Mike Rowe Makes a Case For Jim Crow

If you see this article in your social media feed, please don’t fall for it.

No, Mike, I don’t respect you for telling us we are too dumb for democracy. I know he couches it in terms of “irresponsible celebrities”, but we ought to take a good, hard look at our elections and why what he is saying is so significant. I am going to give Mike the benefit of doubt and assumes he has already researched the problems with out elections before he made this statement.

This is the question he was asked:
Hey Mike, I have nothing but respect for you. Your no-nonsense outlook and incredible eloquence have really had a profound impact in my life. Can you please encourage your huge following to go out and vote this election? I would never impose on you by asking you to advocate one politician over another, but I do feel this election could really use your help. I know that there are many people out there who feel like there is nothing they can do. Please try to use your gifts to make them see that they can do something — that their vote counts.”

And this is how his answer begins:
“Hi Jeremy,
Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it. I also share your concern for our country, and agree wholeheartedly that every vote counts. However, I’m afraid I can’t encourage millions of people whom I’ve never met to just run out and cast a ballot, simply because they have the right to vote. That would be like encouraging everyone to buy an AR-15, simply because they have the right to bear arms. I would need to know a few things about them before offering that kind of encouragement. For instance, do they know how to care for a weapon? Can they afford the cost of the weapon? Do they have a history of violence? Are they mentally stable? In short, are they responsible citizens?”

Boy, that almost sounds good. We don’t want the wrong people voting! What if they don’t know anything about their candidate or democracy? That could be dangerous!!

“Casting a ballot is not so different. It’s an important right that we all share, and one that impacts our society in dramatic fashion. But it’s one thing to respect and acknowledge our collective rights, and quite another thing to affirmatively encourage people I’ve never met to exercise them. And yet, my friends in Hollywood do that very thing, and they’re at it again.”

Oh, those Hollywood people! Why don’t they understand how thoughtless and vapid we are?

Like all rights, the right to vote comes with some responsibilities, but let’s face it — the bar is not set very high. If you believe aliens from another planet walk among us, you are welcome at the polls. If you believe the world is flat, and the moon landing was completely staged, you are invited to cast a ballot. Astrologists, racists, ghost-hunters, sexists, and people who rely upon a Magic 8 Ball to determine their daily wardrobe are all allowed to participate. In fact, and to your point, they’re encouraged.”

Thanks, Mike!

There’s more, and I’ll get to it in a moment. The baffling thing is that he seems to be completely ignorant of the fact that there is about 100 years of history showing us what happens when his words are really taken seriously.

After the Civil War ended, slaves were emancipated and the 14th amendment was written to allow them to vote. This was a huge departure from the time before that, when only white, male property owners could vote. See, this was set up explicitly by our founders to protect their access to political power. If you weren’t white, male and financially secure, you didn’t get to cast any ballots that might help you gain financially stability. You sure as hell couldn’t change your sex or your color, and the political elites who ran our country made sure that you couldn’t affect the laws that kept you from being a property owner either. Now, when this changed and any male citizen could cast a ballot, the Southern states set themselves to the task of keeping all those newly minted voters from actually being able to vote. They set up literacy tests and poll taxes that unfairly affected black voters. They created hurdles to keep people from participating in our democracy, but they cloaked them in fears about people too ignorant to cast a ballot.

Let’s never mind the fact that it had been illegal to teach slaves to read in many states. The important thing was that voting was too important to let just anyone do it. We see the same pattern every time voting access was expanded.

Let’s look at something else about our current elections. We have one of the lowest turnouts in the developed world. Fewer than half of eligible voters vote. And it is illuminating to see what they say:

“In a 2012 USA Today poll, 59 percent of non-voters said they were frustrated by the fact that “nothing ever gets done” in government while 54 percent cited “corruption” and 42 percent pointed to the lack of difference between the two parties. About 37 percent said politics doesn’t make much difference in their lives.”

It sounds a lot like something Mike says in his reply:
Look at our current candidates. No one appears to like either one of them. Their approval ratings are at record lows. It’s not about who you like more, it’s about who you hate less. Sure, we can blame the media, the system, and the candidates themselves, but let’s be honest — Donald and Hillary are there because we put them there. The electorate has tolerated the intolerable. We’ve treated this entire process like the final episode of American Idol. What did we expect?”

So who is voting?

“Only 42 percent of Americans voted in the 2014 midterm elections, the lowest level of voter turnout since 1978. And midterm voters tend to be older, whiter and richer than the general population.”

The most well represented voter is an older, richer, white man.

Now please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I don’t think Mike Rowe is intentionally promoting the exact same ideology that has always allowed older, white, male citizens with money more access to political power. But that is what he is doing. In fomenting apathy and cynicism, he is actually promoting the same message that keeps people from voting. In his answer about the irresponsibility of celebrities trying to get people to vote, he is personally contributing to the same ideology that results in votes that are cast by and for old, white men with money.

So no, Jeremy — I can’t personally encourage everyone in the country to run out and vote. I wouldn’t do it, even if I thought it would benefit my personal choice. Because the truth is, the country doesn’t need voters who have to be cajoled, enticed, or persuaded to cast a ballot. We need voters who wish to participate in the process. So if you really want me to say something political, how about this — read more.”

What the country needs is to value those things between elections. We need better civic education. We need a culture that values these tools and uses them responsibly. But we also need to recognize that a system that is unfairly weighted toward the old, white men who vote most often, is not actually producing those things. The midterm elections in 2014 had the lowest rate of voter participation since 1978.

Spend a few hours every week studying American history, human nature, and economic theory. Start with “Economics in One Lesson.” Then try Keynes. Then Hayek. Then Marx. Then Hegel. Develop a worldview that you can articulate as well as defend. Test your theory with people who disagree with you. Debate. Argue. Adjust your philosophy as necessary. Then, when the next election comes around, cast a vote for the candidate whose worldview seems most in line with your own.”

What is “Economics in One Lesson”? Rowe actually recommends this piece twice. It was written by Henry Hazlitt, in 1946. And it is widely cited by conservatives and libertarians. You can read it here:

In short, what Mike Rowe is really doing, is trying to make sure that only people who agree with his worldview vote. He just doesn’t say it that way. Instead, he argues that the celebrities encouraging people to go out and vote are irresponsible because people should be educated before they vote. And then the education he recommends is designed to create voters who will admire Ayn Rand and Ron Paul.

That’s kind of how we got here, Mike. If you don’t like the politicians in this election and you can’t understand how we got here, maybe you’re worried about the wrong voters. This quote, ironically, comes from Henry Hazlitt:

“This is the persistent tendency of men to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.”

Stop overlooking secondary consequences. And please, everybody, vote. Especially if you never voted before. I trust you with your rights. You are the only one who can vote like you.