Monday, February 01, 2010

Apparently, our republic is "anti-democratic"

Every once in a while, I come across an opinion column that is so spectacularly wrong on so many levels, that after reading it, I feel depressed at the realization that there are people in our country who actually believe wholeheartedly in the writer's positions.

A column in the Forum section of the Sunday (31 Jan) Sacramento Bee that I suffered through is one of those instances. It was written by one Blair Bobier, the deputy director of a think tank in Washington D.C. called the New America Foundation. After reading his column, I thought that if what Mr. Bobier calls for is his idea of a New America, then I will stick with the Old America, thank you very much. I will quote from Mr. Bobier's column, but it will be very difficult to not post the entire text of the article, as he has that many ridiculous things to say.

The column, entitled Constitution's anti-democratic, outdated values in need of purge actually begins with a well-deserved criticism of California's constitution, which has been amended so many times by voter propositions, that it has become a riddle wrapped around a mystery inside an enigma and is currently the third-longest constitution in the world.

While I agree that California's constitution needs a major overhaul, Mr. Bobier's descriptions of the failings of our federal constitution is where he lost me. As I quote from his column, take note of how often he uses the word "democracy" or derivations thereof. For fun, I will highlight the times he uses that word. You, the reader, need to understand that our country's system of government is not a democracy and was never meant to be one. We are a republic, in which our rights are granted by God and protected by law (See the Declaration of Independence and Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution). In a democracy, your rights are granted by the majority, and they are at the whim of the majority. Not a place I would like to live, but it is what our country has devolved toward becoming, especially in the last eighty years or so.

Mr. Bobier's criticism of the U.S. Constitution begins with a channeling of the recently departed Howard Zinn:
The U.S. Constitution, a model of innovation at the time of its adoption, is similarly ill-suited to govern the lives of its increasingly diverse citizenry. Created by and for an exclusionary elitist society, the original Constitution established a government for a fledgling nation that was then a thin strip along the Eastern seaboard with a population of 2.5 million people. Not only did the original document enshrine slavery as an accepted practice, it crated a number of blatantly anti-democratic institutions.
I could write quite a lengthy blog post deconstructing just this paragraph, but we are only just getting started! The Constitution is ill-suited for our diverse citizenry, Mr. Bobier? You wouldn't be saying that the Constitution is only suited for white people would you, Sir? Are you saying that non-white races don't value freedom? I can only speculate, because Mr. Bobier doesn't explain what he means by "diverse." As for the expansion of our country beyond its original borders and population count, I just read an unrelated column today by Selwyn Duke that had a great line which instantly made me think of Mr. Bobier's ridiculous position. Mr. Duke said that truth transcends time, place, and people. The Constitution was written in 1787, with the Bill of Rights being added in 1791. The limits on government power, the descriptions on the role of government, and the prohibitions on the violation of our rights our just as relevant today as they were then, because the times may change, and technology may change, but human nature does not change. And if there ever is anything that absolutely needs to be changed or updated - and that need has occurred - the Constitution has an amendment process. After the Bill of Rights in 1791, the Constitution has been amended only 17 more times. Not bad. And no, the Constitution did not enshrine slavery as an accepted practice. If you actually read the document, you will see that slavery was merely tolerated, otherwise a lack of a compromise between the anti-slavery northern state delegates and the pro-slavery southern state delegates would most likely have sunk the whole 1787 Convention. See the 3/5 Compromise and the 1808 African slave trade compromise to see just how much opposition to slavery there really was.

Mr. Bobier continues:
In truth, [the Constitution never did belong to "We the People"]: the Declaration's pursuit of happiness was not meant to include people of color, women, and working-class citizens; all have been enfranchised, but only after years of struggle. Now the most dangerous threat to American democracy is the stubborn and misguided belief that we actually have one.
So in one breath, he says that everyone but white males was left out of the Declaration of Independence, but in the next breath, he admits that the problem has been rectified, although only after "years of struggle." Isn't that exactly the whole point? Through that trusty amendment process, those excluded groups gained their proper rights. And the way I figure, that struggle should make these groups appreciate their rights and political power all the more. And there Mr. Bobier goes, lamenting the democracy we supposedly no longer have, when we were never supposed to have one in the first place. Bravo, Sir.

