Democracy is a messy system of government. Its basic tenets encourage the ignorant masses to react based on emotional appeals, thereby overwhelming the reasoned judgments of the educated elite. This produces such contradictory results as the resounding defeats of several measures that would have put limits on Maine government’s ability to tax the populace and the election of anti-tax Republican Paul LePage as governor.

Democracy: It’s as if people were marking their ballots at random.

In 2009, an initiative called the Taxpayers Bill of Rights or TABOR, which would have capped the amount state spending could grow each year and required voter approval of tax hikes, went down to defeat by landslide numbers. “We don’t want average citizens deciding whether taxes should go up,” said some average citizens. “Most average citizens vote as if they were bat-guano crazy.”

As if to prove that point, the following year, those same average citizens chose LePage, who’d campaigned hard for the tax cap, as governor. “Paul is an average citizen like us,” said the average citizens. “He’ll do what needs to be done, even though we have no idea what that might be.”

It’s worth noting that LePage won his race with almost the same percentage of ballots cast as TABOR received. The difference was that LePage was running against several candidates who divided up the opposition vote, while the tax cap was a straight yes-or-no question. “If there’s ever another TABOR referendum,” said the average citizens, “we need to provide more options besides ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ At a minimum, we should have ‘maybe,’ ‘ask again later’ and ‘dunno.’”

In an amazing coincidence, there is another TABOR campaign under way. It’s being organized by Maine Taxpayers United, a group of average citizens who bungled their way through earlier tax cap referendums. This time, though, the TABOR supporters are being aided by the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, which also happens to be my first name. As an average citizen, that’s enough to convince me to vote for anything ALEC proposes, even though a lot of people with other first names think ALEC is a right-wing conspiracy intent on undermining democracy. Given the previously noted irrational nature of that form of government, I’m not convinced that’s such an undesirable outcome.

Also, we ALECs have to stick together. Except for Alec Baldwin, who’s a liberal. And John Alec Entwistle of the Who, who’s dead.

The new TABOR is more extensive than the old version. According to its supporters, it would institute “priority-based budgeting,” a process that requires defining the “core functions of government.” According to ALEC’s website, “Priority-based budgeting views all of state government — all of its agencies and functions — as a single enterprise. It evaluates new proposals in the context of all that state government does, and develops strategies for achieving priority results with an eye on all available state resources.”

I have no idea what that means, but I don’t really need to know, since this is a democracy, and I’m not voting based on stuff I learned plowing through lengthy documents explaining the finer philosophical points of governance. I’m going with that good old emotional appeal. Which in the case of those opposing TABOR-like proposals generally goes something like this:

“If this ill-considered measure passes, it will mean the end of many essential government services, including garbage collection, snow plowing and hiring massage therapists for staff-appreciation day at the Maine State Housing Authority.”

Of course, there’s more to the new TABOR than a lot of policy-geek blather. It would also require state departments to come up with mission statements. For instance, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services could promise to fix its computer system so it’s not giving Medicaid benefits to 25,000 people who aren’t eligible. And the Maine Department of Education could pledge to teach schoolkids to read well enough so that when they grow up, they don’t have to mark their ballots at random.

There are also limits on taxes, spending and the number of times somebody can use the words “average citizens” in one column.

Even so, passage of the new TABOR is hardly a certainty. The connection to ALEC could be problematic, given that group’s controversial stands on matters such as supporting stand-your-ground laws, a position that has caused several of ALEC’s corporate sponsors to fail to stand their ground. ALEC has also been pegged as a tool of the Koch brothers, alleged to be maniacal millionaires bent on world domination.

But as average citizens, that’s not our major concern. Instead, we have to decide if we’re willing to trust the Legislature to bring state spending under control and reduce taxes, or if we’d prefer to force them to do so. We have to weigh all the facts. We have to assess all the options.

Then, we have to vote at random.

Emotional appeals may be emailed to aldiamon@herniahill.net.