Government Transparency = Anarchy?

So now we're Anarchists?

A group of people in Arizona made signs and protested the purchase of touch-screen voting machines made by Diebold. Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer, who is running for another 4 year term, referred to the protesters as "anarchists" when questioned about them by the media.

This is troublesome on a number of levels. First, why shouldn't voters be angry that the State of Arizona is purchasing voting machines that have been demonstrated to be vulnerable to hacking. There are a lot of 'tin-foil-hat' type conspiracies out there about Diebold giving elections to Republicans. The evidence is all circumstantial at best, consisting mostly of money given by Diebold exclusively to Republican candidates. I'm not sure if I buy it all, but there are certainly questions and flaws. What I do oppose is any sort of voting system that does not produce a paper trail. If you're thinking of government as a business (as Republicans love to do) you'd be insane not to have a voting system that leaves a paper trail. Think about it, if you're hiring a new CEO, wouldn't you want records of the hiring process? In the event of a close or disputed election the hard evidence of a paper trail prevents any question or dispute one they have been recounted. If nothing else, it gives voters more faith in the system, something that no democracy can function without.

So Ms. Brewer (R) was making a speech about how she decided to purchase a bunch of voting machines and a group of citizens decide that they don't like Ms. Brewer's decision. They protest this decision by standing on public property with signs, making their feelings known. Ms. Brewer's response is to call them Anarchists.

First, these people aren't Anarchists. Most people, and this seems to include Arizona's Secretary of State, don't know the first thing about the political theory of Anarchy. Anarchism, as a political theory, is NOT people running around burning things and raping and stealing while playing loud music, wearing leather pants, and sporting died hair like a scene out of a Mad Max movie. Anarchism (which literally means without a king) is a conception of society based on cooperation without coercion.

Most political thinkers would argue that the formation of a state denies its citizens of absolute freedom. This (sometimes voluntary) forfeiture is justified by the ability of the state to control violence against its citizens. Essentially, people give up absolute freedom for safety, both of their person but especially their property. Societies form states to protect themselves from people who want to take their stuff, either people within, or enemies without. The institutions of the state (courts, police, armies, etc.) have special abilities denied to the average citizen (the ability to arrest, imprison, execute, destroy property) to ensure a atmosphere conducive to life and commerce, to be able to uphold the state's part of the social contract.

Anarchists argue that this social contract between the state and the individual doesn't end violence or protect citizens from violence, it only gives the state a monopoly on the use of violence. This violence is invariably used to protect the interests of the powerful, the rich, and the elite. Anarchists don't generally support any sort of voting as voting is essentially entering into the social contract and condoning the state.

(As an aside, the first essay explicitly advocating the absence of government was "A Vindication of Natural Society" (1756) by Edmund Burke, the intellectual forefather of modern Conservatism.)

...But back to the subject at hand. These protesters wanted a more binding and verifiable voting system to ensure honesty in the social contract. They were not Anarchists in any sense of the word.

So why (other than ignorance) did Secretary of State Brewer call these protesters Anarchists? First, most people share Ms. Brewer's ignorance and wouldn't catch the fact that she's talking out of her ass. On top of that, the term 'Anarchist' carries heavy negative connotations in our society and would be useful in painting those who opposed her as 'outside the mainstream' at best and 'those seeking to destroy our peaceful way of life' at worst.

This tendency to demonize the enemy is common to all conflict, armed or otherwise. The use of 'demonization' in politics, however, is exceedingly dangerous. First, any use of logical fallacies to fool voters is dishonest. In this case, we see an implicit straw-man argument. "Don't vote for Democrats, they're going to let the Sex Pistols run the country." Sadly, our voting population is often fooled by this tactic. Whether out of indifference, ignorance, or lethargy, a portion of voters can be counted on to vote on these straw-man issues, sometimes against their own self interest.

Though the left is not innocent of these sorts of actions (the Republicans aren't really Nazis) the right has made this strategy an integral part of their campaigning. Take for example the constant implication that if any congress person fails to follow President Bush's every directive they are traitors to America. The constant accusation of Anti-Americanism, being a 'Blame-America-First-er,' not supporting the troops (when in fact only disagreeing with civilian Pentagon leadership) and being 'an aid to terrorists' is a dishonest attempt to frame Democrats, Liberals, and an increasingly large number of independents as people who are 'out of the mainstream' or 'trying to undermine the American way of life.'

Other Republican trends show traces of this strategy as well. Is anybody really so anti-Christian that they would outlaw Christmas? No. The attempts to paint all people left of Ronald Reagan as 'Liberal Elites' is equally deceptive.

The point is that when elected leaders begin to label groups of their own citizens 'anarchists' they endanger our freedoms. It is a small step from 'anarchist' to 'terrorist' or 'insurgent.' President Bush has already shown that he will arrest American citizens as 'enemy combatants' and hold them for over 3 years without charge or access to family or council. Terms and labels are important. Demonizing political opponents with labels is dangerous.

When OUR elected officials falsely label their own citizens in an effort to marginalize them and their political beliefs it's shameful. This is America, not some backwater Banana Republic. When these elected officials demonize Americans for asking for more transparent government, it's frightening.

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