What If More Democracy Is The Answer?

I had a nice lunch yesterday at Mama DeSalvo’s restaurant as a guest of the South Dayton AMBUCS Club. I was the guest speaker. AMBUCS is a service organization, originally called the American Business Club, that every year provides equipment and help to handicapped adults and children.

There are four different AMBUCS chapters in the Dayton. The South Dayton Club meets every Wednesday for lunch at 12:00 noon, in the special meeting room there at the restaurant. It seems a great group with great projects. I’m thinking about joining. Membership includes a wonderful lunch every Wednesday.

I edited my talk and when my internet connection failed with You-tube, I divided the video into two parts.

What follows is the written speech I planned on giving. At the club I spoke from memory and so left a lot of this material out.

Thanks for inviting me to your weekly South Dayton Ambucs’ meeting. I met Roger Wanamaker just this past Monday after I gave a short presentation at the Leaders’ Club that meets at the Masonic Temple.

I found AMBUCS on the web and discovered that you are a service organization, that you were started in 1922. The site says, about the founder, “William L. White had a dream to begin a national service organization for young business and professional men.”

Great things come about when one person decides to follow his or her dream and now AMBUCS helps thousands of handicapped adults and children.

I’d like to entitle my little talk this afternoon with a question: “What If More Democracy Is The Answer?”

Our whole nation was formed on the dream of creating a nation free from aristocratic control, a nation where men could organize for self governance, a nation that would strive for the ideal of “liberty and justice for all.”

In human history, the dream of self governance, of individual liberty, stirred the souls of men and became the beacon for many human ideals. If we each could trace our ancestry, we would find our ancestors were slaves, serfs, peasants without property or rights — each under the yolk of oppression, each “yearning to be free.” We have come a long way.

Lincoln in his famous speech, dedicating the Gettysburg battlefield, urged his listeners to, “highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The American ideal has not vanished but many Americans feel great disappointment in their government. Here is a question: To what degree do we have a government of the people, for the people?

Last year, I spoke to a Kiwanis group and asked each to evaluate — on a scale of 0 to 10 — to what degree they believed our government was “of the people, for the people.” The average answer was about 5.

Most people realize that we are a long way from having a government for the people. What is not discussed nearly enough is something truly astounding — ours is a very weak democracy. It is to the point, in fact, that ours is a failing democracy. We are a government of special interests, not a government of the people.

The problem is, we seem on the verge of paying a big price for years of incompetence, greed, corruption, lies, media manipulation, insider politics, special interests and debt, debt, debt. It seems clear to me, that our ship is going down. And it seems incredible that there is not more alarm.

Are you alarmed?

And so, that is the preface to my question, “What If More Democracy Is The Answer?”

This is not partisan question. It is a system question. We are far from having a government of the people, for the people. The question is, how do we get our system to work?

There is a lot of talk, for example, about how to get our system of public education to work. We have a system of local control — a representative system that elects a five member board that is suppose to represent the public. Our system of public education should be controlled by the people, the taxpayers, and should be for the people.

Isn’t the answer to public education found in getting our democracy to work? We should have vigorous debates within our communities about the purpose of schools, the purpose of education, and how tax money should best be spent. Our school board elections should be exercises in democracy.

But in this past election in Kettering, we had only one — only one — public meeting concerning the school board race, and it was attended by only about 20 people.

Our system of public education should be controlled by the people, the taxpayers, and should be for the people. But, our public school system has become a system of special interests — and the National Education Association has much more say so in your local school than taxpayers.

Again, my question, “What If More Democracy Was The Answer?” David Matthews of the Kettering Foundation makes the point in his book, “Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy,” that in order for public education to be successful, our democracy must be successful. We need an education system of the people, for the people — not special interests.

There is much talk about how to vitalize the whole Dayton area. I’m proposing that the improvement that is needed can only come through a vitalized democracy.

I could think of new laws that we should enact. For example, it would be great to give free TV air time to every candidate. Our democracy doesn’t work because voters are very uninformed and worse, misinformed.

But today, instead of talking about new laws, I want to bring to your attention an old law already on the books — that if followed, would make a big impact on getting our democracy to work.

Political parties are not mentioned in our constitution — but political parties are essential to our democracy and political parties have a big impact. Years ago, the importance of political parties was recognized in Ohio Law. Political parties are required by law to operate democratically and Ohio law requires open elections to the party organization.

In Ohio, political parties are organized at the county level. In Ohio there are 88 Republican Party county organizations and 88 Democratic Party organizations. Each organization has a lot of responsibility to generate good ideas and good candidates.

Ohio Law requires that each local county party have a countywide election either every four years or every two years to elect delegates to a Reorganization Meeting. Every precinct has the right to choose one delegate and this delegate then becomes a member of the local party’s legislative body called the Central Committee and becomes a voting member of the Party.

This is the year for the Montgomery County Democratic Party to reorganize and anyone who wants to be a delegate to the Reorganization Meeting may get on the ballot. Deadline to get on the ballot is February 18, and all that is required is the potential delegate’s signature on a petition, submitted to the Board of Elections by the deadline — February 18 at 4:00 PM

The names of all potential delegates will be on the precinct ballot in which the potential delegate lives,  and Democratic voters at the Democratic Primary will choose delegates on May 4. Generally, a precinct has only candidate — if any.  In 2006, only 18% of precincts in Montgomery County were represented at the Reorganization Meeting.

You’ve not heard of this important section of Ohio Law. You’ve not heard about this February 18 deadline — because the special interests that control the local party don’t want you to know.

In my judgment, More Democracy Is the Answer. It is the answer to our public education challenge, it is the answer to planning for the future. It’s the answer to vitalizing the Dayton region. We are far from having a government for the people. Lincoln’s fear that democracy might perish is a fear we are living today and our hope for tomorrow is pretty grim unless we wake up and make our democracy work.

When we wonder why we have such weak leadership, so few ideas, such a lack of inspiration — when we wonder why democracy is failing — much blame goes to our political parties. We cannot expect democracy to flower from political parties who themselves are antidemocratic, closed, oligarchic.

If you are looking for a way to roll your sleeves up and make a difference, there would be no more effective way than getting involved meaningfully in your local political party — Republican or Democratic. Both of our local parties are in need of an infusion of grassroots democracy.

