Dangerous in defeat

Those who win elections find it easy to extol the virtues of democracy and the wisdom of voters smart enough to choose them rather than their opponents, but losers tend to be far less enthusiastic about either.

This simple fact was brought home to me over the weekend. I was in Milwaukee to attend a political conference and found conservatives there basking in the afterglow of an election last week in which a conservative candidate for the state’s Supreme Court ousted a liberal incumbent. His victory was widely covered nationally, as the state’s court had been in the hands of liberal judges until that election, so conservatives were cheering the outcome.

Liberal politicians, commentators and newspaper editorialists, however, were outraged at the outcome and were quickly concluding that the state’s voters are just too darned dumb to be entrusted with such weighty matters as voting on Supreme Court candidates. Some argue that the good guy — that would be the liberal — lost because the voters were hoodwinked or because the election turned on the wrong questions. Others were convinced that since the incumbent was black, the outcome was proof that Wisconsin’s voters must be racists or worse. The governor, a liberal whose desires could be thwarted by the new court majority, decried the election results as a “tragedy” for all these reasons.

Liberals certainly don’t have a monopoly on whining when they lose. We conservatives do it all the time. Losing candidates of all persuasions would far rather blame their opponent’s unfair tactics or the media or the ignorance of the voters to whom they had to appeal for support rather than their own inadequacies or positions on the issues. This isn’t news.

What is, or should be, news is the tendency on the left these days to conclude from all this that if voters aren’t smart enough to make the right decisions, they shouldn’t be allowed to decide at all. Thus, in Wisconsin, as Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Patrick McIlheran pointed out, Democratic legislators quickly proposed abolishing judicial elections because, as he put it, “[Wisconsin voters] cannot be trusted to choose a judiciary.”

Now, the argument over whether judges ought to be appointed or elected has gone on in many states for decades or longer, and a case can be made for either means of choosing judges, but Wisconsin liberals were happy enough with the electoral process when they were winning; when voters were smarter. It was only when they came up short in a crucial election that they decided some things are just too important to trust to the people.

There appears to me to be growing support among liberals for policies that would short-circuit the democratic process out of a conviction that voters who don’t agree with them or vote as they should are evil, misled, misinformed or ignorant. The possibility that intelligent, informed, good-hearted people could actually disagree with them is unthinkable. Thus, to reduce the role of such folks, they come up with schemes to control or reduce the impact of political speech, shut down talk radio and demonize or even criminalize the utterances of those whose views they find offensive.

The liberal response to an electoral failure in Wisconsin is in sync with the liberal view that Bush had to have stolen the last election because smart, informed voters would never have voted for him and that unions shouldn’t be required to win the support of those they seek to represent in an election because since workers don’t always side with them there has to be something wrong with the system.

I’ve always believed that voters tend to be smarter than the politicians who dismiss them. They’re pretty good at spotting phonies and tend to make their decisions based on the real issues raised in campaigns rather than the issues on which the candidates appealing to them for support would like. They’re not always right, but in the long run their record is better than that of the folks who would shut them up and out.

Still, ours remains both a free and democratic country. Losers have a right to whine and even to believe that the voters who reject them are stupid, but things can get dangerous when those who come up short at the ballot box conclude that the system has to be changed to protect them and their views from the whims of an electorate too unenlightened to give them the support they think they deserve.

It is down that road that one runs into Hugo Chavez and, eventually, Robert Mugabe.

Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, can be reached at Keeneacu@aol.com.