When America goes to the polls on November 2, 2010 the outcome will, regardless of which party prevails, serve to reinforce the strength of our republic. This at least is my hope. The flaw in this hope, if you will, is the journey our nation has been traveling on for the last thirty years. Ever since President Reagan stated in his first inaugural address that government was the problem, we the people have slowly allowed ourselves to see government as an outside entity.
No concept in our civic vocabulary can be more dangerous to the foundation and future of our nation than the idea of government as “they”. The idea of a republic, which Alexander Hamilton defines in The Federalist as a representative democracy, is certainly tricky. The reason that history has been dominated by kings and queens, tyrants and dictators, cabals and cartels, is because one unyielding viewpoint is always easier to translate into consistent policy. A principle challenge in business is to unify the corporation and move it with confidence in one direction. When it is the business of the American people, the challenge is exponentially more difficult to realize. The simple math is that, in today’s America, majority rule means that 147 million of us could hate an idea, and its adoption would still be correct for our democracy.
On a less critical stage, the challenge of democracy is revealed in the struggles of the social network site Facebook. Over the last two years, the worldwide population of the site has surpassed the population of our nation. During that time, pitched battles have erupted on-line over various functions, security issues, and format changes. An hour does not go by that thousands threaten to leave the network. Millions of users line up for a change, then millions more line up in protest of said change. This is the difficulty facing a privately held company; apply that lesson to a government responding to an energized constituent and the challenge becomes clear.
No matter what your ideology, idea, or plan, millions of other Americans can put forth alternatives that are every bit as reasonable as yours. Over the last several months, The Rational Middle has watched as political battles have turned into starkly drawn formations bent on the propagation of absolutes. We have in American politics, fallen into the trap of vanity, applying the very worst labels to fellow citizens whose solutions are marginally different than our own. Ultimately, it is not the perceived or real dysfunction of our republic that threatens its survival, but our own malicious vanity revealed in our attempts to control the republic’s destiny. All of us, this author included, fall prey to these delusions of self-importance…being human necessarily means making these mistakes. The trick is to mix out the lumps in the batter, lest they ruin the finished product.
Tomorrow evening, it is likely that John Boehner (R-Ohio) will become the presumptive next Speaker of the House. There is a fear among liberals and an expectation among conservatives that this event will bring major changes to the way the Congress operates and its results. Astute observers of our democracy will note that budgets, overall tax levels, and priorities have changed by very small increments over the last thirty years worth of “change elections”. Even as polls reveal a plurality of liberal beliefs among the voting public, voters have tended to allow the stance of our nation to drift to the right. The result, far from dramatically changing things at the federal level, has pushed enormous burdens onto state and local governments.
Mr. Boehner, for his reward, will find that the Republican House will see as much of its legislation go unheard as the Democratic House did. He will also learn the reality of being Speaker; how many of those who profess their profound dislike of Nancy Pelosi (or Harry Reid for that matter), can point to even a short list of the reasons why? Asking most citizens who know the name will likely elicit a list of political talking points; she is too liberal, she is a Marxist, she is un-American. What do those phrases mean, and how has her actions fit the definitions? Many progressive voters are just as unable as their conservative brethren to define concepts they supposedly support or oppose, and the easily predicted result is a political conversation devoid of substance.
We the people, at least some of us, will go to the polls and reaffirm our democracy…sort of. Over the last 18 months, I have been privileged to hear from many, both conservative and liberal, in the comment section of this blog. I dare say that the discourse on this space is leagues removed from what will drive the average voter this cycle, and that will remain a real danger until we fix the issue. This is our republic, those who would spend time and energy proving why it isn’t have engaged in self-fulfilling prophesy. Some level of political reading followed by the vote of your conscience ensures that this will remain our democracy. We may not get what we want, and we may even be bitterly disappointed, but that is the true nature of freedom. To demand more from a government is to wish for a dictator who shares your specific beliefs, and that is a road that leads to ruin. Please vote your beliefs tomorrow, and then commit to a little democracy-building in your own way; this republic is a full-time job.
The Rational Middle is listening…