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Jewish World Review June 6, 2000 / 3 Sivan, 5760

Roger Simon

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Consumer Reports

A real democracy needs headless leaders! -- MANY YEARS AGO, I read a science fiction story about a country that could not find anyone to be its leader.

The job was a good one: unlimited pay, unlimited privileges, unlimited power. You could do anything you wanted.

But, still, nobody wanted the job.

A visitor to this strange land could not figure out why. There were no onerous duties attached to being the leader. In fact, as far as the stranger could find out, all the leader had to do was wear a ceremonial collar around his neck. This was his sole duty.

But then the stranger finds out what the ceremonial collar is all about: Whenever a citizen of the country is upset with the leader, the citizen casts a negative vote.

And when enough negative votes are cast, the collar explodes, decapitating the leader.

A gruesome tale, I thought as a child, but now that I am an adult, I am not so sure. Maybe this would be democracy in its purest form. The will of the people would be expressed in a direct, though devastating, way.

Would this be enough to keep politicians honest? I don't know, but at the very least, it would keep some of them from trying to run the country.

Consider: Would Orrin Hatch, a U.S. senator from Utah, really have mounted a campaign for president this year if he knew that he might have to wear a collar that could explode if he won?

Does everybody wonder why Hatch, a conservative Republican, was running in the first place?

To say that he had no chance of winning was to put it mildly. But nobody could even figure out why he wanted the job. He had a pretty cushy job already: the U.S. Senate is a private club with only 100 members, lots of privileges and no heavy lifting.

It was ambition, pure and simple, that fueled Hatch's run. He wanted to be the president simply because the presidency was the top job.

But if the top job carried an exploding collar with it, well, you can see how the overly ambitious might want to reconsider a little.

It would also make the overly wealthy reconsider.

Spending vast sums of his family's fortune to run for president was nothing to Steve Forbes. Or to Ross Perot, who spent $60 million of his own money in vain attempts to get the top job.

Both men have oodles of money left. But would they have squandered that money -- couldn't some good have been done with it instead of wasting it on campaign consultants and TV commercials? -- if the pay-off was a collar that the people could instantly judge you by?

In fact, the idea is such a good one, it should not be limited to the political arena.

By law, a v-chip has to be inserted in new television sets so parents can prevent their kids from watching violent TV shows (Yeah, right, let's see a parent really program the thing.)

So, by law, a small explosive chip -- an e-chip -- could be inserted in all cell-phones, for instance.

And when an idiot driver yapping on his cell phone cuts you off in traffic, you could register a vote. And when the driver got enough votes -- let's be compassionate and make it 100 votes -- the cell phone would explode.

Does anyone think the driver, who endangers dozens of lives each day by his irresponsible behavior, doesn't deserve this? Can anyone really say he has not observed horrendous driving by cell-phone yappers?

My solution is direct, fair and, most of all, democratic. It puts real power in the hands of the people.

Nor do we have to stop with cell phones. How about people who pull up next to you in cars or vans with radios that are blaring so loudly it rattles your teeth? Why not put a little e-chip in those radios?

And when enough votes are collected -- I think a dozen would be more than enough -- then ... blam! That's all she wrote!

And cigarettes and cigars. You could easily fit a chip in them. And when the smoke bothered enough people, well, that would teach smokers all about responsible behavior, wouldn't it?

I know some will consider my solution extreme, but it is hard to argue with the will of the people.

In fact, there is only one activity I would exempt from my new e-chip: They could not be inserted in the word processors of newspaper columnists.

Because we wouldn't last a week.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate