After Mike Rowe received a letter asking him to encourage his "huge following" to get out and vote in the presidential election, the wise host of "Somebody's Gotta Do It" replied with quite the eye-opening civics lesson.
Rowe noted that voting is "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."
More from Rowe's reply:
Every four years, celebrities and movie stars look earnestly into the camera and tell the country to “get out and vote.” They tell us it’s our “most important civic duty,” and they speak as if the very act of casting a ballot is more important than the outcome of the election. This strikes me as somewhat hysterical. Does anyone actually believe that Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen DeGeneres, and Ed Norton would encourage the “masses” to vote, if they believed the “masses” would elect Donald Trump?
Regardless of their political agenda, my celebrity pals are fundamentally mistaken about our “civic duty” to vote. There is simply no such thing. Voting is a right, not a duty, and not a moral obligation. Like all rights, the right to vote comes with some responsibilities, but lets 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.
The undeniable reality is this: our right to vote does not require any understanding of current events, or any awareness of how our government works. So, when a celebrity reminds the country that “everybody’s vote counts,” they are absolutely correct. But when they tell us that “everybody in the country should get out there and vote,” regardless of what they think or believe, I gotta wonder what they’re smoking.
Rowe added that the fact that approval ratings for Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are at "record lows" shows this election isn't "about who you like more, it's about who you hate less." But Rowe placed the blame for that on all of us.
"Donald and Hillary are there because we put them there," he wrote. "The electorate has tolerated the intolerable. We've treated this entire process like the final episode of 'American Idol.' What did we expect?"
Rowe said he can't in good conscience make a blanket plea for others to vote "even if I thought it would benefit my personal choice" since "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."
But he offered an alternate suggestion:
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.
Or, don’t. None of the freedoms spelled out in our Constitution were put there so people could cast uninformed ballots out of some misplaced sense of civic duty brought on by a celebrity guilt-trip. The right to assemble, to protest, to speak freely — these rights were included to help assure that the best ideas and the best candidates would emerge from the most transparent process possible.
Rowe added a reminder that "there’s nothing virtuous or patriotic about voting just for the sake of voting, and the next time someone tells you otherwise, do me a favor — ask them who they’re voting for. Then tell them you’re voting for their opponent. Then, see if they’ll give you a ride to the polls."