Why Americans Shouldn’t Voternby David MastiornEveryone is sure the American political system is broken,rnbut no one wants to blame the people in charge. JamesrnFallows has his nifty little book blaming the press; HowardrnKurtz blames our talk show culture; Frontline and The Centerrnfor Public Integrity point to our corrupt campaign financernsystem; conservatives tout their all-purpose reform, term limits;rnand yet in none of these diagnoses is there any blame for thernfolks who run the Washington asylum: voters.rnWhat we need to fix Washington is not a little more tinkeringrnwith the inside-the-Beltway system. We need a littlerntinkering outside—voter reform. The problem is twofold:rnvoters are ignorant and corrupt.rnThe Washington Post’s recent “Reality Check” series put thernproblem into sharp focus. Forty-eight percent of Americans dornnot know which party is more conservative and which is morernliberal. Now, it is clear that labels have their limits, but is therernany excuse for not knowing where Gingrich and Gephardtrnstand on the political spectrum? Forty-six percent do not knowrnthe purpose of the Supreme Court. Forty percent do not knowrnwho the Vice President is—^Jay Leno’s constant barrage of jokesrnnotwithstanding. It is true that the vast majority of thesernpotential voters are not registered, but in almost all races thernignorant vote is larger than the difference between the winnerrnand the loser.rnWant an explanation for the whipsaw difference betweenrnthe ’92 election, the ’94 election, and the dismal outlook forrnRepublicans today? Call it the clueless effect. A good chunk ofrnthe American electorate has not the faintest idea what is goingrnon in Washington, but a vague unease filtered through halfheardrnsnatches of the evening news, drive-time updates, andrnwatercooler conversation has led them to the conclusion thatrnthose in power are screwing things up. So they’re mad. Andrndistrustful. And by the election results, vengeful toward thosernwho have failed them. But the last thing anyone inside Washingtonrnwants to do is blame the voters. They are, after all, thernDavid Mastio is an editorial board member of USA Today andrnwould have been a victim of his own proposal last year.rnvictims of this corrupt system.rnMany commentators complain that Americans are of twornminds—they simultaneously want a balanced budget and theirrnbenefits protected. The fact may be more simple, for Americansrnare not bipolar. Instead, there are two groups of Americans:rnone wants the deficit controlled and the debt reduced, whilernthe other only says it does, but whines—and votes—to protectrnits piece of pork.rnIt is this second group, Americans who talk of balanced budgetsrnto pollsters and vote to defend their piece of the governmentrnpie that is as corrupt as any in Washington. At least herernwe have legal protections from those in Washington with a conflictrnof interest (no matter how infrequently they may be enacted)rnand punishment for those who break the public faith.rnBut from the corrupt voters, we have no similar safeguards.rnAlexis de Tocqueville’s analysis of American democracy inrnthe 19th century has become the basis for many Republicanrnplans to reshape government. However, many have forgottenrnTocqueville’s warning about the darker side of democracy: thatrnwhen Americans discover that they can vote themselves largessrnfrom the public treasury, democracy is doomed.rnToday more and more Americans are doing just that. Theyrnhave their hands out and receive fat grants for simply doingrnnothing or doing things they would already do; all the reformrnplans on the table will not change this fact. Add them up—rnstudents, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, farmers, and a hostrnof smaller constituencies—and together they are more than arnmajority, and their numbers grow relative to the rest of the population.rnThey all have a legitimate claim on our compassionrnand our help. But they all have a massive conflict of interest.rnA congressman in a similar situation would do five to ten.rnMoreover, the trend is to place far more power into thernhands of exactly the groups that know the least and reap personalrngain from their votes. Take “Motor Voter Registration,”rnfor example. Registration is now available in far more governmentrnoffices, including where the dole’s denizens go to pick uprntheir unearned checks. Though the law was passed in 1993,rnonly now are the last states beginning to comply. Or “Vote byrnJULY 1996/25rnrnrn