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HAVE AMERICANS FORGOTTEN WHAT DEMOCRACY MEANS?
By David A. Harper
If I hear one more politician say he is doing what the American people want I think I may vomit. What hideous hypocrisy. They are elected to do what is right, not what some phony poll says the people in the street think is best. Anyone who has seen Jay Leno’s “Jay Walking” segments knows there are idiots walking our streets; the best we can hope for is that they don’t vote.
H.L. Mencken said no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. But now in the age of the world wide web some people think they understand complex issues and that is very dangerous because plainly and simply, unless they happen to have been particularly well educated in and also experienced and up to date on the specific issue, they don’t.
Not long ago we had the usual suspects on TV discussing whether a military surge in Iraq could succeed. None of them had high level military briefings but those on the left were against it for no other reason than if it succeeded it might make an unpopular President look better and those on the right were for it for the same reason. Retired military men (also without briefings) were brought in to opine in favor or against it depending on what the network employing them wanted us to believe. Polls then told us what the people thought about this strategic military proposal as if anyone polled had any more knowledge than the clueless TV commentators.
Have we forgotten what democracy means? Does anyone really think that “Government for the people by the people” means that we the people should be directly involved in the details of running the nation? That type of theoretical democracy does not exist and it never has existed. Sometimes people like to point to Athenian Democracy, as if that had any relevance today, but even then Thucydides tells us that “though in name [Athens] was a democracy, in fact it was a government administered by the first man”. So what does democracy mean? It means that it is the duty of the people to elect “capable” men and women who can govern, and to control them by means of the ballot box.
In his Principles of Economics, Harvard Professor Frank W. Taussig wrote, “Government is not the business of the people; they have not, and never will have the time, opportunity, training, and ability for it. The responsibility that rests upon them is to choose and control the few who can govern, and democratic nations will stand or fall according to the manner in which they discharge it. The best Constitution in the world will not save us from decline or disaster if the people are too ignorant or too perverse to choose and support capable and reliable leaders and reject mere irresponsible talkers and vote hunters.”
Taussig wrote that in 1911 and gradually we have sunk to the level he warned us against. As we drift towards ochlocracy (government by the mob) our ability to be governed effectively disappears and our systems are breaking down. Our executive has been enfeebled by the ever growing excessive and often politically manufactured criticism by the media as well as interference from organized public opinion within the electorate. Very few able men and women want their lives and the lives of their families destroyed by entering politics and because of this we now have people who are barely able, or perhaps not able at all, in important positions.
These are dangerous times in the USA both on the financial front and in the war against extremists seeking to destroy our way of life. Now more than ever it is the duty of citizens in our democracy to ensure we have the most capable people in leadership positions and to end the service of those who have shown they are lacking. Some of them will be replaced in November and if we in turn vote for able replacements we will be doing our democratic duty. As Taussig said “we must reject the irresponsible talkers and vote getters, be they from one side or the other.”