I applaud AMBUCS’ mission of service. Let me encourage those individuals here who are looking for expanded ways to give service to your community — help vitalize our democracy. Are you alarmed about our democracy? I am. Getting involved in a local party at the grassroots level of Reorganization is an opportunity that needs to be advertised.

The Montgomery County Democratic Party will hold its Reorganization Meeting this May, after the May 4 Primary. The Montgomery County Republican Party will hold its Reorganization Meeting in two years. Please Consider getting meaningfully involved in your local political party at the grassroots level.

Let’s rebirth the dream of democracy in this generation. If More Democracy Is The Answer, then how do we make our democracy work? Making our political parties act democratically is of key importance. Vitalizing our political parties must be part of any strategy to vitalize our democracy. In Montgomery County, February 18 is an important deadline. Please tell someone.

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44 comments to What If More Democracy Is The Answer?

  • Greg Hunter

    A perfect quote borrowed from a much more coherent writer than myself

    “Well, I don’t think we live in a democracy, or anywhere near one. In fact the system is biased against “excessive democracy” and pretty much always has been, and things are moving away from more democracy, not towards it.

    One can’t have a functioning democracy in a society where wealth, and therefore power, are so unevenly distributed. In a market society money speaks way louder than votes. In a sense, the powerful, are continually “voting” through their economic power, whilst the rest of the population have to be satisfied with periodic elections, for candidates chosen by powerful economic interests. Most modern states are oligharchies, in practice, with the powerful choosing to allow the ritual of democracy and the rhetoric to disguise fundamental power relationships. Alas, voting has on a marginal effect on how society is governed, as voting, unfortunately, rarely re-distributes wealth, which is the main source of power in a market controlled society.

    And… suddenly deciding to ask people, grotesque, leading questions, relating to energy is rather a rather amusing concept, considering how little one normally cares about their opinions on a whole range of important issues, after all, the people aren’t really citizens, but consumers, and subject to the same forces that motivate, steer, and control, consumers.”

  • Robert Vigh

    Well, lets keep in mind that we are a republic. That the chains of the constitution were in place to limit the power of the federal government. However, we have let Democracy replace our republic. We have forgotten the chains of the constitution and replaced them with majority rules style democracy. As Greg points out, the majority is often swayed by the advertising power of the rich. Why does this happen? Because the most limiting aspects of our REPUBLIC, have been replaced with a democracy and we wonder why angels are not elected to lead us.

    Because we have blurred the lines of individual freedom for the mindset of greatest # of voters we are inviting failure and enslavement.

    I would propose we need to limit our democracy. That we need to respect the individual’s freedom. The corporatists, fascists, socialist, communists are all opportunists. The enabler to all these things is the government. Limit the enabler, limit the negative results.

    By the way, of the people, by the people was the gettysburg address. Where the North crushed the South because they wanted to secede from the governance of the north and be their own self governing entity by their people for their people instead of the people of the north. So……….good meaning, good words, context and the original giver had a little hypocrisy going on! :)

  • jesse

    Bravo Robert! Bravo!

  • Mike Bock

    Greg, I can’t think things are so hopeless as you suggest in the quote, “One can’t have a functioning democracy in a society where wealth, and therefore power, are so unevenly distributed.”

    We have system in place for representative democracy; it’s just a matter of making the system work. For example, as I point out in this post, we have a system whereby political parties are required by law to periodically hold open elections and to reorganize based on the result of those elections. We simply fail to use the system as it should be used. We have a system of representative democracy that should provide us with a government for the people. We need to make the system work.

    A vitalized democracy requires that many more in the public become informed and engaged. Yes, the distribution of wealth is very lopsided, but even so, almost all households in the U.S. have TV, most have internet connection. The tools of communication are readily available, moreso now than at any other time in history. So the opportunity to educate the public is greater now than ever. Billions each year are spent on a public education system that welcomes all children to acquire at least a high school diploma. Again, the opportunity for education is greater now than ever. We need to improve public education so that it is actually effective in preparing citizens to participate in a democracy.

    We need a nonpartisan drive to vitalize democracy, and I believe that the push to vitalize democracy will be the next big thing.

    Robert, I fail to understand your comment — “I would propose we need to limit our democracy. That we need to respect the individual’s freedom.”

    I can’t see how limiting democracy would give an individual more freedom, unless, I guess, the individual in question is the slave owner or the prince or oligarch at the top of the heap. The Soviet system gave Joe Stalin a lot of freedom and the medieval feudal system gave the nobles a lot of freedom, but if we are looking for a system most likely to provide “liberty and justice for all,” it would seem that democracy is the best system.

    Yes, a corrupted system of democracy — as we have now — will give advantage to the corporatists and the wealthy, but a vitalized system of democracy will defend the liberty of the common man and will advance the common good.

  • Mike, citizens’ rights is one of the three underlying principles of our Constitution. To the extent that the Constitution recognizes certain citizen rights, it limits democracy. In an earlier post I likened democracy to four wolves and three sheep deciding what was for dinner. The Constitution does limit democracy not only in granting citizen rights, but also by separation of power. It created a democratic Republic which does limit (in that it slows down) democracy. When you don’t have individual rights you have mobaucracy.

  • Stan Hirtle

    Our big problem at the moment is domination by corporate busienss through their money and control of the media, but also because of differences in sophistication, understanding and willingness to participate. Is the solution for people to have to spend more attending meetings of the Republican or Democrat central committees? That feels like a dismal alternative. In fact the most growing and significant swing group seems to be independents. Perhaps like in “Bowling Alone” political parties are social institutions being abandoned in our isolated electronic age. Anyway nothing seems more useless than talking about how we are a republic not a democracy (Wasn’t that the motto of the good old “John Birch Society”, a right wing group that existed in the fifties and sixties, was absorbed into the Reagan movement and may have been reincarnated with the Tea Parties?) So what, given that those terms can cover a multitude of systems. We may actually need to articulate how we now have a corporate form of governance with a democratic veneer, giving the voters choices between alternatives determined by the corporate elite, such as which former Goldman Sachs executives will be in charge of the economy. The system seems to resemble Iran’s as much as any other, only instead of Mullahs deciding which alternatives are legitimate, we have capitalists. A democratic system would be less bureaucratic, more interested in feedback from people, not in “focus groups” but giving them real power. People would have to show more initiative as well, and will need to do the work to understand and evaluate alternatives, not just get mad at whichever side is perceived as “condescending.” Anyway if this happened it would probably be better than what Robert Vigh describes. And what we have now more resembles one rich wolf and 99 financially struggling sheep where the wolf decides what’s for dinner.

