Democracy in America: What Does it Mean?

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

While the United States of America is many things to many people, it is not as is popularly conceived a Democracy and it never has been. This view is not coming from a perspective of politics, but one of stark reality. The thinking of the overwhelming majority of our Founding Fathers, as embodied in the Constitution they wrote, was certainly not to give power to the masses. I don’t believe this point is in dispute by the majority of Constitutional experts, despite their various positions on the political spectrum. Most politicians with self-awareness and intelligence have always known that we are not a Democracy as a country, despite the fact that most also proclaim it to be a Democracy. The problem with what I just wrote is that defining Democracy is a very slippery process and as I will show, the word means very different thing to many different people.

Permit me to begin by defining Democracy in terms of the myth that has been created around it in American parlance: “Democracy represents both the Will and the Rule of the People over their government. As such it is the best form of government for all”. Whether we believe it or not all Americans have grown up under this national myth and its’ use is ubiquitous to both domestic and foreign policy. The many wars this country has fought were prosecuted in the interests of this myth of Democracy, whether in destroying the Axis in World War II to save the world, or to nurture its creation and existence in numerous foreign lands. A student of history understands that the reasons for the wars America has fought are far more complex and ultimately self-serving than protecting Democracy. Nevertheless, to initially go to war, a populace must be energized by the belief that it will be fought for a higher purpose, in order to send it young adults to fight and potentially die. This energy in America usually has come from a combination of the myth of protecting democracy and a general threat to all the people. The simple rubric in my lifetime and in the history before it, is that we are fighting for Democracy. I will explore this myth, so central to our lives of citizens and discuss its implications.

In viewing the wide-ranging definitions of democracy I’ll begin by looking at a list of some made by famous people as compiled by Professor William M. Reisinger, of the University of Iowa. He introduces his list with these words:

“The basic sense of democracy as a form of governance rests on its etymology as rule by the entire people rather than, as Shapiro puts it, by any “aristocrat, monarch, philosopher, bureaucrat, expert, or religious leader.” Beyond that, actual definitions of democracy come in all shapes and sizes. On the next page are a variety of others’ definitions for your perusal, presented in chronological order. Each emphasizes one or more things thought to be true about democracy: 1) it is a dangerous form of government; 2) it includes genuine competition for power; 3) it permits mass participation on a legally equal footing; 4) it provides civil and other liberties that restrict the sphere of state power within the society; or 5) it promotes widespread deliberation about how to make and enforce policy so as to promote the common good.” http://www.uiowa.edu/~c030142/DefinitionsOfDemocracy.html

Some of the definitions he gives follow:

“A constitution [or politeia] may be defined as ‘the organization of a city [or polis] in respect of its offices generally, but especially in respect of that particular office which is sovereign in all issues. . . . In democratic cities, for example, the people [demos] is sovereign. . . . [W]hen the masses govern the city with a view to the common interest, the form of government is called by the generic name . . . of ‘constitutional government’. . . . Democracy is directed to the interest of the poor [only, not to the interests of everyone–WR].” (Aristotle 1995, 97-101)

“Democracy [is] not majority rule: democracy [is] diffusion of power, representation of interests, recognition of minorities.” (John Calhoun, as paraphrased by Roper 1989, 63)

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.” (H.L. Mencken, quoted in Danziger 1998, 155)

Democracy is “the substitution of election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.” (G.B. Shaw, quoted in Danziger 1998, 155)

“Democracy is “government by the people; that form of government in which the sovereign power resides in the people as a whole, and is exercised either directly by them . . . or by officers elected by them.” (Oxford English Dictionary, 1933)

“Democracy is a competitive political system in which competing leaders and organizations define the alternatives of public policy in such a way that the public can participate in the decision-making process.” (Schattschneider 1960, 141)

Democracy is “a state where political decisions are taken by and with the consent, or the active participation even, of the majority of the People. . . . [L]iberalism, though recognizing that in the last resort the ‘legal majority’ must prevail, tries to protect the minorities as it does the civil rights of the individual, and by much the same methods. . . . Liberal democracy is qualified democracy. The ultimate right of the majority to have its way is conceded, but that way is made as rough as possible.” (Finer 1997, 1568-1570)

 “The fundamental idea of democratic, political legitimacy is that the authorization to exercise state power must arise from the collective decisions of the equal members of a society who are governed by that power.” Collective decisions can be either aggregative (based on counting preferences) or deliberative. “[A] decision is collective just in case it emerges from arrangements of binding collective choice that establish conditions of free public reasoning among equals who are governed by the decisions. In the deliberative conception, then, citizens treat one another as equals not by giving equal consideration to interests–perhaps some interests ought to be discounted . . .–but by offering them justifications for the exercise of collective power . . . .” (Cohen 1998, 185-6; italics in original)

These are eight of the twenty-five definitions that Reisinger listed. Just as he broke up these definitions into categories ranging from “dangerous” (dyspeptic) to positive views, I presented a selection from the entire range of views. The link to his article will bring you to a short piece, quickly read, that will give you the full range of choice of viewpoints. My particular preference is for the last two of the definitions, but I don’t believe that they currently define our system. For further, quick reference this Wikipedia link illustrates the difficulty of defining Democracy and the confusion everyone has had in doing so: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy

This illustrates the problem that America has with Democracy both as a rallying point and as a guiding myth. Most of us were reared and educated with the idea that “Democracy is the rule of the people”, even though in practicality that is simply not true. In the area of guiding mythology though, that particular myth has been used time and again, to justify many evils and sometimes even promote good.

