The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Monday, November 01, 2004

ELECTIONS AND THE DEAD: The Associated Press reports today that it may prove impossible to weed out the ballots cast by dead people from those cast by the living in time for Election Day, and that as a result boards of election throughout the United States may have to count these ballots. While one can argue whether or not the dead should have their franchise revoked simply because they do not respond to negative campaign ads in a way that a candidate’s image handlers might approve, such voting does raise the issue of which political party do the dead favor and what must candidates do to appeal to the deceased voter? To paraphrase Freud, what do the dead want?

In Chicago, for instance, it is a given of political life that the dead are solidly Democratic, and this preference cuts across all racial, ethnic, and income levels. No one knows for certain why the dead, even the Republican dead, show such a preference for the Democrats, although certain polls seem to show that with one’s demise there is no longer any need to keep up appearances and as a consequence one may vote as one pleases without fear of looking odd in front of the neighbors. But it would appear that the basis of this preference for Democrats among Chicago’s deceased voters is the unparalleled level of municipal services the city gives them. After an initial tax on their estates, Chicago’s dead are, by and large, free from further taxation on their incomes and property and are put up in small but serviceable residences where they may spend their free time doing whatever they please without the interference of their neighbors. This has raised the hackles of certain downstate Illinois voters and their legislators in Springfield, who say that the city of Chicago has no business running what constitutes a socialist state solely for the benefit of one voting bloc.

Is the Chicago experiment in cultivating the deceased voter a one off, something only possible in the rarified political atmosphere of Cook County, or can the nation expect more jurisdictions to extend the franchise to the dead? One cannot say for certain at this time, but it would appear that the longstanding prejudice against extending the franchise to the dead will soon face a legal challenge in the courts. Unofficial sources claim that the American Civil Liberties Union has plans to file suit in the Southern District of New York to restore Alexander Hamilton’s voting rights, claiming that this denial of Hamilton’s right to vote constitutes a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The ACLU has not denied that they are looking into the possibility of filing such a lawsuit, although a spokesman for the group did say that the rumor that they will only go forward with the case if Hamilton comes out in favor of gun control was not only false, but in poor taste as well.

So who is the typical dead voter and how do the two parties, who have traditionally focused their message on the living, cultivate this large and steadily growing constituency? At this point it is hard to tell; like the soccer mom and the angry white man, the sudden appearance of the post-life voter has caught both parties by surprise, leaving them both perplexed at how to influence this new and increasingly powerful group. Pollsters for both parties say that the dead are in favor of long-term stability, which favors conservative Republican candidates, although the example of Chicago and its solidly Democratic nonliving vote are enough to frighten some Republican operatives.

Finally, there is the problem of what issues will energize the deceased base and cause them to rise and get out to the polls on Election Day. While it is too early to say for certain, it appears likely that the Presidential candidates in 2008 will have to have politically acceptable opinions on the free coinage of silver, restricting Irish immigration, and the extension of slavery into the western territories, issues that will almost certainly anger living voters in both parties. Given that once the dead seem to express a party preference they stick with it for the long term, a factor that may derive from their habit of residing together in large groups, leaders in both parties must find a way of reconciling the living and the dead voter if the two party system is to survive as we currently know it. According to the US Census Bureau, the dead now constitute the largest single group of voters in American history, larger even than the baby boom generation. No other group has ever had the power to create its own long-term political party outside the traditional Republican / Democratic paradigm. Third parties in the United States are traditionally one- issue groups who, as the deceased historian Richard Hofstadter once wrote, sting once, like bees, and then die. The dead, however, now have the numbers available to them to overthrow this traditional wisdom and create a new and different look to American politics. Whether or not they will choose to do so remains one of the great mysteries of political life in the United States.


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