  • Eric

    … differences in sophistication, understanding and willingness to participate… A democratic system would be less bureaucratic, more interested in feedback from people, not in “focus groups” but giving them real power. People would have to show more initiative as well, and will need to do the work to understand and evaluate alternatives …

    So how might these be addressed during the K-12 social studies content standards revision process?

  • Robert Vigh

    @Mike Bock………Where in the constitution of this republic does it say “take money from citizens to distribute to companies in the form of bailouts?”. However, we replaced the limiting chains of the constitution with a democratic decision, a majority rules decision. We substituted democracy for our constitution. What was the net result? Oh yes……..a transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich. . . . . . Not to the poor, because they have nothing. We neglected to treat the individual with respect and the freedom to CHOOSE to invest in these bailed out companies. . . . . . Understand? Democracy trumped freedom of the individual. I can lay out several more examples if needed.

    @Stan…….Educate 300million people to make an informed decision amongst other elements of life competing for their time? Seriously, you might as well suggest that the entire populace ascends to angels. Not going to happen. So, in the mean time, lets protect individual freedom.

    @Eric….The premise is terrible. Social studies in school should be substituted with constitutional law and let the kids figure out why the government does so much crap outside the boundaries of the constitution.

  • Jesse

    Bravo Robert! I need no longer post!

  • Well, Stan, you used several cliches, such as the media are controlled by the corporate elites, despite the fact that their newsrooms are filled with left wingers. Yes this is a democratic republic; I have no idea what the John Birchers said, but I do know that bringing them as a bogeyman to discredit what is an unassailable truth will not fool many people.

  • Eric

    … let the kids figure out why the government does so much crap outside the boundaries of the constitution.

    Could it be government does so much because it’s “bureaucratic, [un]interested in feedback from people … [not] giving them real power” and many people lack “initiative … [and ability] to do the work to understand and evaluate alternatives?”

    Any thoughts on valuable lessons in high school before new voters cast their ballots? Take note:

    Grads Vote 2008 is an integral part of Brunner’s efforts to improve youth voter participation. … Grads Vote 2008 packets have been sent to 1,032 high schools this year for distribution.

    Social studies in school should be substituted with constitutional law

    Apparently, Ohio’s Secretary of State disagrees:

    “if you are or will be 18 by Nov. 2, 2010, you are eligible to participate fully in our democracy. Consider this “the ultimate civics lesson.” … fill out the voter registration form you received with your letter…”

  • Stan Hirtle

    “Where in the constitution of this republic does it say “take money from citizens to distribute to companies in the form of bailouts?”. However, we replaced the limiting chains of the constitution with a democratic decision, a majority rules decision. We substituted democracy for our constitution. What was the net result? Oh yes……..a transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich. . . . . . . . .We neglected to treat the individual with respect and the freedom to CHOOSE to invest in these bailed out companies. . . . . . Understand? ”

    Not really. What was democratic about the bailouts, when so many people seem to be against it and they were worked out by Wall Street elites, in and out of government, in back rooms? That seems like the absence of democracy, not the excess. I’m not sure what is so great about the freedom to invest in bailed out companies, whether or not they were on the brink of going under in which case no individual is going to invest in them. It seems like the theory of bailouts, for good or ill, is that if it is important that a bailout happen, it’s not going to happen if left to individuals. There are a lot of things that aren’t going to happen if left to individuals, particularly if they involve costs that some do better by not sharing. If some of us are free to pollute the environment and some aren’t, probably the environment is going to get polluted. There is sometimes what’s called the “tragedy of the commons” which means its in everyone’s short term self interest to take as much as possible from common resources, but that means they will be depleted and destroyed. So we need a certain amount of common action to have our level of civilization, but the trick is to make the common stuff as easy and the coercion as minimal as possible. This is difficult when people feel under siege as in the post 9/11, or when people in power want to enhance their own power or wealth at others’ expense.
    Whatever left wingers are in newsrooms (perhaps that is a cliche left over from the Nixon Administration but certainly not so true in the era of Murdoch’s Fox News) they are hired and fired by corporate conglomerates that expect them to turn a profit and certainly not to damage the conglomerate’s borttom line or getting what it wants.
    I was never sure what the John Birchers meant by the “Republic not a democracy ” line either except that they didn’t like the idea of democracy. A Republic can be most anything that isn’t ruled by a king or feudalism, so the term doesn’t tell us much. Usually you think of the democracy end being something like a New England town meeting, lacking a power elite, a permanent bureaucracy or things of that sort that prevent actions that are not well thought up, spontaneously emotional or perhaps oppressive of minorities. This may be contrasted with “conservative institutions” such as a corporate executive class, a house of lords or a Supreme Court, or perhaps a religious hierarchy in a place like Iran.
    Anyway what is the difference and why do we care?

  • Eric

    what is the difference and why do we care?

    In a democracy, Gore would have been elected in 2001.
    In a republic, McCain would have been elected.
    In a broken republic with citizens easily manipulated by misleading and racist smear campaigns, …

  • Mike Bock

    Thanks for the comments.

    I’ve never understood the, “We’re a Republic, not a Democracy” POV. We are a constitutional, representative democracy with a system in place to protect the minority as seen in our bill of rights, our bicameral legislature, etc. Initially, the constitution greatly limited which citizens could vote. The fact that the right to vote and the right to fully participate is now universal makes our nation much different today than it was 230 years ago. Emphasizing that we are a republic, doesn’t change the reality that, in this republic, we have the opportunity to constitute a vitalized representative government, and doesn’t change the fact that we are far from realizing that opportunity.

    Among the people who seek to limit or repress democratic participation are those who already have power or influence and seek to keep things the way they are. The whole Rovian approach to election is based on antidemocratic strategies of vote suppression and voter manipulation. To those in politics, the point, generally, is to win, not to advance democracy.