In realistically looking at our country and Democracy, as with much else in life, I believe context is everything. The American Revolution was fostered by the wealthiest people in this country, who initiated it because they were economically and socially stifled by the rule of a Monarchic Empire. They were highly sophisticated and intelligent men, whose charisma and standing in their particular States, was unquestioned. They used the promise of a “free republic”, end to tyranny and even the inclusion of the populace into decision-making, to rally popular support. That support was far from universal, but nevertheless those we call the “Founding Fathers” prevailed. When I first learned America History my particular hero was the radical Samuel Adams. It always seemed curious to me that after the Revolution his role in the body politic became obscure. As my knowledge of history grew I came to realize that my hero was far too much a threat to the interests of the Founding Fathers, to be allowed a role in the Constitution and the governance of this new country.

The exclusion of Sam Adams and others of his radical ilk is the proof that this was not to be a country where the common people would have ultimate power over their government. The Constitution makes no mention of Democracy; it is a document that creates a particular type of Republic, where the power rests in the hands of those of wealth and property. It is nevertheless a magnificent document that was unprecedented for its time and well into the future, even today. Democracy, however, was the myth used to convince the masses to love and support their country. It has been used as mentioned to justify war and foreign interventions. The supposed protection of Democracy has even been used in the Patriot Act to actually threaten most American’s constitutionally granted freedoms.

When William F. Buckley, founder of the National Review and PBS fame first became prominent in the 1950’s, he was roundly chastised for insisting that our Country was a Republic, not a Democracy. In other words, Buckley, who in general I have no respect for, was correctly denying the unifying myth of our country. In the process of that denial and its effect on conservative thinking, it was seen at the time as scandalous. I think that the idea of the United States being a Democracy is a myth that needs to be de-mythologized. I believe, however, in the idea of the need for the populace to have a greater say in the processes that govern us. I’m tired of the oligarchy that has always ruled our country for its benefit and the citizens’ distress. A large part of the seeming legitimacy of that rule is the myth that we are a democratic society. To even begin to achieve this power for the people, we must educate us all on the real state of affairs and try to proceed with reality and not myth.

What do you the reader think about this and what are your preferences for how this country should be run?

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

 

65 thoughts on “Democracy in America: What Does it Mean?

  1. “The Constitution makes no mention of Democracy; it is a document that creates a particular type of Republic, where the power rests in the hands of those of wealth and property. ”
    ————————————
    I differ…..

    merriam-webster
    Definition of DEMOCRACY

    1
    a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority
    b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections
    2
    : a political unit that has a democratic government
    3
    capitalized : the principles and policies of the Democratic party in the United States
    4
    : the common people especially when constituting the source of political authority
    5
    : the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges

    from USLegal dictionary;
    de·moc·ra·cy noun \di-ˈmä-krə-sē\
    plural de·moc·ra·cies

    Definition of DEMOCRACY

    1
    a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority
    b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections
    2
    : a political unit that has a democratic government
    3
    capitalized : the principles and policies of the Democratic party in the United States
    4
    : the common people especially when constituting the source of political authority
    5
    : the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges

    The opening words of the Constitution of the United States of America….
    ‘We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.’

    and (in part)Article 1;
    Article. I.

    Section. 1.

    All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

    Section. 2.

    The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, …..

    it’s all about the WE…and not the trickerwee….

  2. With most Americans getting their news and talking points from cable outlets who intentionally target market opinion based reporting the “real state of affairs” will always be shaded and obscured. Those cable outlets are owned by the oligarchs and push an agenda. Those agendas in turn divide us into “us and them” thinkers, or more likely parrots, for those agendas. What to do? What to do? The general public, generally speaking, has been led to believe that all of our problems can be solved with a bumper sticker slogan. Thinking for one’s self runs head on into the “us and them” paradigm so that no one wants to be thought of as a “them” anymore, which to me is ironic because it runs counter to the American Myth of the rugged individual. What to do? What to do?

  3. An initial reaction:

    —well needed. As for the individual so well for society, mythology serves well as inspiration but poorly as a picture of reality to base an action upon.

    …so happy to see the name of Samuel Adams, my youth’s hero. Jeffersn to some degree was an aficiionado of the French Revolution, calling for new ones here every 20 years.

    —Franklin said “You have a republic, if you can keep it”.
    What we have now is not a republic. Not when commerce has taken over the reins centuries ago. “What’s good for the companies is good for my pocket”, say the oligarchs “and that is as it should be”.

    —I saw one that I thought might be good to give a try. But displacing the haves from their power positions is going to be tough.

    —Let’s not let this veer into a discussion of our ills, but discuss how society should be formed. How we get there is another question.

  4. James Madison is called the Father of the Constitution, and he penned The Bill of Rights.

    He also defined one way to determine what form a liberty loving government takes by defining what is dangerous to it:

    Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied: and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. Those truths are well established.

    (The Greatest Source Of Power Toxins?). To the extent that war is the greatest threat, then our worship of war clearly indicates that we are not now what we were then.

