Friday, January 06, 2006

The Dangers to Democracy, 2000 and Beyond

The most significant must read article of the month will, unfortunately, only be seen by a small number of people, being hidden in Research in Review Magazine from Florida State University. They interviewed Lance deHaven-Smith, an indendent who wrote The Battle for Florida on the 2000 election.

Liberal bloggers such as Kevin Drum concentrated on the analysis of the over-votes which showed many ballots were discounted for both checking off Gore’s name and writing in Gore. They note that “in an analysis of the 2.7 million votes that had been cast in Florida’s eight largest counties, The Washington Post found that Gore’s name was punched on 46,000 of the over-vote ballots, while Bush’s name was marked on only 17,000.”

While such an analysis of how Gore should have won the election, and how Jeb Bush might have prevented a fair recount, is fascinating, the most important point raised is of the dangers to democracy which go beyond this one election. Lance deHaven-Smith discussed the importance of elites:

Most people don’t have time to learn about all these things, and they look to a particular person that they trust. It may not be the president, it may be Jesse Jackson, you know, it could be Rush Limbaugh, it could be somebody who’s not in government, but they look at that person and defer to that person. It’s a normal thing. I don’t see that changing. It really is a matter of elites being willing to be committed to democracy and the rule of law and the rule of reason.

In response to a follow up question, Lance deHaven-Smith explained how the dangers now seen to American democracy parallel the demise of democracy in Athens and Rome:

Unfortunately, the history of democracy is that leadership philosophy is eroded as the competition between elites becomes more intense. That’s what happened with Athenian democracy; that’s what happened in the Roman Republic. So you look at our system today; you see our elites doing it, and you know we’re in big trouble. It’s in my lifetime that this has happened, that elites have begun to put winning ahead everything else, ahead of truth and country.

When Watergate was prosecuted, there were Republicans in Congress that were after Nixon. They thought what he was doing was unconscionable, and today that’s not the case. Today, Democrats stick with Democrats, and Republicans stick with Republicans. They don’t care what their party leaders have done. Just in my lifetime, I’ve seen this civic culture go from something that’s respectful of democracy to something that is manipulative of it. The problem is if you let this go uncorrected, the Democrats are going to do something worse later, and then the Republicans. It’s just an arms race almost, and it will just tend to degenerate.

This passage, including the warning that Democrats might someday do something worse, may explain our visceral discomfort with many on the left, such as the ditto heads at Daily Kos who place strategy over ideology and style over substance. The real battle is not one of beating Republicans by any means, fair or foul, but of restoring our Democratic institutions which have been so severely undermined under Republican rule.


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