    The antidemocratic impulse is seen everywhere in groups such as churches, clubs, schools, etc., and — in political parties. Political parties, however, are viewed as so centrally important to our overall democracy, that years ago, they became regulated by Ohio Law and are required to periodically reorganize based on free and secret open elections. This Ohio Law is frustrated by the parties themselves, who refuse to advertise or inform their own party members about their opportunity and right to fully participate in their own party. Our very antidemocratic political parties are easily controlled by the most fringe elements of the party and easily controlled by the Party of Money.

    Many people in power are antidemocratic and reject the notion that “more democracy is the answer.” But this is a selfish view whose purpose is to secure one’s special interest. It has nothing to do with advancing the common or general good.

    The problem is, our antidemocratic system is not working. In fact our government of special interests is driving us over the cliff. We need to constitute a government of the people, for the people and, the best place to start is to vitalize our political parties via a grassroots effort of using current Ohio Laws to democratize local party structures. This year Montgomery County Democrats have a chance to democratically reorganize. Montgomery County Republicans have their chance in two years.

    Eric, thanks for the Brunner link. Yes, we need to think through how our system of public education should conduct itself to best produce active and informed citizens. I wish you would give us an outline.

  • Eric

    … we need to think through how our system of public education should conduct itself to best produce active and informed citizens. I wish you would give us an outline …

    See here.

  • Mike Bock

    Stan, I failed to answer your question, “Is the solution for people to have to spend more attending meetings of the Republican or Democrat central committees?”

    Writing a regular blog has helped me develop my POV. I’ve written a lot of posts about school reform that emphasize a key Deming idea that system structure determines quality.

    We stand on the principle that democratic, open systems produce better results than totalitarian, exclusive, closed systems.

    The MCDP right now operates as an oligarchic, boss driven system. I’m proposing that in the MCDP we replace the current structure with a democratic structure as outlined in Roberts’ Rules, and that we greatly enlarge our leadership group via the power of the internet. I’m proposing, starting first within the Central Committee, we become an authentic community. Working together within a community is quite different from “attending meetings.”

  • Robert Vigh

    @all: Wow…….way to really not get the point. Or avoid it.

    I think it is important to remind people we are a Republic for this reason: People commonly think of a representative democracy within the confines of a constitution when they hear republic. When kids and others here democracy, it is so easy to simply think “majority rules”. So, my reasoning behind it is correctly using terminology to convey meaning and having a sense of accuracy about topics I write on. It is a sneaky trick in my opinion to conveniently substitute democracy for republic to slowly erode the constitution and migrate to a majority rules society. This can go very bad. Or sneaky like Mike Bock to say we protect the rights of the minority, not of the individual……….or that we need to act for the common good, regardless of the individual or the minority for that matter.

    @Stan: What you just took the time to explain is how the government enabled opportunists. Many people thought they were necessary, probably 50.01%, well thats enough in a democracy. Why did it happen behind closed doors……well because previous practice of our democracy says that is ok. Why does this whole event occur……oh yes, because as I stated initially we have substituted democracy for the limiting chains of our constitution and forgotten about the individual.

    @Stan: Tragedy of the commons: Cure…….Private ownership of resources. The government creates, through use of force, pools of public money. Which is then subjected to the tragedy of the commons and those with access and influence benefit the most. Hence, government is creating the tragedy.

    @Mike: Why do we have so many people in every party doing so many shady things? I will answer for you. Because if you win the prize of being elected you get to direct a group of people, using democracy, to line your pockets and other peoples pockets. Why is their so much strategy put forward for a job that should be greatly limited by the constitution? Oh yes, because we keep subbing democracy for limitations on the individual. The entire element that you describe is the RESULT! of ignoring the individual. Limit what the government can do and you in turn limit the shady elements.

    @Mike: You state many people are anti-democratic……..they certainly are not. If they can get 50.01% to vote themselves rich, what is anti-democratic about that? We voted. I would redress saying many people in power are anti-constitution or anti individual.

    @Eric: Why is everything about school? Post school crap in school threads. That article you linked is Brunner teaching kids about the election process……….NOT about the constitution. We show them the rewards of being in the majority before we try and teach them the constitution. It is mind numbing crap that they teach in schools, with a bias slant towards everything that helps them fund themselves. Furthermore, because we want to “vitalize” our democracy, we are going to unleash every mind numbed 18 year old out there to make decisions on whether or not we should fund more of their college tuition. Awesome is all I have to say.

    So many of us have forgotten to ask “why is our government even allowed to do this?” and instead thrown in with the competing attitude of parties. We progress the idea that majority should rule and lets talk about how to make it work our way instead of ever asking the question above.

  • Eric

    Post school crap in school threads.

    Public education is one of the topics from Mike’s original post. And I get nifty feedback like this:
    “We show them the rewards of being in the majority before we try and teach them the constitution. … unleash every mind numbed 18 year old out there to make decisions on whether or not we should fund more of their college tuition …”

    forgotten to ask “why is our government even allowed to do this?”
    Could it be Marbury v. Madison?

  • Stan Hirtle

    Again a “Republic” can be anything from Saddam Hussein to the USSR to European “democracies.” In this context the term “democracy” generally means that there is some level of participation for non-elites, mostly including the power to replace a government with another by process rather than violence. These words describe process and not solutions to problems. The US Constitution in particular describes a process of government, along with some requirements that were written long ago and may or may not have been anything similar to the experience of any the authors, let alone some consensus about them. Internet porn, assault rifles, abortions, universal health care, corporate campaign contributions? The Constitution doesn’t give answers, only words for someone, in practice politically derived judges, to interpret. In our practice that leaves it up to 5-4 Supreme Court votes (a democracy? or a Republic?) and the process of selecting them. And of course that whole concept of judges declaring what the Constitution says was invented by judges after the Constitution was written.

    You could of course say that everything that the Constitution does not specifically permit is prohibited. Eric seems to say things like this sometimes. But that would leave us pretty much back in 1787, somewhat at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the world, and lacking in the consumer lifestyle that seems to matter most to most Americans. For good or ill that is not what has happened, and is unlikely to happen now.