After Mr. Bobier calls for restoring free speech by overturning the Supreme Court's recent decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which... restored people's free speech, he then goes into some strange territory:
...the Senate and the presidency must be transformed as democratic institutions. The Senate is remarkably unrepresentative: California's 38 million people have equal representation with the 500,000 residents of Wyoming. The composition of the Senate, the vestige of an ancient compromise related to the perpetuation of slavery, threatens any legitimate claims this country has to a democracy.
Seriously, this column actually ran in a major metropolitan newspaper! So now he wants to abolish the United States Senate? Now, I will be the first one to step up and say that most of our current Senators should be put out to pasture, but that has much to do with the fact that since 1913, the United States Senate has been more in line with a democracy that Mr. Bobier so obviously desires, rather than the republic we are supposed to have. Until 1913, our Senators were chosen by the state legislatures; not by popular vote. The House of Representatives represented the American people, and the Senate represented the states. The 17th Amendment changed all that by requiring Senators to be chosen by popular vote as well. So you got a huge chunk of what you want, Mr. Bobier, and yet you still complain.

Mr. Bobier's next target is the Electoral College system:
Like the Senate, the Electoral College is a historical anachronism born of horse-trading and expediency. Since its electoral formula is based, in part, on the composition of the Senate, it too, is unquestionably anti-democratic (boy, he really hates the Senate)... For now, suffice it to say that, at a minimum, [the president] should be elected by a majority vote of the people.
Again, if the United States were a democracy, then it would make more sense to scrap the Electoral College. But we are not a democracy. We are not a contiguous, borderless country; we are a collection of semi-autonomous, sovereign states. As such, the results of the presidential election are counted by states, not by the sheer number of national votes. I often use the World Series as a method of explaining the Electoral College to my 8th Grade U.S. History students. In the World Series, it doesn't matter how many runs you score, it only matters how many games you win. It is entirely possible to have a team score many more overall runs than the other team, but still lose the series; only the number of victorious games count. I think you can see the parallels with the Electoral College system. Winning more overall games shows a winning consistency that simply scoring a bunch of points in one particular game does not. This also hold true in a presidential election. It wouldn't make sense for someone to be elected president just because he got more overall popular votes thanks to some freakishly populated state that overpowered the votes in the rest of the country. Using sheer numbers, Wyoming's population represents just .013% of California's. However, when you compare Wyoming's 3 Electoral College votes, that gives it a more competitive .054% of California's total of 55.

Mr. Bobier ends his column with one more call for democracy:
Free speech for all (by taking it away), a representative government (by abolishing the Senate), and a democratically elected president (by abolishing the Electoral College): "The world's greatest democracy" should settle for nothing less.
This whole column was one gigantic straw man argument, where Mr. Bobier set up the notion that we are supposed to be a democracy and then knocked down some of the key institutions that are keeping us from being that democracy that he says that we are supposed to be. I will leave Mr. Bobier, and you my dear readers, with a little bit of wisdom on that subject from some of those elitist white guys about whom Mr. Bobier seems to think so little.

James Madison said in Federalist Number 10:
Hence it is that democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths...
John Adams had this to say:
Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.
And leave it to Ben Franklin to make things really clear:
Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!
And believe me, in a democracy, those wolves would also have voted to disarm the lamb! Let us thank God that we are still supposed to live in a republic, where our right to defend ourselves, and many other rights, belong to us because God gave them to us, and not because 50.1% of the people think we should or should not have them.

Good Day to You, Sir

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

A "republican" form of government means that the voters do not make laws themselves but, instead, delegate the job to periodically elected officials (Congressmen, Senators, and the President). The United States has a "republican" form of government regardless of whether popular votes for presidential electors are tallied at the state-level (as is currently the case in 48 states) or at district-level (as is currently the case in Maine and Nebraska) or at 50-state-level (as under the National Popular Vote bill).

If a "republican" form of government means that the presidential electors exercise independent judgment (like the College of Cardinals that elects the Pope), we have had a "democratic" method of electing presidential electors since 1796 (the first contested presidential election). Ever since 1796, presidential candidates have been nominated by a central authority (originally congressional caucuses, and now party conventions) and electors are reliable rubberstamps for the voters of the district or state that elected them.

Chanman said...

Every one of Bobier's proposals calls for the U.S. to be taken more toward pure democracy.

If your argument is that we already have a democracy based on the way our system currently works, then why, as I must presume, do you wish to see it changed?

I don't argue that electors are usually a rubber stamp of the voters of each state, but if, as you appear to argue, there is no difference between the popular vote and the electoral vote, then Al Gore would have been elected president in 2000, now wouldn't he?

Anonymous said...

I support the National Popular Vote bill.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes--that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The Constitution gives every state the power to allocate its electoral votes for president, as well as to change state law on how those votes are awarded.

