Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The New Democracy

We get to define “democracy.” We have put its name on many things throughout our history.

The original American democracy denied the right to vote to all except white males over 21 years of age who owned a respectable amount of landed property. In the colonial era they often had to meet a religious test as well, but our founding fathers wisely eliminated that requirement from our national constitution. It hung on for a while in some of the early versions of certain State constitutions. But we thought of ourselves, even then, as a democracy. (Some said, “republic” others a “republican democracy.”)

There was a time in the early 19th century when Blacks, free and slave, native Americans, and women of all colors were denied the vote. But we called ourselves a democracy. (Jacksonian democracy. Some said Jeffersonian-Jacksonian democracy.)

Through more than half of our nation’s existence, United States Senators were not elected by a popular, democratic vote. Rather, they were chosen by the State legislatures. But we still called ourselves “democratic.”

So democracy is what we say it is. The dictionary definition of democracy is rule by the demos the ordinary people. I would elaborate that to mean that it is a form of government in which the will of the people determines the policies of the government. It provides a fair and honest way for ordinary people (which is all of us, rich and poor, honored or unknown) to serve as leaders and it protects the people’s ability to communicate with those leaders.

Some argue, and I concur, that we no longer have a democracy. That it has been co-opted by the influence and power of political parties backed and dominated by international corporate entities and powerful labor organizations. Even our Supreme Court has sanctioned the selling of our elections to these entities. The average citizen has no voice at all that affects anything. Anyone who doubts this can try getting a message to one of their representatives during a particularly heated debate over some important issue. And even if they hit the jackpot and their message gets read or heard by the representative it will not sway them. They are already bought and paid for by some special interest or cowed into acquiescence by their party leadership. To vote against the wishes of the leadership is to be relegated to the back row of political power. But we still call this “democracy.”

Electoral democracy is a farce. It may not always have been, but it is now. We need to get rid of it. There are better ways to select our representatives. We make up juries that decide on issues as serious as life and death from the ranks of ordinary people. Maybe it is time to build our legislative bodies in the same way. All who are eligible and able would be in a pool from which names would be drawn. Those chosen would be required to serve for a limited amount of time, perhaps two years, as is the case when we draft young people for the military. Without loyalty to political parties or wealthy contributors they might just be able to sit down together and make some decisions based on the merits of the case before them.

It is just an idea. It might need some refinement. But if it worked we could call it “the new democracy.” Think of it, no negative election ads. No ads at all! No party labels. Just a quiet announcement every two years of the men and women like us who had been selected to serve us.  Sounds like heaven to me!

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