    Thus when Eric says “the bailouts would not have happened under a Republic” the question is “why not?” What “chains” would prevent it? And if 51% of the people think the bailouts are a good idea and Eric doesn’t, then what is there about being a “Republic” that prevents bailouts? What mattered in the case of the bailouts was not the people but the Congress, which is set up in bizarre and manipulated ways to reflect the people. As Eric points out, the majority doesn’t always win. In 2000 the public got Bush even though Gore got more votes. Of course either candidate would have been acceptable to a large group of people (the same was true in the last election in Iran). What should happen in these situations? We have many different governments, ways of counting votes, dividing institutional power etc. In theory you could have had a Bush-Gore coalition government. Maybe things would have turned out better, or maybe not. And of course most economies have some private elements outside government control, which are part of the real government. In America decisions made by corporations govern our lives as much as decision s made by the “government.”

    I’m not sure what there is about a Republic that says McCain would have won if we had a Republic. I guess one where the Republicans (an arbitrary term as far as having anything to do with the difference between Republic and democracy) are in charge. Or where most of the people who count think like Eric. But that’s not the definition of Republic. All it really means is that you don’t have a king who decides everything.

    Eric also seems to think “Republics” are about individuals being able to do whatever they want. But Republics, or any other polity, are full of different individuals, sometimes working together sometimes in opposition and sometimes indifferent to each other. So many of the issues people care about come down to where can you swing your arm, or fist, and where does the someone else’s nose begin. I’m not sure that whatever makes a government a “republic” necessarily provides answers to those questions.

    Eric’s soluton to the “tragedy of the commons” is not to have a commons. Some individual owns everything. Of course ownership itself implies coercion. More significantly, a society is made up of, and functions beyond the individual hunter gatherer level, because of interdependent social institutions, aka a commons. We really can’t imagine a society without one and probably would be horrified to live in one. That being the case, we have to figure out ways of solving the problems of societal life that is consistent with our level of interdependence.

  • Eric

    Stan,
    You do your credibility no favor when you fail to attribute positions accurately.

    I’m not sure what there is about a Republic that says McCain would have won…

    I meant that as a reference to the Bush campaign’s successful smear campaign in the 2000 SC primary–a prime example of why voters need to be better educated:

    Owing largely to the Rove-orchestrated whispering campaign [“Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain…if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?], Bush prevailed in South Carolina and secured the Republican nomination.”

  • Stan Hirtle

    I assumed you meant he would have won in his most recent and high profile race, for President in 2008. Seems reasonable. Even if you are talking about an earlier primary in an earlier election, what would there have been about “a Republic” that would have changed the outcome? (Assuming that Rove’s whispering campaign inflamed racial prejudices in South Carolina and people voted for Bush instead). Would you not have primaries? Have a board that intervened in some way (put Rove in jail, awarded the election to McCain, require some event on all tv stations where an announcer questions both candidates and sets things straight?) Have an emperor/kingmaker/Supreme Court/party committee award the presidency to someone?

  • Eric

    Stan, I was just highlighting differences between popular and electoral votes while taking a swipe at sleazy primary tactics in SC: “a broken republic with citizens easily manipulated by misleading and racist smear campaigns…”
    Assume McCain wins nomination and then takes the same states Bush did in 2000–McCain becomes President in 2001. No Dick Cheney; no torture; maybe he even listens to Richard Clarke.

    Eric seems to say things like this sometimes…
    Don’t you mean Robert or Jesse? I’ve been quite insistent that voters ought to be informed. Anything anti-democratic in that?

  • jesse

    Jesse does say that according to the Tenth Amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    Jesse also says that Article 4 Section 4 of the Constitution says, ” The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.”

    And when has Jesse ever indicated that voters ought not be informed?

    Let me inform. We are a Constitutional Republic. The main feature of this Constitutional Republic is that the individual is protected against the will of the masses by the protection of their (the individual’s) inalienable rights. Jefferson stated that protecting, “among these (inalienable rights) are; Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” was the major reason for throwing off the tyrannical British Empire.

    In a properly functioning Constitutional Republic, I am specifically protected from the will of you, the masses.

    You (regardless of how many of you want to do so) aren’t allowed to steal my life. You aren’t allowed to steal my stuff (as it enables me to live). You aren’t allowed to imprison me unless I have violated the inalienable right of another. You aren’t allowed to prevent me from the pursuit of my own happiness unless I am violating an inalienable right of another.

    It is my private property that enables me to live. If I want to allow people to smoke in my business, then I can…regardless of the will of the masses. If I want to gamble…If I want to smoke pot…If I want to… IT ISNT YOUR BUSINESS! It is only your business if I inhibit the ability of another to live, be free, or pursue happiness via force or coercion.

    NOTE: My contracting with you for a job, a product or a service is not coercive. It is, therefore, not possible that I am inhibiting your ability to live, be free or pursue happiness by allowing people to smoke where you work, as an owner of a bar.

    As long as you aren’t trying to tell me what to do…vote on whatever you want…Democracy it up. Leave me, my family, and our stuff alone.

  • Mike Bock

    Jesse, we live in 2010 — not 1810 or 1910 — and in 2010 the unpropertied, and women, blacks, and 18 year olds have the right to vote. Previous generations would have thought such widespread voting rights shocking.

    We have an amendment to the constitution that allows the government to impose and collect income taxes. At one time the highest federal income tax bracket was 90%, and this 90% level of taxation was legal and constitutional. A 90% level of taxation is still legal and constitutional. You might complain that such level of taxation would be contrary to “a properly functioning Constitutional Republic,” — that such level of taxation would be tantamount to “stealing your stuff” — but the fact is, such level of taxation would be legal and constitutional.

    We live in 2010 and it is the 2010 version of our constitution that is important, not some ideal or historical version of the constitution. It is the 2010 version of our constitutional democracy we must make work to solve problems, to develop the common good, and to plan for the future. Wishing for the return of some idealized past will not help us solve the problems of today.

  • Eric

    18 year olds have the right to vote. … It is the 2010 version of our constitutional democracy we must make work to solve problems

    So how are 18 year olds prepared to solve problems in our constitutional democracy? By marching to the (pick one: a. city hall b. statehouse c. Capitol) while chanting “hey hey, ho ho, what we don’t like has got to go?”

    Wouldn’t fixing the problems of civics education be a good place to start fixing problems?