The bill is currently endorsed by over 1,659 state legislators (in 48 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. This national result is similar to recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado-- 68%, Iowa --75%, Michigan-- 73%, Missouri-- 70%, New Hampshire-- 69%, Nevada-- 72%, New Mexico-- 76%, North Carolina-- 74%, Ohio-- 70%, Pennsylvania -- 78%, Virginia -- 74%, and Wisconsin -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Delaware --75%, Maine -- 77%, Nebraska -- 74%, New Hampshire --69%, Nevada -- 72%, New Mexico -- 76%, Rhode Island -- 74%, and Vermont -- 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas --80%, Kentucky -- 80%, Mississippi --77%, Missouri -- 70%, North Carolina -- 74%, and Virginia -- 74%; and in other states polled: California -- 70%, Connecticut -- 74% , Massachusetts -- 73%, Minnesota – 75%, New York -- 79%, Washington -- 77%, and West Virginia- 81%. Support is strong in every partisan and demographic group surveyed.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 29 state legislative chambers, in 19 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington. These five states possess 61 electoral votes -- 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

Chanman said...

I'm sorry to see that you want to move us toward a democracy. I'm glad that you are not in charge.

Anonymous said...

Funding: http://www.newamerica.net/about/funding


George

Chanman said...

George,
Thank you for that information. I saw many of the usual suspects: Rockefeller Foundation, Tides Foundation, Ford Foundation.

Donalbain said...

The USA is a democracy. It is also a republic.

democracy
/dimokrsi/

• noun (pl. democracies) 1 a form of government in which the people have a voice in the exercise of power, typically through elected representatives. 2 a state governed in such a way. 3 control of a group by the majority of its members.


republic
• noun a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.



The question regarding the National Popular Vote Act should not be is it more "democratic", or less, but what would be the practical effects of it? Thoughts on that?

Chanman said...

Donalbain,
Please point to me in our Declaration of Independence or Constitution where the word "democracy" or "democratic" is used.

You will find our republican form of government established in Article IV Section 4 of the Constitution.

Now go watch Parliament or something.

Darren said...

The reasons for setting up a republic, and for creating the Electoral College, are more important today than they were at the founding.

I support our current form of government. Well, I could do without the direct election of Senators and go back to the way they were originally chosen.

Donalbain said...

Chanman: Did you miss the dictionary definition of the word "democracy"

1 a form of government in which the people have a voice in the exercise of power, typically through elected representatives.

That describes the USA perfectly doesn't it? If not, how not?

And Darren
; WHAT exactly do you see as the benefits of the electoral college over the popular vote act?

Chanman said...

Donalbain,
Did you miss the lack of the word "democracy" or "democratic" in our founding documents, and the inclusion of "republican"?

The differences between democracies and republics go beyond representation. Republics have representation, too. What's your point?

I thought I told you to go watch Parliament or something.

Donalbain said...

The point is, that you dont need to use a word in a constitution for it to be a good description of your country.
The dictionary defines a democracy as having "a form of government in which the people have a voice in the exercise of power, typically through elected representatives." The USA has one of those forms of government. Therefore it is a democracy. I am pretty certain that the constitution of Iraq never had the word "dictatorship" in it, but it was one. And so it is with the USA. It fits the dictionary definition of "democracy" to a tee. So, it is, despite your whining, a democracy.

Chanman said...

My whining? You are such a joke. Donalbain, I will spell this out for you one more time:

The United States is not a democracy. It is a constitutional republic. It is defined as republic in the Constitution; the founders who wrote the document specifically emphasized that they had created a republic and in fact abhorred democracy.

But who cares what the actual writers of the Constitution and the founders of the United States think; some Brit named Donalbain says differently.

Doubling down once again I see.

Donalbain said...

It isnt what I say. It is what the definition of the word "democracy" says.

Answer this question for me; does the USA have "a form of government in which the people have a voice in the exercise of power, typically through elected representatives"? It seems to me that it does. And as such it is a democracy.

I am sorry that you do not like the way that words in the English language are defined, but that is just the way the world goes. Perhaps your dictionary has some other, strange definition of democracy but none of the ones I have seen are very different from the one I posted.

Chanman said...

OK, let's play the dictionary game:

The definition of democracy you provided: "a form of government in which the people have a voice in the exercise of power, typically through elected representatives."

The definition of republic that I found in the dictionary: "a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them."

As I pointed out earlier, the dictionary is worthless, as its definitions of republic and democracy are essentially the same. The last time I checked, neither of the founding documents of my country is a dictionary.

What you need to do is put away your dictionary and read the writings of the men who actually founded the United States of America. They made it perfectly clear that they wanted a republic in which our rights are given to us by our creator, and it is the job of our elected representatives to protect those rights with which we were born.

They also made it perfectly clear that they did not want a democracy in which our rights would be at the mercy of the majority of either the voters themselves or elected representatives who would refuse to follow the rule of law that had been established by our founding documents.

But by all means, please continue disregard the founders of our country and the rest of Americans and dictate to us what kind of government we in the United States should really have. What would we do without you?

Donalbain said...

OK... the dictionary is worthless... I will leave this conversation alone. There is VERY little point in talking with someone who rejects as "worthless" standard English language definition.