    And since you use the word “myth” to connote today’s common understanding of the nature of our governmental essence, then his warning is compliant to that notion:

    In war … all the means of seducing the minds are added to those of subduing the force of the people.

    (ibid). To save our way of government, to resurrect it from the dead, we must stop being a Wartocracy.

  5. True Democracy, as established in Ancient Greece was ultimately a failure. As with most popular concepts, it looks good on paper but fails in practice. See the “Dialogues” by Plato, the death of Socrates was the result of democratic mob rule and intolerance of the masses.

    A Republic attempts to represent and balance the will of the people while decreasing the danger of the “majority rules” mentality, and a large uninformed or misinformed population, associated with a true democracy.

    Unfortunately, these problems are still present in today’s Republic. The quality of representatives is more important to good government than the structure of the government itself.

  6. MikeS, Good post. I was taught, and I taught my students that we are a republic. I surmise you still have a problem w/ all the ballot initiatives and that is in part your motivation in writing this. What is causing these inititiatives is the unresponsiveness of elected officials. It’s a rigged game w/ rigged Congressional districts and only 2 choices in a duopoly. Many of these initiatives are pushed by people w/ little political influence. Our govt. is behind the curve on so many isssues, this is their wakeup call. I think it’s a logical and appropriate way to initiate change…beats an armed rebellion.

  7. I believe semantics play a large role in this. Structuraly America is a Republic, culturaly it is viewed generally as a democracy. Denotative definition of democracy means a total governance of the people, such as initiative processes and votes where people make the law and manage all decisions of government. Connotative definition has come to mean somewhat a mixture of this and a republic, where succinctly the elected officials answer to the voters who decide via ballot box.

    I would take however the American definition of Democratic Republic to that of North Korea’s any day.

  8. Do you really think this is a democracy? It is more like an Oligarchy. Politics, economics, including the tax code and bailout funds, wars, legal precendents (law), and societal informal norms and values are created by the wealthy. Then, it trickles down to the middle and poor classes in the form of how to obey the ‘master’. The wealthy deceive the middle and poor classes by telling them that their ‘votes count.’ At the same time, the economic recession, according to a USA Today article, created more wealth for the wealthy, and increased the economic gap between all classes. This is not a democracy, but an oligarchy, and the only solution is to either obey the master or do like the workers at the Hostess Company: Stage a Strike on the federal government (this almost occurred in 1960s, but MLK,Jr and the civil rights leaders turn it into a picnic, giving us a dream speech, and now we are living in a nightmare).

  9. Thanks for your work, Mike, great article.

    From the Constitution came the essential requirements of how we were to govern and be governed. Then the bill of rights. Then the litigation that arose from the interpretation of the bill of rights. And in a few hundred years, we had the progressions from “life, liberty and property” so that we had a pretty clear line about how to protect anybody’s property and their PROPERTY INTEREST. We had a pretty clear line about how to protect anybody’s liberty and their LIBERTY INTEREST. And in all that time not one case about how to protect their LIFE INTEREST; it does not exist in law except in two forms:

    1. A convict on death row has a “residual life interest” in not being killed before his death warrant says he is to be put to death; and

    2. In probate law, a person can have a “life interest” in the profits from investment or other use of a corpus of an estate without that beneficiary’s “life interest” giving them ownership of the corpus.

    And then, if you look at the case of Dred Scott in Missouri in 1957 and compare it to the case of Joshua DeShaney in Wisconsin in 1987, you find that the property interest a slave-holder had in the life of a slave somehow legally morphed into the liberty interest a parent had in the custody of a child and there was still no life interest, and still, no life interest.

    And if you were, for instance, to have the life interest recognized, legitimized and protected for three generations of born children in this country, I bet and believe you could achieve democracy.

    Of course, by then, the environment would have been so poisoned that no amount of democracy would be able to establish a livable life on this continent for the 99% anyway…

    But still, your article was stimulating, actually exciting I should say, and I am grateful to you for writing it.

  10. Great job Mike. I agree that we are a Democratic Republic, but we are fast becoming an oligarchical Republic. (if there is such a term) If we do not end the Electoral College and install national voting rights and regulations, We the People will not stand a chance.

  11. I am in the undecided column about the electoral college, but am beginning to lean toward the popular vote. As for elections, I think laws for national elections should be uniform all over. A set number of early voting days and times, and voting precincts having a limit to how many registered voters they serve, which will eliminate bottlenecks and long lines.

    All electric voting machines should be required to print a paper ballot and stub for the voter to keep. I fail to understand why Diebold says they have a problem creating a printed copy of ballots. I have been using Diebold ATM machines for years and it never fails to give me an accurate receipt for transactions. A carbon duplicate ballot stub will allow the voter to check immediately to see if their vote has been flipped or manipulated in some way. Those who have a vested interest in caging votes will oppose this, but it needs to be done.

  12. Ah yes, the sixties. Big milestones, big battles.

    Nov. 22 1963: Nixon was in town the night before, as was H.W. Bush. JFK’s many enemies celebrated: FED, CIA, Allen Dulles, etc. and no President sat safe since then.

