Small Business Mugwumps

Jim Blasingame In about two weeks millions of Americans will be afforded a privilege which, while not rare on Earth, is certainly not available to billions of other earthlings: We will be allowed to vote in a free and fair election.

I use the words "privilege" and "allowed" with a purpose. While the U.S. Constitution gives Americans the right to vote, it does not require us to do so.

But we may want to rethink that laissez-faire attitude as we examine the numbers that give rise to what has been called the "Vanishing Voter" phenomenon. Consider this information from the Federal Election Commission: In the 1960 elections, 63% of the voting-age population participated; in 1972, that number had plunged to 55%; by 1996, eligible voters who showed up at the polls was down to 49%.

Turnout in the 2000 election was up a tiny bit, with 51.3% of the voting-age population casting ballots. But let's not get too excited. If voting were a legal requirement, on Wednesday, November 8, 2000, 100 million Americans could have been indicted for being non-voters.

I wonder what would happen if, let's say, Americans had to prove they voted in order to get a driver's license? Or perhaps we could turn the so-called national obesity problem into something positive by making voting a requirement for adults to purchase a Big Mac, a Whopper, or a Frostie.

Still Think Your Vote Doesn't Matter?
Two years ago in this space, one week before the 2000 election, I encouraged all eligible Americans to vote by reminding everyone that John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon by a margin of less than one vote per precinct. Little did I know that the 2000 presidential election would be decided with the electoral votes of a single state by a number that looked more like the attendance at a small town chamber of commerce banquet than a national election margin.

So, now, I think it's safe to say that the only American who would still claim his vote doesn't matter is the noodlehead who doesn't buckle up because he wants to be "thrown clear," or the guy who believes professional wrestling is real, but the moon landings were staged in Arizona.

Three Kinds Of Voters
In America, voters can be found in three coveys. Two of these birds are partisans and independents. Partisan voters only support members of their political party regardless of how bad that candidate may be. There is a term in the South called the "Yellow Dog" voter. This partisan would, it's alleged, vote for a yellow dog on their ticket over a human being running on the other ticket.

The partisan's alter ego is the independent voter - aka mugwump - whose song sounds like this, "I vote for the man - or woman - with the best ideas, not the party." In its most famous political application, mugwump was the moniker given to a group of Republicans who deserted their party's 1884 presidential nominee, James G. Blaine, to vote for the Democrat, Grover Cleveland. Unlike their 19th Century forebears, modern-day mugwumps aren't jumping from one party to another; they flit around in the middle ready to go either way. Consequently, since partisans are mostly predictable, many races are won or lost by a campaign's ability to secure the vote of the mercurial mugwump.

Now for the rest of the story: Mugwump is an ancient Algonquin Indian word meaning "great chief." To the Algonquians, a mugwump had the power. In the American English usage it also came to mean someone in power, but sometimes the term was used pejoratively when a person or group left the fold, thus influencing an election for the "other side."

The third bird is the single-issue voter. These Americans are so devoted to and dogmatic about one issue that they refuse to consider a candidate who disagrees with them on that issue, regardless of his or her record on a broader range of important issues. Two issues that perennially evoke such single-minded passion are the environment and, of course, abortion. Since single-issue passions - for or against - are usually stroked by one of the political parties, like partisans, single-issue voters on either side of an issue are also predictable voters.

Vote Small Business
Ordinarily, I don't truck much with the single issue voting philosophy. With our world getting more complicated every year, how can we ask any elected representative to forsake all other issues in favor of just one? And mugwumps are sometimes referred to as voters who can't make up their mind and sit on the fence with their "mug on one side and their wump on the other."

But there is something that I think is worthy of more independence AND single-mindedness - small business.

As a veteran small business owner, and in my role as The Small Business Advocate, I have become a kind of hybrid voter: a cross between a single-issue voter and a modern-day mugwump. The single-issue side makes me want to vote for candidates whom I think will work and vote for policies that help small business, and the mugwump side causes me to not care what party the small business-friendly candidate belongs to.

You won't be surprised to learn that I have even coined a name for this voting philosophy - Smugwump. Smugwumps are smug in the conviction that what is beneficial for small business is good for everyone.

I would like to encourage you to become a Smugwump. To be single-minded about supporting candidates at all levels of government who are small business friendly, independently indifferent about what party they may belong to, and smug in the knowledge that it's the right thing to do.

Smugwump Issues
There are many issues that are important to Smugwumps, but today I'll list some of the more prominent ones:

• Smaller government. A smaller government needs less tax revenue. Smugwumps want to put the government on a diet, and vote for candidates who subscribe to the KISS philosophy - keep it small, stupid.

• Lower tax rates. As I've said before, it's redundant to say undercapitalized small business. Our capital options are extremely limited, and high tax rates deplete our precious working capital disproportionately to big businesses that have many capital sources. In the world according to Smugwumps, the government will have all the money it needs when taxes are collected at low rates on high production. Smugwumps vote for candidates who vote for and deliver lower tax rates.

• Simplified tax code. Small business owners spend too much time and resources complying with the current tax code. The IRS estimates that businesses spend 3.4 BILLION hours annually complying with the current tax code. That's the equivalent of 3 million people doing nothing but tax stuff.

The current tax code abomination hurts small business disproportionately because we can't afford to have people doing unproductive things. Smugwumps vote for candidates who think those 3 million people could spend their time more productively, like making a product or delivering a service.

• Fewer regulations. According to the Office Of Advocacy at the SBA, big businesses spend over $3,000 annually per employee complying with government regulations. Buckle-up small business owners because that number is double for us. We spend over $6,000 - per employee per year - complying with government regulations. Talk about disproportionate! Still think you don't want to become a Smugwump?

One way to tell if candidates are compatible with Smugwumps is if they have ever owned a business and made a payroll. This test is not always accurate, but it usually is.

Smugwumps Unite
If you agree with what I have said, I hope I have motivated you to become a Smugwump. Do you know how many potential Smugwumps there are in the United States? Some estimates put that number at 45 million, including main street small business owners, home-based owners, and the self-employed. If all of those folks voted as Smugwumps I believe we could make the world a better place because, remember the Smugwump creed: What's good for small business is good for everyone.

Write this on a rock... I hope you'll consider becoming a Smugwump. But believe it or not, I care more that you vote than whom you vote for. Jim Blasingame may be wrong, but in 226 years, our system of government is not wrong - it's very right. Voting is our privilege. Don't become an unindicted non-voter. Please vote on November 5th.

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