Some of these people, including Reynolds himself, seem mature and reasonable. But quite a few of the others come across as frivolous, apathetic, foolish or all of the above. Michael Shermer thinks it’s important that Kerry is a bicyclist. Richard Epstein doesn’t remember for whom he voted in 2000, thinks the major parties are essentially identical and won’t vote for either of them in 2004. And the guy from The Independent Institute doesn’t want to soil his hands by voting. (Somehow his attitude doesn’t surprise me — see here and here for some background on an exchange I had with another guy from The Independent Institute.)
So, with some notable exceptions, these extremely bright people, many of whom spend a lot of time giving the rest of us advice on how to make decisions about public affairs, are a bunch of idiots in their personal voting behavior. Yeah, I know: most individuals’ votes are not decisive, voters are rationally ignorant, the major parties are effectively a cartel, etc. These objections are narrowly true but miss the big picture. Voting should be treated as a civic sacrament, because on the margin our system can live or die depending on how carefully the voters vote, and they are more likely to take voting seriously if intellectuals don’t denigrate it as an activity. This is especially true now, when the main issue of the day is of overwhelming importance and the major-party candidates have profoundly different approaches to that issue.
One shouldn’t over-intellectualize this stuff, but I think it’s valuable to look at what people think is important enough to spend their own time on. If ordinary people in places like Afghanistan appreciate how important elections are, both symbolically and practically, even when none of the candidates is perfect, why do so many smart people here miss the point?
Maybe we should skip elections altogether, and appoint leaders randomly (with strictly limited terms, of course) from the telephone book. That might work better than decisionmaking by what Thomas Sowell called “articulated rationality” — the main decisionmaking method used by the people interviewed in the Reason forum. Certainly they sound impressive, but do they make better decisions than does the typical voter? Experience, and now disclosure, suggest not.