    1968
    MLKmr was killed, JFK was killed as a Pres Candidate.
    McGovern and the left change movement was murdered in Chicago. Only Humphrey, judged senile by most, was left to oppose Nixon
    Meanwhile Johnson had sold us to the MIC for his own election.

    The dems must rule. Concentration of power leads inevitably to corruption.

    Did the dems condemn (!) Socrates, only if mislead by those who opposed truth. We come back inevitably to educations as a öprime need.

  13. Spinning further on election reform: National Executive and Legislative offices and state ditto on same date. All others on odd years, including voter initiatives.

    There is no technical hinder to paper receipts checkable against a master paper copy on roll paper enclosed in plastic box for comparison and trace of votes cast.

    Othersise much as OS suggested. It has to be regulated.

    And gerrymandering stopped. HW Bush got his RepHouse seat that way.

  14. The reason is that we have a lousy constitution designed to protect slavery and that we never fully ratified the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

  15. The problem with a true democracy is demogods. Sief Heil. Hitler was elected. Our founders wanted elites to ve able to vore. In the South there is still a strong interest by elites to keep the poor white trash from voting and certainly any blacks. I notice that newspapers in the South do not give out information as to where the polling places are and when they open or how to vote early or by mail. The same newspaper spends a lot of space showing mugshots of recently arrested people or long articles about new cultural displays going on in the county. I want to vote for a state rep, a state senator, a Congressman or US Senator who will vote for my interests and the interests of the society, not some schmuck owned by ALEC or Blackwater. That is why I would vote for Jesse Jackson, Jr if he was running in my district because he would vote right. I dont care ifhe has bi polar disease whether grizzly or not. I would not want a straight democracy where we go to townhall and vote for zoning regulations up or down or decide too much in elections. I want Representative Democracy.

  16. Great post Mike…..

    Dredd…. To say that Madison is the father of the constitution is an understatement…… From what I’ve read he was very much disliked and hated for his views….. he had a tendency to rub people the wrong way….. he was a better thinker than people person….. now Franklin…. very much liked and trusted…..but a known drunk and womanizer….. had the gift of people pleasing……. he was able to sell the native americans a bill of goods that in essence deprived them of life, liberty and property….

    OS….. the Electorial College at one time served a very valuable purpose….. If you recall the ballots had to be certified by a certain date….. if i recall the office of president was filled in late march or early april for many years…. today, with the modern technology…. there is not much use for it…. if you really think about it…..its really an extension of proxy voting….. you allow someone to cast your votes lawfully…… in the republican from of government that we have today…. its out lived its usefulness…..

  17. I went to a condominium annual meeting today. The Board recounted what they did all year long. They had to plan and make decisions almost every day about how to fix things and run the place. If I lived in a commune that would be more like democracy. I would have to decide along with all the rest of the freaks living there what color paint to paint the door with and how much to pay the guy who fixed the mailbox. I would not have time for my other life. So that is why I like representative democracy. I vote for a rep who does the right thing. If he doesnt then we vote em out.

  18. From article: “The exclusion of Sam Adams and others of his radical ilk is the proof that this was not to be a country where the common people would have ultimate power over their government. The Constitution makes no mention of Democracy; it is a document that creates a particular type of Republic, where the power rests in the hands of those of wealth and property.”
    ****

    The Constitution built in a Senate appointed by state legislators as a brake on the House. The desire to control and usurp the authority of the rabble was built in. The Electoral college, while it has outlived its usefulness as explained by AY still adds an extra layer of control on the choices of the citizenry.

    If we wanted a direct democracy or even a representative democracy with substantial voter responsiveness then the Electoral College and the Senate would have to go.

    Considering the Republican base I’m not inclined to call for their dissolution just yet.

  19. Otteray:

    Contrary to conventional wisdom, high technology is not always the best answer to a problem. There are so many ways to hack a software program that can run these voting machines, which seem to be bug ridden, that it can take weeks or months after the election to reverse engineer them and find if they were compromised.

    On the other hand it is difficult to forge paper ballots if a very controlled environment is maintained.

    Personally, I don’t see why there is this need for electronic voting machines. If it takes two extra hours to manually count votes so what??? I dont’t see this as being a prohibitive working environment.

    for the amount of expense of an electonic voting machine and considering that most election counting officials are volunteers, economically I don’t see why money is wasted on these proported labor saving devices when the counting of the votes is of minimal cost.

    Maybe the afghani’s had something by painting the finger purple after voting.

  20. I must apologize to you readers since from your comments I see that the issue I was trying to raise was unclear and the responsibilty for that falls squarely on my shoulders. I wasn’t arguing in favor of a particular governmental set up, nor was I arguing in favor of direct democracy, which would be a faulty form of government and far too unwieldy to use today. Also I wasn’t criticizing the Constitution because with its faults it has served us well.

    What I was trying to point out was that the entire concept of what democracy is remains a matter of dispute, yet the notion of democracy has been used as a myth, sometimes justifying disasterous courses for our country, especially in foreign policy. Our myth of American democracy is that the people rule, which has never been the case. I believe that this myth has been used to lull most of us into the belief that we as “the people” really have the power. My belief is that for real change to take place we must be able to see beyond the guiding mythology of our country, to understand how things really work. By presenting varied views of what the term democracy means I was hoping to elicit how readers here personally defined democracy. I missed the mark.

