Green Room

What Democracy Is Not

posted at 4:29 pm on December 23, 2009 by

I believe the current American government is far too large, and horribly corrupt. I often write critically of its actions. I don’t hate the government, however. The defense of liberty is not a romance with anarchy. The federal government has vital functions to perform. Over the centuries, the American political class has produced men and women of eloquence, courage, and honor. I hate how far short our current crop of politicians falls from the standard set by the creators of this republic. I hate what the republic has been twisted into, and I implore my fellow citizens to stand up and put a stop to it, because it teeters on the precipice of becoming something much worse.

The American democracy was not created to dictate the destiny of its citizens. It has a duty to avoid interfering with our hopes and dreams, except where necessary to maintain order. The government should not be conscripting us into the service of its hopes and dreams, with thousand-page draft notices. A nation becomes great because of what its people achieve, not because of what they are required to do… or what they are forbidden to do.

The goal of representative democracy should not be sending the most aggressive team of brigands to Washington, to pillage the other states. The unseemly haste of Democrats to buy enough votes for their awful health-care bill, and push it through by Christmas, is reminiscent of a gang of thieves panicking at the sound of a burglar alarm going off, and racing to stuff pillowcases full of swag before the cops show up.

The suggestion by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, that every senator and representative should service their constituents by haggling over the highest price for their votes, is an insult to patriotism. The states should combine their strength in the federal union, for those limited number of tasks that only the central government can perform. The union was not meant to be a weapon for looting the states that aren’t represented by ancient incumbents with powerful committee chairs.

The people of Nebraska did not send Ben Nelson to be first in line when the doors open on Washington’s big Black Friday sale of federal goodies, waving his so-called “principles” like a credit card. The voters of the other states should not have to watch their representatives mope around like disappointed shoppers who missed the best deals. Firm adherence to clearly-stated principles is not merely a desirable trait for a member of Congress. It is essential. Voting for a political hack who lies about everything he believes in, and has no position that lacks a price tag, is not an exercise in true democracy, any more than voting with a dart board and blindfold would be.

Sarah Palin described the revolting spectacle of the Senate health care bill on her Facebook page:

The administration’s promises of transparency and bipartisanship have been broken one by one. This entire process has been defined by midnight votes on weekends, closed-door meetings with industry lobbyists, and payoffs to politicians willing to sell their principles for sweetheart deals. Is it any wonder that Americans are so disillusioned with their leaders in Washington?

We reached the sorry moment Palin describes because our ruling class became disillusioned with us. When the government seizes control of something, it says that its citizens can no longer be trusted to manage it themselves. That’s true of the federal government’s legitimate responsibilities. National defense cannot be entrusted to irregular militias, no matter how patriotic and courageous their members. Health care is not something a free people can watch their government take away from them, ignoring the strident objections of a substantial majority. If we do, we are no longer free… and in the years to come, the ruling class will feel increasingly less pressure to pretend it serves the voters.

Transparency is not a gift to be promised in an election campaign, and withheld when opacity proves more convenient to the President. Bipartisanship is a compromise to meet the needs of all citizens, without exceeding the rules that constrain government. It is not a conspiracy to cobble together a coalition of dependents, and gain enough political strength to rewrite the rules.

Reckless deficit spending is not merely unwise financial policy. It is a damnable sin against democracy itself. Our nation was founded in defiance of the tyranny of taxation without representation. Levying monstrous taxes against generations unborn is an even more appalling example of that tyranny. Free men and women cannot be held responsible for the sins of their parents… and they cannot hold their children responsible for meeting their demands. Freedom does not carry the burdens of the past, or sustain itself by consuming the possibilities of the future. Liberty is meaningless in the absence of responsibility – you are not “free” unless you are accountable for your actions. An irresponsible democracy cannot survive for long.

Democracy is not about “rationing” goods and services through all-powerful Independent Medicare Death Panel Advisory Boards. Rationing means the people get what the government thinks they deserve. Those criteria will be determined with the same kind of back-room deals and midnight caucuses that put the Advisory Board in place. The government cannot control anything without rationing it. Rationing transforms your vote from a civic responsibility into a vital currency, which you must spend aggressively to survive.

Democracy is utterly incompatible with little rule-bending land mines hidden in gigantic bills, which only become public knowledge because they were spotted by a sharp-eyed staffer working for the opposition party. What is a half-written bill, largely unread by legislators, but an exercise in the same kind of arbitrary power that sent the Minutemen into the field against England? How does a responsible citizen assess the performance of his representatives, when their careers are spent voting on titanic hundred-billion-dollar bills with thousands of clauses? Responsibility drowns beneath huge bills sold with fraudulent accounting, based on promises no one takes seriously, with results no one could possibly predict.

What we have seen in the House and Senate during President Obama’s first year is not the behavior of a responsible Congress, acting in the humble service of its constituents, and conducting the lawful business of a democratic republic. Congress gains its legitimacy from the laws that bind it, not the spectacular spending bills it passes in defiance of those laws. We started down this path when we began judging government by the way it responded to the demands of its citizens, instead of the faithful performance of its duties. It will take a lot of work to correct the situation. In undertaking that task, we will not be aspiring to a lofty ideal. We will be reclaiming our birthright. The Congress of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid has worked under cover of darkness to steal something incredibly precious, which the authors and signatories of the Constitution desperately wanted you to have.

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