  • jesse

    Mike,

    I can’t argue with you that the United States government has claimed the right to tax the property and effort of it’s citizens. I can’t even argue that they think that they can do it to various percentages to various people. I can’t argue that they have given the “right to vote” to people who have no income, no property, and no prospect or desire for those things. Those people can join together to outvote the top 1% of income earners…they can make tax 90% or 95% or 99%…hell…they can just require that they work.

    The Obama Administration has proposed mandatory “service” for all citizens between 18 and 25. Why not? We outnumber them. Lets just make them work. Damn 18 to 25 year olds. Not “giving” enough to our “society”.

    I guess if the “Constitutional Scholar”, Obama, thinks that we should do this, then it must be “legal” and “constitutional”. Does any of that make forced labor okay? Does the State telling us that their mandates are legal make those mandates moral? What was wrong with English rule of the Colonies? What is wrong with German extermination of Jews? Wasn’t it legal?

    With regard to my comments on this site, I believe that to this point, I have answered every direct question that has been asked of me. You want to know how to fix a specific problem…just ask.

    The 2010 version of our constitutional republic is broken. If you want evidence then look at the debt and the deficits, education, the percentage of American’s imprisoned by our government (greater than 1 in 100 in prison, greater than 1 in 32 in “correctional supervision”). It is broken. Your way has failed over and over. Let us try something new. Let us decide that government manipulation and control should be discarded in favor of freedom.

    FYI, I don’t wish for a return to an idealized past. I am not a fan of fantasy in that way. I think it is destructive to meaningful attempts to improve the world in which we live. I do want my children to be free and will argue for freedom until I am no longer allowed to do so…or until freedom wins.

  • Mike Bock

    Jesse, when you write, “Your way has failed over and over,” I have no idea what it is that you are characterizing as “my way.” You write that you “don’t wish for a return to an idealized past,” but you pine for a “properly functioning Constitutional Republic” where you will be “protected from the will of the masses,” forgetting that it was through constitutional processes that the federal income tax was established and alcohol consumption was outlawed.

    You write, “Let us decide that government manipulation and control should be discarded,” but, who constitutes the “us” in that phrase? The common worker and citizen was happy for securing workplace safety rules, for regulations protecting children from harsh labor, for government health standards for food preparation, etc., and dozens of other types of government controls that generally have made our society safer and more fair. If “we the people” truly could empower a government of the people, for the people, it would mean the gain of freedom for most common people, the expansion of safety and security for more people, not the loss of freedom. You seem to be speaking for a minority when you use the word “us.” Your POV seems more appropriate for a frontier of rugged individuals, not a modern, technological society. The question is, how can we as a society get to a good future? We need to find new ways to cooperate and work together and we need a unifying vision of what our society might become.

  • […] If you are as disgusted with the lack of candidates and the same old faces running again and again (often unopposed) and are a Democrat- this Thursday (Feb 18th 2010 at 4pm) is the deadline to put your name on the ballot for Central Committee membership. It requires ZERO signatures- just turn the form in to the Board of Elections and your name will appear on the ballot in your precinct. Currently it’s hard to tell who reps what – since they just cut the number of precincts by about 200- but, if you fill the seat where you live- it’s one less that the party can appoint. You can read more about this on DaytonOS- via Mike Bock: http://daytonos.com/?p=8412 […]

  • jesse

    Mike,

    Your way = government coercion and force.

    I don’t pine for an “idealized past” because I have never seen a “properly functioning Constitutional Republic” evidenced anywhere on Earth.

    I have already stated that your way has failed. Therefore I take pleasure in your describing two ways in which coercion and force were utilized to limit the freedoms of citizens. Well done in coming up with the examples for me.

    “Us” is everyone who craves freedom and understands that the other option is the loss of humanity. The common worker can be happy about whatever they want. People for time immemorial have been happy when they have enslaved another group. That is no demonstration of the rightness of the action. You illustrate again the problems with “democracy” and the theory of “positive rights”.

    To demand that people have the “right to” “workplace safety rules, child labor laws, government standards for food prep, etc.” is to say that owners of businesses may not offer dangerous jobs at higher wages to people who would willingly accept the work. It is to say that children in the ghetto must find ways of making money and supporting their families outside the control of the state (drug mules). It is to say that poor, starving people may not negotiate with people who have food that is a few days old because it no longer meets a standard that “the masses” think is acceptable. It means that a person dying of a disease may not negotiate with a doctor or an inventor without government approval of the drug.

    Your government coercion and force means death to individuals. Killing one person because you don’t think that they should be allowed to make a choice different than one you would make, when their choice doesn’t harm you at all, can not be the best path. It is immoral and worse for “us” all, even those who are yet to understand.

  • Mike Bock

    Robert, my point in bringing up amendments to the constitution that provided for a federal income tax and the prohibition of alcohol consumption is to remind you how our Constitutional Republic actually works. Yes, we have constitutional protections for the individual, but ultimately, if a big enough majority prevails, every bit of the constitution can be changed — including those protections. My point is that we are required to live in reality as it is, not as we prefer it to be.

    Your notion of the proper role of government is wildly out of step with the feelings of the big majority of citizens, and in our Constitutional Republic, this big majority cannot be coopted forever. It’s a nice fantasy to think that we can retreat to our gated communities and let the world go to hell. But everything is much too connected for that fantasy to have any chance of coming to reality. This principle of interconnectedness is true of the world as a whole. We are living in a dream world to think that pockets of the world forever can live in peace and prosperity when one-sixth of the rest of the world starves or one-third, or more, of the world lives in terrible oppression and poverty. We have paid a terrible price in previous world wars for our attempted isolation and disregard for global injustice, and it appears likely that the world as we know it, within the next generation, will end, unless we wake up to our global responsibility.

    We are all in this together. Even as one organic body can’t survive if part of it becomes corrupted, so it is with societies, and with the world as a whole. The United States needs a rebirth of citizen activism and democracy that will focus on problem solving and planning for the future. Democracy based on an informed public, it seems to me, is our best hope for making a good future. I can’t see how your way of rugged individualism and unrestrained individual freedom makes sense as a strategy for creating the maximum common good in complex societies, or for a strategy for the development of a good future for the most people. We need meaningful cooperation and mutual problem solving now more than ever. We need to get our democracy, our Constitutional Republic, to work.