  21. Darren,
    You will not get an argument from me on that point. Knowing what I know about computers and computer bugs, I am not in favor of digital voting machines until they are hacker and bug proof, a feat that I am not sure can be accomplished.

    One thing about paper ballots, when Florida went to punch cards, they appear to have handed out styluses with short stems in heavily Democratic precincts, and we were treated to hanging chads because the holes were not punched all the way out by the short stylus, no matter how hard the voter pressed. Cheaters are always going to look for a way to give themselves an edge. Voter caging is the real voter fraud, not the organizations that volunteer to go out and register as many legal voters as possible.

  22. Mike: “I believe that this myth has been used to lull most of us into the belief that we as “the people” really have the power.”

    What do you mean “we” kemosabe? :-) I am not of that mind. I define it as we have it because saying a somewhat modified form of Democratic Socialism (lists characteristics) is how I’d define it and welcome it to our shores is kinda’ going nowhere.

    Here’s my problem, we have what we have and unless we want to clean the slate and start over (why yes, my USA would be very different from the one we have now) we have to make it work because starting over isn’t possible.

    I think this is a good quote from your article to encapsulate the kind of government I want:
    “[L]iberalism, though recognizing that in the last resort the ‘legal majority’ must prevail, tries to protect the minorities as it does the civil rights of the individual, and by much the same methods. . . . ”
    The last part of that quote is also instructive:
    “Liberal democracy is qualified democracy. The ultimate right of the majority to have its way is conceded, but that way is made as rough as possible.” (Finer 1997, 1568-1570)”

    That sounds good to me, whatever keeps the wolves at bay whether they be rapacious venture capitalists, food manufactures that wold put melamine and floor sweepings in our food or religious fanatics that want women veiled.

    Maybe even with the clarification I missed the point. Or I’m a literalist with a big pinch of fatalism thrown in.

  23. LK,

    If you want to see how a unicameral legislature works out….. I think Nebraska is the only state in the US that has one….. I’m unsure if I agree with that structure for a nation as a whole as the senate guarantees each state 2 senators….. Regardless of the population of the state…..the house is based on population…..this would give heavily populated states too much power…..

  24. “By presenting varied views of what the term democracy means I was hoping to elicit how readers here personally defined democracy. I missed the mark.”

    No you didn’t. You can simply redirect the discussion which you just did. Defining democracy inevitably calls into effect “the observer affects the observed,” of course.

    My kid asked me some of the questions about what democracy is when he was about 9, and I couldn’t really answer except to say that your rights stop where the other guy’s nose starts (this would cause a few thousand Americans to call the killing of Trayvon Martin “self-defense” because they would presume that George Zimmerman’s nose was wherever it was ENTITLED to be) and that nobody has a right to tell you that you have to have a Christmas Tree (giving rise to the principles of ELF DEFENSE).

    But it really is that way. We have to have rights (not to wear a burka if we don’t want to) that can’t be “majority ruled” away. And we have to have parts of our life that nobody can legislate. And we have to have some shot at equal benefits from the positions we hold in the responsibility structure. And past that, we have to work it out without killing folks. That would be democracy for me. We cannot achieve it in this country, of course. Oh maybe if we had those three generations of “life interest” legislation — my silly dream — HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

    I wish everybody a happy Thanksgiving. I’m joining my son today in going to a demonstration about trying to slow down climate change. I hope we aren’t rained out. :mrgreen:

  25. The myth of a people’s democracy started early: perhaps you are familiar with this famous quote from John Marshall:

    “The government proceeds directly from the people; is “ordained and established” in the name of the people; and is declared to be ordained, “in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and to their posterity.” The assent of the States, in their sovereign capacity, is implied in calling a Convention, and thus submitting that instrument to the people. But the people were at perfect liberty to accept or reject it; and their act was final. It required not the affirmance, and could not be negatived, by the State governments. The Constitution, when thus adopted, was of complete obligation, and bound the State sovereignties.

    The government of the Union, then, (whatever may be the influence of this fact on the case,) is, emphatically, and truly, a government of the people. In form and in substance it emanates from them. Its powers are granted by them, and are to be exercised directly on them, and for their benefit.” (1819)

    This is, of course, somewhat at odds with what Marshall wrote a decade earlier in Vol. 4 of his “Life of George Washington”

    “Neither the intrinsic merits of the constitution nor the imposing weight of character by which it was supported, gave assurance to its friends that it would be ultimately adopted. A comparison of the views and interests by which a powerful party was actuated, with particular provisions in the constitution which were especially designed to counteract those views and interests, prepared them to expect a mass of zealous and active opposition, against which the powers of reason would be in vain directed, because the real motives in which it originated would not be avowed. There were also many individuals, possessing great influence and respectable talents, who, from judgment, or from particular causes, seemed desirous of retaining the sovereignty of the states unimpaired, and of reducing the union to an alliance between independent nations. To these descriptions of persons, joined by those who supposed that an opposition of interests existed between different parts of the continent, was added a numerous class of honest men, many of whom possessed no inconsiderable share of intelligence, who could identify themselves perfectly with the state government, but who considered the government of the United States as in some respects foreign. The representation of their particular state not composing a majority of the national legislature, they could not consider that body as safely representing the people, and were disposed to measure out power to it with the same sparing hand with which they would confer it on persons not chosen by themselves, not accountable to them for its exercise, nor having any common interest with them. That power might be abused, was, to persons of this opinion, a conclusive argument against its being bestowed; and they seemed firmly persuaded that the cradle of the constitution would be the grave of republican liberty. ” (1801)