I will just leave you with the fact that there is a Peoples REPUBLIC of China

Chanman said...

Never mind that said totalitarian communist dictatorships such as People's Republic of China, People's Republic of North Korea, and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) were and are an international laughingstock for calling themselves such a thing and trying to hijack the term.

So, in desperation, you compare the United States to a totalitarian communist dictatorship. Stay classy, sport.

Hube said...

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Based on this comment (and the rest in its entirety), I fail to see the difference between this and the Electoral College system -- other than it seemingly would legally do away with the electors who hypothetically can vote against what a state's voters desired. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

Anonymous said...

In reality; the founding fathers did establish a republic with a slant toward democracy. The founding fathers were smart enough to not put all the eggs in one basket-they believed in balance. The party originated by the founding fathers was called the democratic-republican party. This party was predominantly for a small federal government and stronger state governments and democratic ran local governments. Within the party their was always a good range of opinions on commerce, public works and industrilization but never a firm ideaology like today. The strongest slant was toward a strict following of the constitution, they were very distrustful of banks, and corporations and more for the farmer and more common worker.
This is the party of the founding fathers (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, even Franklin favored this party, etc..)
The antithesis to that party was the Federalist party. It was more for a strong Federal Government, banks, merchants, and monied people. They firmly believed in an elitist class. However, they only had one President (Adams).
Later the Federalist party ended and some of them joined the Demo-Repub party; however, that party eventually broke up into the Old Repub Part (the current Democratic Party) and the National Republican Party (which became the Whig and later the current Republican Party)So the original ideals of the founding fathers and the elitist values of the Federalist Party was split between the two parties. This explains why the current right wing and Republican Party are very good at pulling their views of limited government; however, completely ignore the multitude of founding father statements that were very anti-bank,and corporations. The actually ideals are split between the two parties
Dems - are right about the founding fathers were anti-corporation and banks and were very much for the common good of the labor force....not welfare but for those that worked. Allowing the working man to keep the spoils of his labor rather than a wealthy individual siphon off from his labor.
They absorbed some of the ideals of the Federalist party in regards to a strong central government and allowing a welfare class
Repubs - are correct in the assumption of limited Federal Gov't, which lowers taxes.
They absorbed the Federalist ideals of pro-corporation and banks.
Remove the federalist views from the two parties and put that together and you have the true values and intentions of the founding fathers.
Outside of the individual's rights the seat of power was suppose to reside in the local governments - which were intentionally left to be democratic in nature. Majority rules until the decision violates an individual persons human rights that are outlined by the constitution. This included democratic control of corporations.

Anonymous said...

"AGAIN I WILL STATE THE FOUNDING FATHERS WERE VERY SKITTISH OF CORPORATIONS." They said so, and their laws supported that fact as well. These institutions were not viewed as citizens but it was feared if they ever broke loose of the local governments that were suppose to bind them - they would become a second Government. You can't tout the intelligence of the founding fathers, take their words verbatum and then infer the meaning of corporations in to the words "We the People" or "All MEN were created equal". The shareholders already had the right of a vote and a voice as individuals. They didn't just get it with corporate rights. When corporations broke free of local and state governments (which were more democratic and powerful)they gained control of both parties. Truly manipulating the fears of each side to their own gain. Giving just enough of the founding fathers true views on each side to make things seem plausible but also infering the Federalist views confusing the facts.
Now that corporations have broke free, any fear related to government should also be tabbed to banks and large corporations. Because they are now a second government not ruling for the people by the people or for the local common good but for an amoral bottom line profit.
Put them back where they belong and the social programs of the left are no longer needed. No welfare, no medicare/medicaid, no corporate tax incentives, no cia/nsa, no private military complex. That lowers Federal taxes. People can chase happiness in their chosen fields and sell their skills on the market free from corporate manipulation of wages. People can work the field of their choice and still have a good life, have a parent home with the kids, teaching family values in the home rather than thru school or some other federally run program. that's liberty. I can play the post founding fathers statements too.
"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their money, first by inflation then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them, will deprive the people of their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."Jefferson
"I hope we shall crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength."
Jefferson
"There is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity ecclisiastical corporations. The power of all corporations, ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses." Madison

Fat Man said...

You all are assigned to read the Federalist papers and come back next week.

Anonymous said...

The founding fathers were antidemocratic they hated democracy. They believed that only a few "enlightened gentlemen" which means white educated males such as themselves were to make the decisions. Wow whoever wrote this blog is an idiot.

W.R. Chandler said...

Thank you for your kind words, Anonymous; coming from you, I will take them as a compliment.

You say that the founders hated democracy, and then you call me an idiot.

This after I just got done spending multiple paragraphs talking about how our founders hated democracy.

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