guard the booty while the rest of the army chased Persians.

But on ostracism election day Aristides was standing by the voting booth sweating out the balloting. An illiterate clod from the country came by and asked his help writing the name “Aristides” on his ballot. Aristides asked the guy if this “Aristides” had ever done him any wrong, and got the following reply:

“No, in fact I don’t even know Aristides. But I am tired of hearing everyone call him ‘the just.’”

Aristides did as he was asked. And after the result was announced, and he was headed out of Athens for 10 years of exile, he prayed aloud to the gods that the Athenians would never have any occasion to remember him.

A great many modern politicians could certainly identify with that attitude.  We still retain the sacrament of ostracism, only under new management. Nowadays we anoint certain priests and acolytes, known collectively as the news media, to keep watch upon our chosen rulers and boot them into outer darkness when they transgress.

Then after a certain period of time has passed, they are granted a series of interviews with this same media which eventually declares them cleansed and fit to run again for high political office. Even president and mayor of New York.


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