    This myth of American Democracy was deliberately constructed early on. Jefferson was picking up on the same strain in Medieval thought that Karl Marx picked up: the communistic, egalitarian ideals of movements like the Beguines, Beghards, Free Spirits and Ranters… but Jefferson lost…

  26. Malisha 1, November 18, 2012 at 8:46 am


    I wish everybody a happy Thanksgiving. I’m joining my son today in going to a demonstration about trying to slow down climate change. I hope we aren’t rained out. :mrgreen:
    ============================
    A happy Thanksgiving to you too.

    And what AY said.

    At that climate change demonstration, please spread the word that the “… no single weather event can be linked directly to … global warming” meme was started by fossil fuel propaganda, and is a falsehood.

    “Democracy at work.”

  27. I would add too Justice Marshall’s 1801 account of the ratification debate:

    “To decide the interesting question which agitated a continent, the best talents of the several states were assembled in their respective conventions. So balanced were parties in some of them, that, even after the subject had been discussed for a considerable time, the fate of the constitution could scarcely be conjectured; and so small, in many instances, was the majority in its favour, as to afford strong ground for the opinion that, had the influence of character been removed, the intrinsic merits of the instrument would not have secured its adoption. Indeed, it is scarcely to be doubted that, in some of the adopting states, a majority of the people were in the opposition. In all of them, the numerous amendments which were proposed, demonstrate the reluctance with which the new government was accepted; and that a dread of dismemberment, not an approbation of the particular system under consideration, had induced an acquiescence in it. The interesting nature of the question, the equality of the parties, the animation produced inevitably by ardent debate, had a necessary tendency to embitter the dispositions of the vanquished, and to fix more deeply, in many bosoms, their prejudices against a plan of government, in opposition to which all their passions were enlisted.”

    His later assertion that “The government proceeds directly from the people” seems quite at odds with his earlier assessment that “it is scarcely to be doubted that, in some of the adopting states, a majority of the people were in the opposition”

  28. Anonymously Yours 1, November 17, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Great post Mike…..

    Dredd…. To say that Madison is the father of the constitution is an understatement…… From what I’ve read he was very much disliked and hated for his views….. he had a tendency to rub people the wrong way….. he was a better thinker than people person….. now Franklin…. very much liked and trusted…..but a known drunk and womanizer….. had the gift of people pleasing……. he was able to sell the native americans a bill of goods that in essence deprived them of life, liberty and property….
    =======================================
    Mike’s post deals a lot with the myth of democracy which evinces a reality that people will believe most anything that pleases them, but will reject what is not pleasing. As you pointed out with the Franklin example.

    There are many facets of truth that people do not like, and this is like leaving the castle’s draw bridge down at night. The enemy purveyors of myth will pass through the draw bridge of unsuspecting minds when it is not secured by adequate and appropriate distrust of power.

  29. LottaKatz,

    Good observations re unicameral direct democracy with a 50 percent Republican base. Usch.

    But we got rid of our second camera here. but we have a eight party parliament, with socialist and moderates (conservative) dominating.

    I see no reason that at least some improvements could be made in the Senate rules—-ie remove the 60 vote requirement to get it out for a simple majority vote on the floor. And elimination of blockage by filibusters.

    The strict two-seat rule could go too, but then what reason for a senate. Maybe, have it with representation accdg to population, but with EIGHT YEAR terms, to statbilize with a view to long term effects.

  30. Malisha is a trolldame, ie she can like Huey Long make it sound so simple. And then the lawyers come and make it hard. But I agree with AY, she wins my vote too.

    OT. Remember in West Wing, the delegation from a new nation who were were offered fifthteen good reasons for selecting a parlianmentary style, but wanted so eagerrly an American style?

  31. Indigo Jones,

    Maybe somebody got to it first, but the ratification of the Constitution required the supplementation by the Bill of Rights to get the needed state approvals.

    In contrary to your writing:

    “It required not the affirmance, and could not be negatived, by the State governments. The Constitution, when thus adopted, was of complete obligation, and bound the State sovereignties.”

  32. Dredd,

    Ready for another great myth…. Lincoln the emancipator….. Read the history of a country on the west African coast called Iberia…… Our society is based upon revisionist…..

    I have often wondered why a majority of American owned companies have foreign registry in Iberia…..for ships…… Study the history of the US and you’ll see why…..

  33. idealist,

    I think other than a sentence or two here or there about the myth-making of American Democracy, everything I posted here is from one of the US Supreme Court’s first Chief Justices, excerpted from two pieces of his writing, about ten years apart, that are somewhat at odds with eachother.

    The Bill of Rights was a bargaining chip — three years separated its ratification and the ratification of the US Constitution (though all the contract law — everything required for making money — was in the body of the Constitution itself — even provisions about enforcing contracts made under the previous government of the Articles of Confederation). I think Justice Marshall’s earlier comment in my second post on this thread speaks more honestly to how contentious the whole affair was, and how a concerted effort at mythmaking was necessary for the powerful to ensure the new republic’s legal machinery worked in their economic interests.

