The Catholic Thing
The Captive Vote Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Sunday, 14 October 2012

The result of the Presidential Election was hardly a foregone conclusion, for while the “progressive” candidate won again, it was by a reduced margin. And there were moments when even his own most earnest supporters thought he might lose, given the bad shape of the economy.

His opponent, a former state governor with a reputation as a successful common-sense manager, mounted an unexpectedly lively challenge. And the incumbent, though rousing himself for the bigger rallies, seemed listless compared with previous outings.

But his key constituencies – the urban masses, the poor, minorities, the unemployed and underemployed – did not waver. They were unprepared to risk the social “safety net.”

For this large, and apparently captive constituency, the overall economic position was of little interest. Critics might argue that with vast, underexploited resources and many other advantages, the country should not have such high unemployment, such debts and deficits, such slums.

The countrys foreign policy was also a scandal: old allies abandoned, new friends adopted of the most questionable sort.

And while the incumbent claimed to be a Christian, the more fulsomely as his polls declined, religion and religious freedom were also at issue. The countrys strong Christian heritage seemed, to many of the president's opponents, to be slipping away, replaced incrementally by a new gospel that fixed religious concern on class inequality.

The essence of Christianity, on this view, is Christs commitment to taxing the rich to support government welfare programs, and if the fussy and oppressive moral strictures of ageing bishops and scandal-ridden priests should vanish, together with their spiritual hocus-pocus, so much the better.

We are discussing the recent Venezuelan election, of course. Hugo Chavez was re-elected president by a margin of almost 10 percent. His challenger, Henrique Capriles, accepted defeat with uncommon grace, not immediately challenging the count through the countrys expensive new computerized voting system.

Rather, he had focused throughout his campaign on the presidents overwhelming advantage in public media, and on the huge public works projects hed announced on the eve of the election, to provide political condiments to his voting blocs.

Capriles is, incidentally, a devout Catholic. Rosaries and the iconography of Catholicism were much in evidence at his (large) rallies, and the candidate himself was not shy about his religious affiliation.

We have it on the authority of the irreproachable Jimmy Carter that at least one previous Venezuelan election was above reproach, and as he put it, “the best in the world.”

Foreign observers are no longer welcomed, but for this latest election, some 97 percent of eligible voters had been registered – indeed, substantially more voters than human inhabitants in one Chavez-friendly state, and beyond statistical possibility in thirteen others, according to critics.

          Chavez, left, over Capriles: the victory of an  “institutional revolutionary”

Compare this with a mere 65 percent registered in the USA, where the registration drives are not so advanced.

Voter turnout was similarly sky high, among those registered: well above 80 percent, compared with well under 60 percent in the last ten U.S. presidential elections.

And while some cynics in, for instance, a peer-reviewed statistical journal, and several independent election monitoring projects, have pointed to suspiciously repeating arbitrary patterns in past election results, which swung support consistently in Chavez's direction by margins of 10 to 20 percent, the consensus is that by any Third-World standard, Venezuelan elections are gleaming.

The Capriles campaign made heroic efforts to monitor voting in all of the quickly multiplying local polling stations. Capriles own previous electoral successes had come with tireless monitoring efforts to protect his vote.

A more serious issue, according to his camp, was fear over the secrecy of the ballot. Whether or not the computers report back the names and addresses of those who vote against Chavez, everyone remembers that the 2.4 million names on the petition to recall him in 2004 were published by the government, and that campaigns of vilification ensued.

While the new computer system is advertised to maintain complete opacity on individual voting preferences, the user who is plainly entering his identity, along with his vote, may be entitled to his doubts.

This is a universal issue. As voting systems become more high-tech, fewer and fewer will trust that their ballots are really secret. They are a means for any governing party which relies on large, captive voting blocs, to keep them in line.

We turn, thus, from technical questions about the integrity of the count, to deeper issues of political influence and intimidation.

Chavez controls the politics of Venezuela through his effective personal control of its oil wealth. And while, since nationalization, the revenues no longer support the sort of private investment that stokes independent wealth, it remains available for growing government welfare schemes (so long as real world oil prices keep climbing faster than the population, and the reserves hold out).

