The Issues at Hand, #3 – American Democracy

Well, today we are in for a good one. In this third installment of The Issues at Hand, I would like to focus on something that has remained as unquestioned as hugging your mother – support for our current system of democracy.  Perhaps culminating in academia with the article, The End of History, University of Chicago professor and democracy enthusiast Francis Fukuyama exclaimed that democracy was the final form of government and the end of political history.  Sentiment among the American population seems to either strongly or very strongly agree, particularly with respect to our own brand of democracy.  In our current political election, questioning American democracy would receive a reaction nothing short of walking into St. Peter’s Basilica and running around with a devil mask on.  Amidst the screaming, two Swiss mercenaries would come over and chop your head off with a battle axe; something that statistics have shown highly detrimental to your electability.

There is a reason those big red, white, and blue “A-MUR-ICA!” banners work at conventions and it’s the same reason why Republicans love wearing cowboy hats and dancing in balloons.  Americans love being nationalists that never question any aspect of the structure of their governance system.  In our search for meaning, we hold fast to the most stable of identites – our race, our sex, our nationality, our government.  (Note: Texans are doubly nationalist because they not only rep America, but also Texas.  Does this explain their political love for the death penalty?)  I would like to reopen the discussion on alternative governance theories.  And this is in no way impacted by the election and re-election of George W. Bush or the possible election of McCain/Palin.

“That’s not patriotic!” “You hate America!” “Oh shit, my colostomy bag!”

I’m not saying there is a better governance system than one that gives power to the people, I’m just saying the social discussion should not have ended with the current American incarnation.  “Power to the people” can mean a lot of very different things.  For some reason, the liberals who immediately decry the social conservative Christians for believing in a transcendent text, somehow exempt that criticism from the Founding Fathers and the Constitution.  Both are subject to critical inquiry – in the same way that you do not think that stoning women is acceptable, perhaps one day people will look back at the moral framework of our Constitution and cringe as well. Philip Pettit, Professor of Political Science at Princeton University, suggests that the key to democracy is that it is an open system.  Its structures must be able to change in order to reflect the demands of statehood, while minimizing violence and domination. Our system is closed, because many of our citizens are close-minded.

“But there are amendments!”

Amendments require that people either are active enough to initiate referenda or elect someone smart enough to formulate a progressive amendment in Congress. In my opinion, the knowledge that it takes to know yourself or even knowingly elect what I would consider to be a good Congressman or President/Vice-President is a burden that cannot be met by the current American education system or biology. The unobservable social forces that shape our world continually appear to be outside of the grasp of the general population. This is not meant to be a slight on the vast majority of people – they simply do not have the time to sit around reading every necessary document to make informed policy choices.  They have jobs, children, debt.  If we all can admit, at the start of this discussion, that even with our fancy college educations we still know not nearly enough about economic, health, or foreign policy issues to make an informed decision, then we can go somewhere.  Because if we admit that, then we can see that statistically the burden of a majority decision on the American population is too high in our overly complex era of technological progress.  We need to slow down and think about a better distribution of domestic power.  Here are some of my thoughts, not necessarily mutually exclusive with one another:

(1)  Reverse Federalism

If the recent collapse of the economic system in the United States has shown anything, it’s that the government has become too bloated to predictively manage large aspects of itself.  The investment banking paradigm is a disaster, but people simply do not have access to change.  The social forces necessary to sustain the United States are perhaps too large to bear – perhaps we need to revert back to a focus on individual states.  State governments that have taken initiative like California, Massachusettes, and New York to make state law tailored to local demands have shown marked success in environmental, social, energy, and economic policy.  Perhaps the resources allocated to the federal government in such excess should be given to the states.  The amount of money in play is too great to have fall into the hands of a select few.  The growing class of super-elites that decide the fate of large populations cannot have this kind of access to federal cash.  Should the income tax be given to state governments?  Would that not cut off the power to Washington and allow for real welfare for American citizens at home?  Our military would still be federal, but it would not have the power to do what it does now at the behest of a President.  If social issues like abortion are so divisive, leave it up to the states. Why should the politics of Alabama run the politics of Vermont?  They shouldn’t and vice-versa.  All of the universalism inherent to the national state has divided us and made us all spend too much energy on combatting each other’s worldviews.  People will come along as they come along, and screaming at them isn’t worth it.  In the mean time, let’s just fall back to our states.

(2)  An Elected Supreme Court

The Supreme Court, in my opinion, is the true seat of American society.  It is, by definition, a counter-majoritarian institution that puts the fate of law in the hands of nine people.  These justices are appointed by the President with oversight from the Senate, without so much as a wink from the population.  A man who is elected by someone I elect is not elected by me.  I do not think that this is acceptable.  What if we tossed the President out and elected the Supreme Court?  This could solve social strife by having a diverse panel of justices, each representing a large percentage of the population, discussing socio-legal problems in an intelligent fashion.  The House would still function as a directly proportional representation body and the Senate could probably go bye-bye as well.  Or not.  I don’t know what to think about the Senate.  We do at least need to elect the Supreme Court.  Lifetime seats?  What is this, seventeeth century France?

(3)  Congressional Solo-Op

Toss the anti-democratic Supreme Court and the too powerful President out the window. If we really want to give power to the people, this is how to do it.  The Brits have had this one down for a while now – phase out the royalty, phase out the House of Lords, get down to business.  I really enjoy the British democracy and think that it would do wonders for the responsiveness of American government.  A Prime Minister would handle executive business like the President and legislation would dictate social change, not the Supreme Court.

Lemme know what you think.

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