THERE ARE a number of Americans who shouldn't vote. The number is 57 percent, to judge by the combined total of Clinton and Perot ballots in the 1996 presidential election. Or maybe the number is 65 percent, that being the ABC News poll tally of Americans who supported the forced removal of Elian Gonzalez from Miami. We need a method to prevent these people from going to the polls this year. Such an idea is not, I assert, contrademocratic. At this moment our democracy is filled with enthusiasm for minority culture, minority rights, and minority political expression (anti-Castro Cubans always excepted). So who will gainsay a pronouncement that the majority sucks?
Speaking of which, there was once talk among conservatives and Republicans -- back when the terms weren't mutually exclusive -- about building a "New Majority." I was skeptical. Lord Acton said, "At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has sometimes been disastrous, such as, for instance, when the GOP gives free Confederate flag bumper stickers to all $ 50+ George W. Bush donors." (Although I believe Lord A. implied rather than actually stated that last part.) Also, I'm from East Yoohoo, Ohio, went to a state college, and rarely make it past the level of "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?" when Regis Philbin is on the air. Therefore I am closer to the national median than most of my Washington confreres and realize, better than they, that -- do what we will with school vouchers, merit pay, core curricula, and killing the leaders of the teachers' unions -- half of America's population will be below median intelligence. (The trick answer is Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia.)
But how to go about limiting the suffrage? Literacy tests are in bad odor because of their misuse by the white trash illiterates of the South (all of them Democrats, let it be noted). Numeracy tests would be more to the point anyway since, according to a May 14 New York Times story, one quarter of America thinks that buying lottery tickets is a better retirement plan than saving or investing. But the trouble with math is that people like Hillary Clinton always got the good grades in it.
Poll taxes in federal elections are banned by the Twenty-fourth Amendment. Repealing a constitutional amendment is time-consuming. It took 14 years to repeal the prohibition amendment, and repeal might not have happened even then except the country got a good look at Eleanor Roosevelt and everybody really needed a drink. Anyway, if we're going to repeal amendments, the Twenty-sixth, giving the vote to squirts, would be a better choice. The nose jewelry generation went 53 percent for Clinton in '96. However, women, at 54 percent, were even worse. Yet the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the vote is absolutely inviolable. Because I don't know how to work a computer and I'm depending on my wife to input this.
Besides, we sincere friends of freedom should be ashamed of ourselves, proposing to improve the land of freedom by constricting ditto. If a better electorate is wanted, we lovers of laissez faire should do the right thing and buy one. American votes have always been sold on a wholesale basis, from the Homestead Act of 1862 to present proposals to give free AndroGel testosterone rubs to horny Medicare geezers. Let us open the business to the retail trade.
Votes, vote options, vote futures, vote derivatives, and shares in vote mutual funds will be purchased through NASDAQ, auctioned on eBay, or purchased off the shelf at Target and Sam's Club. You may sell your vote on the street corner or -- during a tight race for the Senate in a wealthy state -- at Sotheby's. We'll each get one vote per political contest in our district -- same as ever. But now we will be truly free to use that vote as we see fit and won't be forced to waste it with a Charlton Heston write-in for Ann Arbor city council.
The advantage to the poor is obvious. Come the second Tuesday in November, instead of Maxine Waters, they get food -- or something, and anything would be easier to stomach than Maxine. The rich benefit as well. You RNC maximum contributors will receive real and actual power and not just an autographed photo of Tom DeLay shaking your hand while his eyes work the room.
When the vote is deregulated and electoral majorities can be bought and sold without bureaucratic interference, the result will be governance on the corporate shareholder model. Will this be an improvement? Let us compare Congress to the Justice Department's case against Microsoft. No one is trying to break up the House of Representatives because it's been too successful.
Of course there are potential drawbacks to an open market at the polls. "A great deal of stupid people have a great deal of stupid money," said economist Walter Bagehot even before Ted Turner was born. Rich liberals might be stupid enough to spend all their money gaining control of America. But look around. They control it already. What's the dif? And if rich liberals spend all their money, they won't be rich enough to be liberal anymore.
Vote vending will be good for the economy. Here is an enormous new business enterprise with a customer base of almost 200 million people and practically zero start-up costs. Over 130 million potential customers are already "registered" -- signed up for their slice of the American dream. Referendum buying will also force American politicians to learn at least something about economics -- knowledge that they have resisted acquiring for 224 years. Furthermore, plebiscite marketing gives the nation's campaign fund-raisers an incentive to enter rehabilitation programs, get well, and find an honest job.
Most important, having a wide variety of useful and attractive ballots readily available at our local mall is the best way for ordinary Middle-American voters to enter the political arena and put our two cents in -- two cents being about what our votes will be worth this fall, given the current presidential candidates.
P. J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.