  • Jesse

    Mike,

    If you demand that we live in the reality that exists today, then why are we discussing ideas? Why did you give a speech in which you suggested change? Why does the mantra of “Change” win the day with people now? It is because they don’t want this system anymore. They do not want a system of corporatism, fascism, socialism. People, especially Americans, have shown a desire for freedom forever. You keep telling them that the world is too complex for them to make their own choices. You tell them the “big majority” gets to make their decisions for them. You tell them that they can’t know enough to run their own lives.

    The poverty that you abhor is not the fault of capitalism, rather it is the fault of government. Name a “free country” where massive starvation occurs. Now name countries with corrupt governments that steal from the people with massive starvation. Government power and control do not solve the problems in the world…they create them. You fall into a simple logic trap…that if we all demand (force) everyone to help everyone else, then everyone will have what they need. Reality dictates that everyone in that circumstance acts as if they need help and everyone else acts like they can’t give any more. It makes everyone poor. It makes everyone starve. Do you think that the Russians are just too stupid to make government control work? They have chess masters. They are as intelligent as are we. They starved millions of people! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor

    We are all in this together because you force us all into the same lifeboat. We are individuals! We are not a part of some ethereal body with you and the “big majority” as the brain.

    The United States needs a rebirth of citizen activism and individualism that will focus on solving their own problems with their own methods and planning for their own futures. Individual liberty, based on natural rights and freedom, it seems to me, is our best hope for making a good future. I can’t see how your way of government (big majority) coercion and force makes sense as a strategy for humanity. Your statement, “…makes sense as a strategy for creating the maximum common good in complex societies, or for a strategy for the development of a good future for the most people.” would seem to indicate that the will of the majority should rule regardless of the consequence for the minority (the smallest minority being the individual). Are you pro slavery or against it? Why?

    Meaningful cooperation and problem solving are done in the private sector. Transactions that are agreed to by both parties engaged in the contract is cooperation. What you want is not cooperation…you aren’t asking me to participate…you are threatening me if I don’t. What happens if I don’t want to stop selling alcohol because you tell me to do so? You imprison me. If I resist, you shoot me. Flowery words to not cover the intent. Cooperation is not the same as slavery. In order to cooperate, I must own myself. Do I own myself or not?

  • Eric

    The United States needs a rebirth of citizen activism and individualism that will focus on solving their own problems with their own methods and planning for their own futures.

    The huddled masses yearning to breath free learned the lessons necessary to solve their own problems in public schools. Citizens have a responsibility to ensure those lessons continue to be taught. How’s that going, folks?

    Meaningful cooperation and problem solving are done in the private sector.

    That’s a very good point. As Deming told his private sector clients, quality (like survival) is optional. So we’re faced with the dilemma of public schools adopting private sector quality practices to provide the education required for the nation to succeed. Alternatively, we can pretend the invisible hand of the marketplace will solve a dilemma key to our economy, security, human rights and national survival.

    What would Thomas Jefferson do…

  • Mike Bock

    Jesse, you ask, “If you demand that we live in the reality that exists today, then why are we discussing ideas? Why did you give a speech in which you suggested change?”

    What is needed is problem solving and the solution to a problem is found in understanding the reality of the problem and in applying appropriate theories to solving the problem. I believe we should not be satisfied with the reality of injustice, war, poverty, and all manner of needless human suffering that exists today. We should not be satisfied with a world or a society that falls so short of its potential.

    How can such problems be solved is the question a democratic society should address, but, the problem is, we are far from having a democratic society. My point is, let’s get our democracy to work so that we will actually have a government for the people, and so government will actually work to solve problems.

    Maybe, if we had a vitalized democracy, a government of the people, for the people, would agree that the biggest problem to solve is government itself and maybe such a vitalized democracy would drastically shrink government as a means to solving the problems listed above. I don’t think such an approach would be viable, because such an approach would not be grounded in history, nor in sound theory, and, therefore, such an approach would not solve problems. But, if such an approach came from a democratic process, then, it would need to be accepted. What is not acceptable is a government that makes decisions based on anti-democratic processes, controlled by special interests.

    We seem pretty far apart in our respective point of views, beginning, it seems, with the fundamental question of how we define the problem or problems that need to be solved.

  • Jesse

    Mike,

    The reason I asked the question was obviously to undermine the your previous statement, “My point is that we are required to live in reality as it is, not as we prefer it to be.” This is not what you actually mean. What you seem to mean is, “presupposing that people don’t own themselves and that they are in need of masters, what is the best form for selecting our masters and forcing our neighbors to accept and fund the same masters.”

    None of my suggestions are in conflict with “reality”. They are, in fact, completely aware that “reality” exists without regard to the whim of the majority. The entire basis of my argument against your “solution” is:
    1) man owns himself
    2) rights are inherent to man qua man
    3) reality doesn’t change because government tells it to do so
    4) the best means of understanding reality and the place of the individual in that reality is via free exchange and unfettered markets
    5) no individual or group has the right to use force or coercion against any other unless their natural rights have been violated (and only then to exact justice and prevent further intrusion)

    You seem to think:
    1) the “big majority” owns whatever they claim they own
    2) rights are created and distributed via the “big majority”
    3) the government is part of the natural reality of the world (like gravity) as opposed to a creation of man
    4) the best means of understanding reality is voting on reality or electing other, smarter people to tell us what reality is
    5) the “big majority” has the right to force and coerce you into their daily whim (i.e. outlawing smoking, drinking, gambling, or implementing compulsory taxation, job safety standard requirements, child labor laws, etc.)

    Can you please address the issues brought up in this or other posts directly?

    I think you are right about us being pretty far apart in our respective points of view. Can you please let me know your thoughts on the nature of man’s rights? I think that your response will confirm your statement.

  • Eric

    rights are created and distributed via the “big majority” … government is part of the natural reality of the world (like gravity) as opposed to a creation of man

    Some old fart disagrees with this, and wrote about inalienable rights, secured by Governments instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

    Of course, I can’t resist asking, what education prepares the governed to consent?

  • jesse

    Eric,

    One of my favorite documents.

