Little "D" Democracy

What bothers me most about the political warfare raging between the right and the left these days is that is it undemocratic. A quick gander through the dictionary gives one definition of democratic that seems particularly apt: Befitting the common people; — opposed to aristocratic.

Opposed to aristocratic. This is important. What is aristocratic then? Essentially a ruling class of the nobility.

So when we all talk about how great democracy is what we are saying is that government should not be made of of aristocrats or nobles and that is should be for the benefit of the common person. Under democracy we find something similar but still important: The common people, considered as the primary source of political power. This is something our fore fathers considered very important: that rights were not granted to the people by the state, the rights are first and government is formed second to protect them.

Now I don’t like George W. Bush or the Republicans and chances are somewhere around 50% of you reading this don’t like John Kerry or the Democrats. Fine. No problem. We need that debate, we want that debate and we should all encourage that debate. What we should not do is:

  1. Prevent people from speaking their opinion
  2. Prevent people from voting for the person of their choice
  3. Prevent people’s vote from being counted

These things are undemocratic. They deny the voice of the people to be heard.

But I’d like to go a bit further in two ways. First, tricking people by telling half-truths (i.e. 99% of political advertising) is also undemocratic because it prevents people from speaking their opinion and it prevents people from voting for the person of their choice. We should have very high standards for political ads and require that they not be misleading. We have people making sure that I don’t mislead you about your shampoo, I don’t see why we can’t have people making sure we don’t have blatantly misleading political advertising. I’d love to just let the market decide but the people in question own the market. Thus the role of government.

Which lead nicely into my second additional point: the United States of America, in order to be true to the Constitution of the United States of America, and in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and other writings by the architects of this great nation, cannot be and will not be ruled by an ultra-rich elite. It is the duty of our government and the duty of the American people to make sure that our democracy does not become a plutocracy, which is just the capitalist form of an aristocracy.

I’m not talking necessarily about the fact that most politicians are rich. I think it is the natural interest of people from certain professions, especially people who are not scrambling to keep food on the table. I’m talking about the direct influence of money on the political system. From elections to legislation to enforcement the influence of big money is enormous. We are starting to believe that’s just the way things are.

To attempt to conclude, I am a capitalist. I believe in markets. I believe taxes should be as low as possible and still buy us a quality government. But I do not believe for one minute that capitalism and democracy are the same thing. They are not. Democracy is a concept that has a small parcel of socialism in it. Socialism is not a bad word at all — our families are socialist, our military is socialist. The reason democracy has a small helping of socialism in it is because without it the plutocrats can eventually rewrite the rules to be exactly what they want. It takes a very strong state to be able to hold back the onslaught of the wealthy as they attempt to take full control of government.

Don’t be fooled — democracy is hard to achieve and we have not necessarily achieved it.

Little "D" Democracy

One thought on “Little "D" Democracy

  1. chad says:

    Interesting topic, and I’m about to rant a bit…

    We are far from being anywhere near democracy–especially in the true sense of the word.

    Check out the number of people who actually voted in the 2000 election:
    51.3% of the people of voting age actually voted. Given that GWB and AL Gore each roughly got 50% of the popular vote, less than 25.65%(!) of the people who were able to vote chose the leader of the only remaining superpower. In a society, or a civilization, that has increasingly placed an emphasis on the indivudal, on giving the invidual power, this sort of turnout is a fucking joke.

    So in a sense we already have a country ruled by the elite. Only this sort of elite are people who become the “ruling elite” by their seemingly improbable ability to take 5 minutes to fill in the bubble for their candidate (although this is not a given either: sometimes they get confused at the ballot box).

    I think the inability to care is pretty sad, given the struggle put forth by so many to achieve these rights.

    In your analysis you focus primarily on the influence of big money in elections. I think this is certainly a very important issue. This money seems to really determine who the candidates are to begin with and once the politicans are in office, it seems to dictate how they vote; this comes from lobbies (the so-called, “special interests” always talked about in the news.) To run for office one needs millions of dollars now–where does this money come from now? Nobody watches the Senate debates anymore becuase most of our legislation is competition between interest groups.

    And then there are the commericals, “John Kerry is a liberal…” with their 30 second soundbites.
    All of this is, I think, a symptom of a greater problem–namely, our society or culture as a whole. There is going to have to be some serious changes from the ground up before any of this is going to change. We idolize those who can drunk a basketball and sign them to $125 million contracts and say it’s OK becuase it’s the market at work. We claim to care about education, but cut the budgets because it’s “wasteful spending” of a more socialist nature.

    I am starting grad school this fall in History (so what I am writing is obviously biased…). The reality of my situation is that there really isn’t nearly as much money devoted to subjects like mine because they are seen as useless, but the useless shit taught in business classes (and I feel I am qualified to make this statement as I was a business major) is apparently of use. The useless stuff taught in the humanities is the same stuff that tries to make people care about their country and the world. It’s the stuff that forms dreams in the minds of the people; stuff we need, stuff that makes people actually vote. But I doubt as a society we will be buying as much of this stuff as we need anytime soon. We have better shit to do, like watch American Idol.


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