In turn, keeping people poor, hungry, resentful, and dependent on government largesse, is just the ticket for maintaining any “institutional revolutionary” party in power. (Mexico's was able to retain its monopoly on power for more than seven decades in this way.)

According to an observation Mitt Romney let slip, while unaware he was being recorded, 47 percent of the U.S. electorate are now to some degree wards of the state, and increasingly a captive constituency for the Democrat party.

In places like Scotland, the proportion of those who receive more in government benefits than they pay in taxes now approaches 90 percent. As the leader of the Scottish Conservative party recently noted (to similar outrage), this explains not only why a people once famed for their industry and frugality have acquired the opposite reputation, but also why the once-mighty Scotch Tories have shrunk to a tiny fossil remnant, while nationalists and socialists vie for the legislative power.

And I would add, why Christianity in Scotland has been withering away: for it is systematically replaced by another religion, which worships a different God.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and, until recently, a columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at:
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (6)Add Comment
written by Jack,CT, October 14, 2012
Mr Warren,
The socioeconomic' issues of a
culture are far more complex than one
"Party" or another.
If some of us would dare to visit some
of the inner citys the reality of poverty
still exists and people are still "Starving".
I for one can tell you growing up poor is no
fun despite being a Liberal or a consevative.
I have been able to give my children more
then I ever had as a child,but it had very
little to do with my political affiliation.
I dare say "Education" is the key that
unlocks the door from poverty to Middle
written by Martha Rice Martini, October 14, 2012
This is good, VERY good, an excellent description of what is at stake. How about casting a wider net? The Wall Street Journal? Thank you, Mr. Warren!
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, October 14, 2012
In Scotland, where I live, out of an electorate of 4 million, only 2.3 million pay income taxes; 22 per cent of people of working age are claiming a key benefit or are in receipt of a tax credit; and 23 per cent of the workforce is in the public sector.

In addition, three universal benefits have proved very appealing to middle-class voters: free education (including tertiary education), free health care and free personal care for the elderly

However, the religious picture is not as bleak as you suggest. According to the last census, some 42% identify as Church of Scotland, nearly 15% as Roman Catholic and nearly 7% as other Christian denominations. Only 28% identify as of no religion and a further 5% declined to answer.
written by Mack, October 14, 2012
I have read - I do not know - that electronic voting machines are serviced, and thus controlled, by the S.E.I.U.

Electronics are fine toys but poor statecraft. Honesty in our elections would be promoted by paper ballots, polls in neutral venues (not in churches or union halls), and a mix of poll watchers.
written by G.K. Thursday , October 14, 2012
Another great post by David Warren. I am so glad that you are writing for The Catholic Thing!

The voting machines aren't serviced directly by the SEIU, but by local government employees, most of whom belong to the SEIU. Not all members of a Union are as corrupt as the bosses, so the US elections may still not be as easily manipulated as those in Venezuela or Ecuador.
written by Graham Combs, October 14, 2012
My understanding is that significant number of Catholics in Scotland, as well as in the Church in England and Wales, are immigrants. In particular Filipinos and Poles. I regularly read British papers and their Scottish tabs report discouraging news for the most part. I also know from my reading that some years ago you found most Australians at the check in desks of most hotels because the work was beneath the Scottish. I happen to be, in part, Scots-Irish, and I imagine most readers here are familiar with Arthur Herman's fine book, HOW THE SCOTS MADE THE MODERN WORLD. It's heartbreaking really. Who was it said that England treated Scotland like a nation but Ireland like a colony. And a second-class one to boot. I know Scots who have done very well under the British Union Jack but are enamored with independence romanticism. I do think that national decline trails the decline of religion. You see it here and throughout the English-speaking world. If Canada is holding decline at bay it is because Canadians are hypocritical. The live Labor, vote Tory. Tories keep the economy running and all the goodies that go with it.

Michigan by the way is developing a similar reputation and I've seen it up close. What serious company would in their rights minds invest significantly in South East Michigan? There was a time when regular church attendance was a trait valued in an employee. No more. And we see the results.

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