Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dear Voters: You Have Disappointed Us and Will Have to be Replaced

Charles Franklin, a prominent political scientist who works about a block up Bascom Hill from me, made a bit of a splash with a comment he made in an article by local opinionator Bill Leuders:

In my questions to Franklin, I noted that the public seemed to vote against its own interests and stated desires, for instance by electing candidates who'll drive up the deficit with fiscally reckless giveaways to the rich.

Franklin, perhaps a bit too candidly, conceded the point. "I'm not endorsing the American voter," he answered. "They're pretty damn stupid."

"Thank you, professor," I responded. "That's the answer I was looking for.

I was struck by the fact that what struck Prof. Franklin as "stupid" was not anything in Leuders' question -- not, eg., the apparent assumption that what causes deficits isn't those entitlements you have been reading about, those vast giveaways to ordinary citizens, but giveaways to the rich -- rather it was the people themselves who are stupid.

The exchange reminded me of a poem that Communist Bertolt Brecht wrote in the wake of the revolt against the East German government in 1953:
Die Lösung
Bertolt Brecht

Nach dem Aufstand des 17. Juni
Ließ der Sekretär des Schriftstellerverbands
In der Stalinallee Flugblätter verteilen
Auf denen zu lesen war, daß das Volk
Das Vertrauen der Regierung verscherzt habe
Und es nur durch verdoppelte Arbeit
Zurückerobern könne. Wäre es da
Nicht doch einfacher, die Regierung
Löste das Volk auf und
Wählte ein anderes?

The Solution
Bertolt Brecht

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writer's Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

The English translation is from Bertolt Brecht, Poems 1913-1956, eds. John Willett and Ralph Manheim (Methuen 1976), p. 440.

Hat tip to The Monthly Review for the Brecht text.
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