Swans Commentary » swans.com November 7, 2005  



Democracy, Let's Bring It Here


by Philip Greenspan





(Swans - November 7, 2005)  The U.S. is continually spouting the word "democracy." It identifies itself as a democracy, and frequently promises to bring democracy to various countries around the world. But what does it mean by democracy?

What is a democracy? How is it defined? The word originates from the Greek demokratia. The components of the word are demos, "the people"; and kratein, "to rule" -- "rule by the people." The simple phrase Lincoln used in the Gettysburg Address sums it up quite well -- "a government of the people, by the people and for the people."

The U.S. for all its bluster is NOT a democracy! So how could it possibly export what it does not have? The word does not appear in the United States Constitution, the supreme law of the land. The wealthy framers of the Constitution did not intend to create -- they actually opposed -- a democracy. Determined to preserve their wealth and power, they were unwilling to allow a majority to rule. Such a dangerous step could cut them down to size. James Madison, considered the father of the Constitution, advocated a republic over "pure democracy" in Federalist Paper No. 10, precisely to protect the individual from the will of the majority. (1)

The framers limited those eligible to vote to property owners. Women, laborers, immigrants, indentured servants, and slaves were excluded. An "electoral college," a device to buffer the legitimate choice from the voters, is what the electorate votes for -- an additional safeguard against a radical choice. College electors -- chosen in each state by the party whose candidate obtains a plurality -- select the president by awarding that state's entire electoral vote count to their candidate. The proportionally unbalanced relative value of votes favors states with smaller populations. Prior to the Civil War, the electoral vote count was based on a state's free population augmented with three-fifths of its slave population.

Over the years, as more citizens demanded and gained the right to vote, the political elite found new methods to foil democratic rule. The gobs of money necessary to enter a primary precludes honest, unbought, and uncorrupted candidates from seeking high office. Invariably the available choices boil down to Tweedledees and Tweedledums, puppets of the power elite!

What the U.S. considers a democracy is a government of, by, and for the elite. Does anyone doubt that non-voting corporations wield sufficient influence to usually prevail against overwhelming grass-roots political activism? Notable examples of competing interests are: the military-industrial complex vs. peaceniks and fiscal conservatives; pharmaceutical, medical, and hospital industries vs. advocates for socialized medicine; the chemical, timber, coal, and oil industries vs. environmentalists and alternative energy.

The sophisticated PR techniques employed by the elite have easily convinced the public that elections are synonymous with democracy. However, officials in all branches of government elected or appointed are invariably members of or are allied to the elite -- a tiny fraction of the overall population.

Every geographical section of the country is well represented in the Congress. Within each section are substantial numbers of citizens who are homeless, hungry, live in poverty, and/or have inadequate health insurance. Why? Who represents them? Shouldn't representation proportional to various economic levels of income and wealth be a more significant factor for the general welfare than geographic locations?

Tinkering every few years with electoral reform has not in the past nor will it in the future correct the problems under the existing constitutional system. It was designed to operate this way and only if it is junked can equity be established.

What has the political system of the wealthiest country in the world, the sole superpower, achieved? Has it enlisted the best and the brightest? Just look at the chief executive. Is there any better example of sheer incompetence? What about the corruption, incompetence, and inability continually being exposed in the various branches? The first of perhaps several White House insiders, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, has been indicted for lying to a grand jury. The Senate majority leader Bill Frist and the House majority leader Tom DeLay are both currently in hot water over their unconscionable, and perhaps criminal, activities.

There may be many ways to create a government of, by, and for the people. Gerry Spence, the famous criminal lawyer, in his book Give Me Liberty, provides an answer, which I happen to like for the legislature. A lottery of ALL citizens to stock the legislative branch of the country!

Selecting our representatives by lot establishes a government of people from all walks of life, from all classes, from both sexes, from every race, . . . as many women in the legislature as men. The races will be represented roughly in proportion to their percentage of the population. No longer will this be a nation ruled by wealth or corporate power. Class distinctions in government will be eliminated. (2)

The other branches, like this new legislature, should also be representative of the people. Why not create an executive branch analogous to a parliamentary system? The president or a presidential committee would be chosen from amongst the members of that new congress. The judiciary could be chosen from trial lawyers also by lottery.

Aren't there obvious disadvantages to such a system? Wouldn't they lack the experience in government to handle the job? Yes, but that could be remedied by the availability of advisers to provide technical assistance; the ultimate decisions, however, would rest with the selected individuals.

What are the advantages of such a system? A first-hand knowledge of the needs of the people from all walks of life. No longer could an elitist media distort the truth and thereby gain public support for unconscionable legislation. Campaign contributions will no longer exist. Elections can no longer be bought.

Such a system could only exist if the current system were junked. A new constitution would have to be enacted -- a system that favors an individual's rights over property rights. One couldn't do much better than to adopt provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). (3)

The new document would not only have a bill of rights that grants civil and political rights like the existing constitution, but social and cultural rights as well. Shouldn't everyone be entitled to food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, and security as stated so well in section 1 of Article 25 of the UDHR?

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Crazy? Well, a former president, Franklin Roosevelt, initiated such crazy thoughts in his annual address to Congress, delivered on January 6, 1941. Europe was engaged in World War II and the U.S., while remaining technically neutral, was preparing for possible entry into the war. A peacetime draft had already been realized; rearmament was proceeding. Roosevelt called for,

. . . sacrifices that the emergency -- almost as serious as war itself -- demands. Whatever stands in the way of speed and efficiency in defense preparations must give way to the national need.

A free nation has the right to expect full cooperation from all groups. A free nation has the right to look to the leaders of business, of labor, and of agriculture to take the lead in stimulating effort, not among other groups but within their own groups.

In return there was an implied promise of social and economic benefits after the war.

Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world.

For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples:

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.

We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.

We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.

I have called for personal sacrifice. I am assured of the willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call.

This speech also described and initiated claims for the Four Freedoms -- freedoms of speech, of worship, from fear, and from want -- and, accordingly, it has been dubbed the Four Freedoms speech. (4) Subsequently, Roosevelt and Churchill proclaimed the Four Freedoms as a pledge to the world after victory. After the war it was through the efforts of his widow, Eleanor Roosevelt, that the UDHR effectively spelled out that pledge.

The nation willingly responded to FDR's call for sacrifice. Shouldn't his long past-due pledge to the nation be realized?

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1.  Federalist No. 10.  (back)

2.  Gerry Spence; Give Me Liberty; St Martin's Press, New York; 1998; pages 266-267  (back)

3.  Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  (back)

4.  Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Four Freedoms.  (back)


Internal Resources

Patterns which Connect

America the 'beautiful'


About the Author

Philip Greenspan on Swans (with bio).



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Published November 7, 2005