    What is more noteworthy, I think, is that the Constitution was not de jure legal under the amendment procedures outlined in the Articles of Confederation. As the initial constitutional convention was called with the “sole and express” purpose of amending the Articles of Confederation, and instead, a new government was proposed and ratified through extra-legal means, in a sense, some of the historical contentiousness surrounding the ratification of the Constitution was justified, as it was, in a strict sense, the product of a coup.

    The “by for and of the people” bit was invented later on, when it became more clearly important to make “democracy” and “market liberalism” synonymous.

  34. Indigo,

    Add the fact that ratification was achieved after the Bill of Rights was added and approved as belonging to and having the same weight as the Constitution.

    Virginia had it in theirs and would not sign otherwise.
    NC, my state, was the last one ratifying which was needed to make it legal, for the same reasons.

    I cede the rest to you. Thanks for the history.

  35. AY,

    Excuse me for correcting you.
    It was and is called Liberia, not Iberia.

    Iberia is the peninsula containing Spain and Portugal.
    Liberia is the nation where liberated slaves from USA were sent, and who took over the land and dominated it.
    It has a lady President who is highly regarded, which you of course know. She’s kinda hot too, wow, like Michelle would be if she left her mamma image at home.

  36. That’s ok dredd…. It is Liberia …. I suppose I can blame it on the autocorrect…. But I’m ultimately responsible….. It’s kinda funny that the Capitol is named after James Monroe….. Monrovia ….. That’s real democracy in action….

  37. That was not Dredd, AY. It was me. Are you connected? Your spell checker would accept both words without comment. Hello, are you there? Iberia Liberia
    Wherever! Been to Iberia? One, two, three, four…..!

  38. Id707,

    When does the med cart roll around….. You still haven’t answered my question on another thread….. Are you that disconnected…. That you’d call someone out for something like this….

    I apologize for the over site….yes it was the spell checker…. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it….

  39. having only two choices has made it easier to buy elections. it limits the number of persons needed to buy.

    would it be better to have five choices? does anyone really want someone in office who only represents 20% of the voters?

    i believe the electoral college should be abolished. it diminishes the vote of anyone disagreeing with the majority in their state and it has become simply a way to game the system. the problem with abolishing it is that it would take a constitutional amendment to get rid of it and i worry about what else might be included with it.

  40. I was reading last night again an account of the Democratic Presidential nominee primary races in 1972.
    NOthing has changed much.

    There were speculations of the near development of a multi-party system, our terrible “one-party system”, party bosses commanding voter blocks, the corruption in the Ohio voting apparatus starring Cuyahoga county with 4 districts whereof one black in central Cleveland, who did not report any ballot counts 12 hours after polls closed.

    There were the same issues but from their angle:
    marijuana use (any association was taboo), “abortionists” taboo, playing both sides of the fence on the war (there is always a war!), ground campaigns versus TV campaigns. And a candidate who for some reason the prsss gave a bye to for every change of position, which he did constanly, depending on the local sentiment.

    Just thought you might like to know.

  41. AY,

    Both are legitimate and corrctly spelled words, so the spell checker would OK them both.

    You did not know the difference between Liberia and Iberia. Do you now?

    Ask the question again and I will reply.

  42. Id707,

    That’s my story….. And I’m sticking to it….. Some pad/tablets you have to add words…. Probably none as good as you’re used to using…..

    I wouldn’t say I didn’t know the difference…… I’ll say again…. Autocorrect…. But I’m glad…. You know the difference…. The world is a better place because of it…..

  43. Anonymously Yours 1, November 18, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    That’s ok dredd…. It is Liberia …. I suppose I can blame it on the autocorrect…. But I’m ultimately responsible….. It’s kinda funny that the Capitol is named after James Monroe….. Monrovia ….. That’s real democracy in action….
    ==============================
    Cool. I wasn’t doing very well in my research project on the Southern State of Iberia that seceded. Even with Idealist707’s help. ;)

  44. AY and Dredd,

    It is not only important for the world to know, how can we stand here judging nations for bombing, droning, etc and we don’t know their history nor heritage. Ach Ach!
    As for the bla bla southern Liberia, I take a pass….!

    However you are both sweet guys and I don’t mind being teased.

    Especially appreciate that little knowledge on spell checkers. I don’t use them thus my many errors. I do go at times to Google to check a word.
    Shouldn’t a basic one be included in IE9?

  45. You know I knew exactly what AY was saying in his original post and I took it by context to mean Liberia. On my PC for instance my “N” key sticks and many times a word like stink, will come out as stik. Typing errors are the name of the game anywhere on the Internet and little attention should be paid to it. It is all about the content rather than the spelling….isn’t it?

  46. MikeS,

    You should try my keyboard. I am getting extra muscles from forcing down the keys.

    However your sticking key argument does not hold in AY’s case.

    I understood what he meant, just as you did. But he capitalized Iberia, meaning that he confused the terms.
    No big deal, but if you have followed AY’s recent digs against me, then you would understand. I thought that he was off my back, and then he pops up again with no apparent reason given. Just digs of the obscure type.
    Ho hum.

    And thank you again for getting him away from calling me a sock puppet. Not forgotten.

