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About Those Signing Statements

Mark A. Goldman                                                                       Dated: 3/17/07


I suppose you thought this was going to be about those illegal statements that Bush is in the habit of adding to his signature when he signs legislation passed by Congress. Well it's not.

It's about the signing statements I keep seeing at web sites or getting in my email box from various well meaning individuals and organizations to which I am asked to sign my name. These statements or petitions are supposedly intended to convince George W. Bush and/or members of Congress to vote on an issue in a manner contrary to their current inclinations.

I could be wrong, and I would be happy to get other input on this, but in my experience I see no evidence that this kind of activity is very effective. I won't say that it is useless, but what I do believe is that the effort it takes to get these signatures could be put to much better use by citizens who are interested in real change. Mostly they just give people the feel good illusion that they are doing something real when they are, in fact, doing nothing particularly useful.

It should be obvious by now that our elected officials are not very interested in taking advice from ordinary citizens. Naturally, your representatives will tell you nothing could be further from the truth. If they can keep you believing that, they can be sure you will not consider what I am about to say.

Of course if you happen to be the president of a sizeable PAC, correspondence from you might be taken seriously. 

My view is that our government now is almost totally dysfunctional and illegitimate (here I'm talking about our elected officials). I believe the only way to have government work again is to actually hold these people accountable... for their lack of action, their fake and pretended action, and/or for their inappropriate action. The way you do this is by voting them out of office.

Now I'm going to say something that you are likely to judge, at first glance, as entirely heretical and stupid, but I'm going to say it anyway. If you would only vote for people you truly believe in, you wouldn't have to do a great deal more than that. It would be a lot more powerful, at least, then signing petitions.  Of course, you would have to be willing to lose elections. And you would have to have steadfast courage.

I'm not saying if you do this that you would necessarily lose elections.   I'm just saying that you would have to be willing to lose them... that is, you would have to be more interested in voting your conscience than in having your candidate or a particular party win.

If you were willing to do this, this is what will happen in my view: Some people will just ignore you. But those who love and/or respect you will engage you in an effort to have you change your vote. But by not being willing to change your vote--by being steadfast--they might begin to understand your strategy and join you.

If not enough people see the wisdom of your strategy, your candidate would either win anyway or simply lose. If they lose, everyone will blame you and others like you, maybe even hate you for awhile like they did when Nader ran in 2000 and got blamed for a Democratic defeat.  But if you stuck to your guns in the next election, and the one after that, eventually they would have to join you if they wanted to win. In the end, we would end up with a legitimate government.

Now you might think we can't afford another 4, 8, 12, or 16 years of Republican rule. I contend that without fundamental reform, nothing substantial will change no matter which party is elected. And that change has to come from ordinary citizens who vote.

If we had a government consisting of people who really loved our country and our democracy, they would allow third party candidates into the process. Allowing more voices to be heard is what democracy is all about.  They would finally install a system such as Instant Runoff Voting that would give citizens the ability to vote for third party candidates without having to suffer through the agony of thinking they could be wasting their vote.

Nothing will change if third party candidates don't have a real chance to challenge the status quo. This is a long-term project. It needs to begin now by people who have the passion and the vision.

This strategy, in my view, is the only way we will effect real change given the environment we are in. But it will take a revolution to do it. Not a revolution in the ordinary sense, but a revolution in you... in your thinking.

You would have to respect yourself enough not to settle for anything less than real change. You would have to write off members of Congress who have betrayed the trust you put in them. You would have to give up on them. And you should. If they have not done their jobs honorably, they should be replaced. Until ordinary citizens have this kind of courage nothing will change except incidentals around the margins.

To do this you would need to give up your fear of losing and your fear of social pressure. You would have to give up worrying what other people think and how other people might vote.

What is that kind of behavior called? Some people will say, "stupidity." I say it's called making a difference. 

We will not have real change without real sacrifice, courage, strength, and leadership. We've tried everything else. Nothing else works. If we don't do this, the people who will run for and hold office after the next election will be the same people who are there now. Sad but true.

We can't change the world without first changing ourselves. We can't win without real heart. We won't have change without real courage.

When asked to sign a petition, I say... don't do it. Tell them you intend to vote for someone in the next election who won't need to be petitioned. Tell them you will find someone to vote for who knows what is needed and will do their job with honor, courage, and distinction.

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