Sunday, October 12, 2008

III. Democracy Is Hard Work, It Isn’t Diverting or Glamorous by Anthony McCarthy

How serious are we about this democracy? Do we think that government of the People, by the People and for the People is important enough to save?

George W. Bush says that he is sending Americans to die for democracy in Iraq. He says that's why he is sending them to die in Afghanistan. Apparently he likes sending them to die for democracy so much that he is looking for a third place to send even more. He says it so often that those words are some of the rare ones practiced enough to come out clear. To paraphrase one of our finest writers; he says and says and says those things, he says them but he lies them. We know he's lying because there is no prospect for democracy in Iraq and once he invaded there the possibility of setting up any real government in Afghanistan disappeared. Even if he hadn't invaded anywhere he had begun the dismantling of democracy in the United States before the ballots were counted in Florida. Republicans have proven over and again that they are determined to see democracy perish, if not from the face of the earth, certainly here.

But that's them. How much do we value democracy? What do you think of these three ideas?

- Anyone convicted of intimidating voters, vote tampering, vote rigging, voter fraud or any other crime against the right of the People to an honest election should receive a mandatory twenty-five year sentence with no possibility of parole. Considering the consequences we are witnessing, twenty-five seems like a light sentence for the crime.

- It will be an impeachable offense for any judge or Supreme Court Justice to prevent the counting of a legitimate vote cast by an eligible voter in any election. The right of the People to cast a vote and to have it counted overrides any state or local regulations. Too many of those are clearly designed to lessen voter participation to begin with. A judge who hampers voting has violated the most basic right of a citizen and is unfit for the office in a democracy. The same holds for any other office in any part of the government.

- No President or governor should have the power to pardon someone who has tampered with an election for them or their party. If someone was to be convicted in the thefts of Ohio, Florida or in the forgotten irregularities in New Hampshire, Bush will pardon them and a deal for their silence will be worked out as quickly as you can say Cap Weinberger. If you doubt this look at the millions of dollars the RNC gave the recently convicted James Tobin. And that was just for some petty phone jamming in a Senate race. I'm just about certain that the idea of a pardon after the fall elections will have been considered.

As mentioned in part II, the scholars, such as are always called upon to lull us with the assurances that we are wrong about things going to hell, rhapsodize about the three branches. The three branches in balance that protect our liberties, each keeping the others in check. Here's something that always seems to be lost on those brilliant thinkers, branches die without roots. The voters keep the whole thing alive. A tree that gets cut down might send up new growth, if the roots are destroyed the whole tree rots in place. Our roots are shriveled. They require attention and I mean now. The branches are loaded down with leaves. You want to keep that tree, it's time for emergency pruning. June 2006

Update 2008

Being a life long resident of a small town in New England, I’ve gone to dozens of real town meetings. Both regular and special. Our town has had more than three thousand residents my entire life, it has about eight thousand today. Seeing how that fabled and mythic form of “self-government” actually works, I don’t hold any illusions about it.

First, you will not get more than a tiny fraction of the voting population to come, it is inconvenient to the point of being a hindrance to participation.

Second, the primarily budgetary issues will not be familiar to all but a hand full of those who show up. The arguments at town meetings are typically conducted out of ignorance and without most understanding the figures posted in the town report which everyone has in front of them. In the end, most town meetings typically pass the proposed budget with small, symbolic, changes, if for nothing else, to get it done. The big cuts are often made out of whipped up anger and often, though not always, are ill-advised, often costing the town many times more in following years when the problems created can’t be ignored.

Third, most town meetings are gamed by interest groups and small, interested cliques, many on the town payroll, some at the behest of corporations and developers. Typically the police and fire departments and their families attend, vote in their budgets and leave. Other interest groups do the same. I’ve seen town meetings which were clearly being controlled by the moderator (often the town’s real estate lawyer) and two members of the meeting. The rules don’t prevent that.

Many of the towns around mine are de-emphasizing town meeting because they have grown too big and the interest groups too effective for the results to be tolerable. I’ve had arguments about town meeting government with the romantics on the blogs, it turned out that many of them hadn't actually attended even one. One particularly strong adherent of town meeting government, when I revealed the size of my town, memorably dismissed me as being “from Podunk”. Having dissed irony in another post this morning, I’m not at liberty to invoke it now.

The romantic view of “self government” is a fairy tale, the reality of what is required for real direct democracy is, frankly, a lot more hard work and understanding than all but a few people are willing to put into it*. Those few are mostly someone who wants something, funding or to be allowed to develop property against the common good and the sustainability of the environment.

Governmental structures and practices have to be changed to what will attract the efforts of an effective majority who will put the common good first. What we’ve done, what we’ve allowed out of romantic fantasy and abstract, Jeffersonian, federalist, principle hasn’t worked. It accounts for the failure of our schools and our local government, it accounts for the corruption of our elections and of all levels of government. Having competent, honest representative government is the only solution to the problem of conducting The Peoples’ business. That is true on every level.

The solutions to these real problems of democracy are not promoted by abstract theory or romantic myth. They aren’t diverting, they are only of the utmost importance. It is hard, difficult, often boring work. It isn’t glamorous in the way royalty and other despotic governments can seem. It’s only our lives and freedom in the balance.

* This is one of the reasons that I have the deepest respect for good politicians, those who dedicate themselves to doing The People’s business on behalf of the common good. It is also why I disdain those who make cheap attacks on them when they can’t do it all. Having worked as a campaign volunteer for Democratic candidates, just running is more hard work than the causal carpers would ever expend on the common good.