    “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

    Of course, I can’t resist asking, why do you think it is the role to prepare the governed to consent as opposed to question those who govern?

  • Eric

    why do you think it is the role to prepare the governed to consent as opposed to question those who govern?

    I don’t. I was just being brief.

    what education prepares the governed to consent (or not)?

    So who consents to new social studies standards which omit the duties and responsibilities of elected officeholders? Who will question the duly instituted government regarding their plans for duly instituted public schools?

    Invoking the invisible hand of the market won’t disguise abdication of the duties of citizenship.

  • Eric

    How’s this, from Hillsdale College & the Kirby Center:

    Session I: America’s Foundational Principles
    This session examines the ten core principles of the American Founding–all of which are as true today as 220 years ago.

    Session II: The Founders’ Constitution
    This session explores how citizens should understand the plain, written meaning of the Constitution.

    Session III: The Constitution and the Civil War
    The Constitution endured its greatest crisis in the Civil War. This session gives an account of Abraham Lincoln’s statesmanship and constitutional efforts to preserve the Union.

    Session V: The Progressives’ Constitution
    Rejecting the principles of the American founders, the Progressives advanced political and moral “values” in their place. This session, emphasizing the thought of Woodrow Wilson, examines the Progressive movement and its understanding of the Constitution.

    Session VI: The Administrative State and the Duties of Citizens
    The administrative state–more than just “big government”–advances a theory of human nature and the rule of experts. How should citizens think about the Constitution in an age that largely ignores it? And how can they act upon the constitutional principles on which the country was founded?

  • Mike Bock

    Jesse, in this post I write, “The problem is, we seem on the verge of paying a big price for years of incompetence, greed, corruption, lies, media manipulation, insider politics, special interests and debt, debt, debt. It seems clear to me, that our ship is going down.”

    Our nation now has 230 years of history and 230 years of development of a body of law and tradition.

    When I write, “we are required to live in reality as it is, not as we prefer it to be,” I am referring both to the reality of the problems we face and the reality of the present society in which we live.

    When you write, “No individual or group has the right to use force or coercion against any other unless their natural rights have been violated (and only then to exact justice and prevent further intrusion),” you are describing reality as you wish it to be, not as it is. I’ve pointed out two obvious examples — the imposition of an income tax and the prohibition of alcohol consumption — to demonstrate how the reality of our Constitutional Republic works.

    You might say that the group of legislators that imposed these coercive laws had no right to do so, but if you refuse to pay your income tax, you will discover that the right you want to assert has no reality in the tax court.

    You assertion that “reality doesn’t change because government tells it to do so” is contradicted by a long history of governments using their power to imprison, conscript, confiscate, silence and coerce.

    When you write, “man owns himself” or “rights are inherent to man qua man,” you are identifying with the huddled masses throughout the ages who have yearned to breath free. But your idealized view of man’s rights will carry little weight with your neighborhood association, if it is empowered by law to require you to paint your garage a different color. Your idealized view of man’s rights will not impress the IRS.

    You ask, “Can you please let me know your thoughts on the nature of man’s rights?” And sure, I can quote from the Declaration of Independence. But, to bring an idealized view of man’s rights to reality requires that society be organized in such a way that such rights have reality. North Koreans would also like to enjoy the idealized rights you emphasize, but their oppressive society quashes any possibility.

    Your POV emphasizes an individual’s rights — but shouldn’t there also be an emphasis on an individual’s responsibilities?

    You write, “I would propose we need to limit our democracy,” but in my POV our only hope to solve the problems we face and to assure a good life for future generation is to vitalize our democracy and this will require a new sense of citizen responsibility. Our Constitutional Republic is in a very weak state and is actually under the control of a small clique of special interests. And if you think the imposition of a federal income tax or a prohibition of alcohol consumption was a setback for your idealized view of man’s rights, such actions will look pretty tame compared to what seems to be headed our way. We need an infusion of citizen activism based on the reality of our day. I’m saying more democracy is the answer.

  • jesse

    Mike,

    Government claiming a right does not create for it a right. Kim and Barrack may claim for themselves whatever “rights” they like; it does not make those “rights” exist.

    Governments do not change reality by imposing limits on the freedoms of individuals. Reality is that the individual still has the right. The government imposition of laws, taxes, duties onto its civilians does not change reality. It only means that certain individuals or entities are violating the natural rights of other individuals. That is not a change in reality, it is merely a violation of rights.

    Do rights exists outside of the government or not?

    Individual’s responsibilities are not created by others. They are created by the natural requirements to continue to exist and by those agreements entered into by the individual. It is humorous, given our viewpoints, that you would think your philosophical advantage would be in the responsibilities of the individual.

    I did not write “I would propose we need to limit our democracy.” but I understand the sentiment.

  • Mike Bock

    Jesse, If you look in the third paragraph in your first response above, you will see that you wrote, “I would propose we need to limit our democracy. That we need to respect the individual’s freedom.”

    Again, my point, “We are required to live in reality as it is, not as we prefer it to be.” If you were rotting in some Stalinist gulag, I don’t think you would be saying, “Governments do not change reality by imposing limits on the freedoms of individuals.” Maybe, in such a gulag, in some obscure sense you would still stubbornly claim that you have rights, given to you by God, maybe, but it would be a moot point. Your claim to rights in the only practical sense that matters, are those claims to rights that come from the society in which you live. In our society, the means to protect and assure and respect the individual’s freedom is via the exercise of our democracy. And democracy requires responsible citizenship.

  • Eric

    This is a dispute between natural rights and domestic realpolitik. Hitler subscribed to realpolitik. The Founders, Nuremberg tribunal, and United Nations differ with Hitler.

    But hey, it’s a free country. Argue support for your opinions. Maybe we can find some well-educated high school students to judge the debate. Maybe not.

  • jesse

    Mike,

    I am not Robert. I am Jesse.

    If you pick your nose do you change reality or are you merely picking your nose? Reality exists regardless of the actions of people. Are you actually arguing that the people in the gulag didn’t have rights?

    Rights to not exist because of democracy. Rights are not protected by democracy. Rights are innate to mankind. Rights are protected by individuals who understand their importance.

  • Eric

    Rights are innate to mankind.

    Legal positivists disagree. Let’s hope they aren’t in charge of civics education…

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