  47. I wonder what your motive is for coming to his defence?

    You are a great explainer and your comment is perfect, except that it ignores the context that this occurs in.

    What brought you by, so perfectly opportune when AY is struggling? Just an honest question with no malice at all. To see you as GeneH’s errand boy: “MikeS, you take ID this time”! is quite impossible. GeneH does pop up when I am besting one of his disciples or beta hounds properly named.

    I would much rather question you on your observations around the events of 1968, than spend time on this.
    I am reading about the ’72 campaign now. Which links back to ’68, and forward to 2012. Interesting couplings.

  48. Id707,

    That’s my story and I’m sticking with it….. Got it….. Are you one of those type of people that act out before a holiday…. It’s more common than you think….. You do know testy is a derivative of testicle….. Well yours are showing….

    While I appreciate mike s honor…. Why are you taking umbrage with him….. Maybe you’re just lashing out at anyone near by…… Think about it…..

    If you act like a sock puppet you will most certainly be called a sock puppet…. Read me!!!!

  49. ID707,
    When will understand that I’m noones errand boy. At this blog there are people I’ve known for a long time. They’ve given me empathy for pain I’ve faced and I’ve returned the same with their troubles. Yes we also communicate outside this blog, but we’ve never met, given we live far apart. They have become my cyber friends if you will. Please understand though that O
    I won’t cover their asses if I think they’re wrong here and I don’t expect them to cover mine. I have a certain amount of integrity that I’ve built with people through the years and I don’t intend to jeopardize it. Had I been willing to sacrife my integrity in life, given the opportunities I’ve had I’d be a very wealthy man today, or perhaps in jail. :)

  50. MikeS,

    I did not accuse you of being an errand boy. I excluded that clearly. Can you not read my words?
    I did ask you frankly, as one should, why you popped up to opportunely to AY defense? No answer to that. Why?
    Your friendship, if that is what you mean visavis AY, and your appearance, why that is nice. Accepted as

    answer to my question above. Of course, I’ll let it slide as to the timing of your appearance. You say that you have contact and perhaps received a 911 call.
    None of my business.

    However your friendship does not excuse you for not noticing the errors of your excuses you offered on his behalf, as I pointed out in my latest comment.

    And it was out of respect for your integrity, which I respect generally, that I asked those questions so as to leave these doubts behind.

    So Please go back and re-read my return comment to you with new eyes. It might help.

    And when I offer you an olive branch, why do you ignore it? I offered one completely in tune with at least two of your own blogs. If it because of “me” then say that. Don’t ignore it. That’s rude.

    I am frank, not rude, that I believe.

  51. AY,

    I have no problems with holidays. Your bringing my private life into the discussion shows how low you will stoop to cause pain in other persons who oppose your ideas.

    Now if I had any respect for you then I would ignore your gaffe, as MikeS said that he did.

    But you have attacked me without cease for over a year, solely without offering other than lies and ad hominems, just as yoo do now.
    One can ask in such a case, what is there to respect in you? Such behavior is beyond respect, I feel.

    Show that I am a sock puppet, or shut up. You won’t do either. What a laugh you are.

    Sad for you to show your a55 so openly.

  52. MikeS,

    Just so you know.

    You are a man of many experiences, fully open by your own choice to life’s challenges. You reap not money, but the pleasures of good recollections, and a good conscience. Those are fortunes that many would gladly have.

    Please don’t, like so many do here, and even you do at times, let stupidity (as you perceive it) or opposition bring the veil of anger before your eyes.

    You. to use Jon Stewart’s phrase, become the HULK. :-)

  53. Id707,

    Good luck…. Please have a good life and go find peace….. I’m sure the people around you need it….. Peace out….

  54. AY, Thanks for the Nebraska info, I looked it up and did some searching on Nebraska. I did not know about Nebraska. LOL, I probably did at some time but I’m thinking I have that syndrome wherein for every new bit of data entering your mind some other bit of data gets overwritten. :-) I did though recall Iceland and China having only one legislative body; the Althing in Iceland. I always liked that name.It’s a very old government and having its named sound like All Thing (I had read) just summed up the political system rather poetically: ‘Here we are, one big group, this is it, the All Thing’.

    That about sums up the extremes that I think a unicameral system works well for, a politically repressed/oppressed population or a homogeneous population living in similar circumstances. I do like the non-partisan aspects of the Nebraska system. More states with a unicameral system, which means that their representatives to the House and Senate might just throw a serious monkey wrench into the two party system.

  55. ID707,

    I answered as I did because I was moved to do so at that time. No hidden motives, just expressing what I was thinking which was that the point about “Iberia”/Liberia” was unneeded. I read all comments on the blog, censor none, but respond when I deem it appropriate to respond, not as a “blog official” which doesn’t exist her, but merely as Mike Spindell.

  56. MikeS,

    Maybe it was fate or your intervention, but after an exchange, a peaceful accord have AY and I worked out. It started when I heard him mention his TSA troubles getting home to his girls for a visit.

    A spook becomes a person with kids. And recognizing each other as persons, we made peace. It warms my heart.
    I’m not here to fight. But one gets drawn into the game here.

    Hope you see my screed on this tiresome game we play here there the quickest and the wittiest wins. Reflection? Discussion? Wha! What’s that?, say most.

    Shalom.

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