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:
- Prevent people from speaking their opinion
- Prevent people from voting for the person of their choice
- 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.