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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Rant in Defense of Democracy

Man wearing hoodie that reads-Republic not DemocrayIf you've talked to anyone who buys into rightwing talk radio, you've heard the argument; the United States is a republic, not a democracy. It's actually a silly argument. Democracy is a system, while a republic is a structure. What they mean -- or what I think they mean -- is that the US isn't a direct democracy. Citizens don't vote on everything, we elect representatives to do that. Those representatives go on to work within the structure of a republic; i.e., a lawmaking governing body. Still, democracy is more something you do, not something you are. To me, saying, "This is a republic, not a democracy," sounds a lot like, "This is a cake, not a baking." We vote for people to go to Washington and vote for a living -- the whole system hinges on democracy.

But this argument has seemed to evolve. It comes up whenever you bring up democracy in any form. They seem to have come to believe that democracy is in itself a bad thing. I used to think that this was simply idiotic semantics -- Democrats=democracy, Republicans=republic. Democrats are bad, therefore democracy is a bad word. Republic is a good word, because it's right there in Republican. It's a sort of quasi-logical equation that assumes the governing philosophies of both parties can be summed up with single words; we're a republic, not a democracy, because Republicans are always right and Democrats are always wrong.

And I really don't have any problem at all believing that many in the Republican base really do see it that way. Yes, it's simplistic to the point of infantile, but these are people marching around with misspelled signs warning that Obama is a socialist, just like Hitler (there's no "H" in "socialist," guys). They obviously don't waste a lot of time with reason or facts. They live in a world where whatever you want to believe -- no matter how far-fetched or nonsensical -- is true, true, true if you just believe it with all your little wingnut heart. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Barack Obama is really an illegal alien. Despite all evidence to the contrary, global warming is just a socialist plot to bring down capitalism. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the framers of the Constitution were hyper-Christian zealots and the United States is therefore a hyper-Christian nation by design. Despite all evidence to the contrary, there were WMD in Iraq -- Saddam just moved them someplace else. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Republican Party represents the people.

But clearly, these room temperature IQs didn't cook up this whole "democracy-bad, republic-good" thing on their own. They don't come up with anything on their own. Sheep in rugged-individualist clothing, they believe what they're told to believe -- even if it contradicts other edicts handed down from on high. If polls show a certain policy or proposal is unpopular with a big enough segment of the population, they play the Will of the People card. If another poll shows something is wildly popular, then it's back to "democracy is bad." I could excuse this wild inconsistency in philosophy if there were some sort of nuanced argument behind it where one situation differs from another, but Republicans -- and their base especially -- hate nuance. Either a fifth-grader can grasp the concept instantly or it's just some fancy-pants elitist intellectual claptrap.

All of this boils down to one over-arching belief among the Republican elite -- that you are stupid. And, if you aren't, you should be. Good Americans march around with their "OBAMA=HITLER" signs. Those are the patriots; this big homogeneous mass whose belief-system is whatever you tell them it is. And if you dare to disagree with that belief-system, you're a traitor and it's tyranny and you hate America and Jesus and the troops in the field and love terrorists and commies. End of story.

But the "democracy is bad" argument has a deeper root than just convenience. It has a basis in the political philosophy of a leading thinker on the right, Leo Strauss. Strauss really did believe that the masses were stupid and that a ruling elite should guide them. And this would require the destruction of the middle class, making the population more dependent on corporations.

Robert Barker:

[I]n the 60s and '70s, a group of alarmed conservative ideologues viewed the predominantly middle class US social upheavals as negatives. Women demanding equal pay and reproductive rights, African-Americans standing up for voting rights and equal access to public facilities, working people pushing for fair wages, activists screaming for a clean environment, a growing anti-war movement. These all spelled bad news for extreme conservative ideologies.

Suddenly the far right ideologues thought what they were seeing were indications of our social order disintegrating. It confirmed their trepidation, which echoed an alarm of the early founders like John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, who argued that augmented democracy could lead to social anarchy. A ruling elite operating under the "pretext" of democracy loomed as the most steadfast form of government to these people. And a strong middle strata like we developed in the '60s and '70s meant people had too much time on their hands; and too little fear. As a sociologist it is obvious to me that the industrial, commercial, and service rendering of mid- social stratification is the hallmark of national economic success. Citizen' standing up for their Constitutional rights is to my thinking very American; to the right wing ideologues it caused trepidation.

A strong middle class meant that people could organize and the right knew how bad that could be from the success of the labor movement. Inherently authoritarian, the right believed -- and still believes -- in a strict, top-down social hierarchy. "In reaction to the liberated sixties enters the philosopher and far right ideologues, disciples of Leo Strauss and his elitist, nihilist, domination theory," Barker tells us. "Reminiscent of Nietzsche, Strauss believed in the ruling elite or autocracy as the best form of government. He taught his students to practice Illusions of nationalism, morals, religion and democracy, while surreptitiously tearing these populous precepts and paradigms apart." Strauss's students include leading Republican thinkers like William Kristol, Richard Pearl, and Paul Wolfowitz.

You don't know what's good for you, they know what's good for you -- therefore, democracy is bad. This authoritarian hierarchy takes the form of corporations these days, which explains Republican protection of them. In a world without Straussian political philosophy, Joe Barton's apology to BP, for example, would be unthinkable. Yet Barton was merely stating what was the accepted Republican line the day before. And Barton, shunned by his party for nothing more than poor timing, has no trouble finding defenders in that vast pool of idiots called the Republican base. Corporations should neither be questioned nor held accountable for their actions, because that's tyranny!

On the other hand, if you're having trouble feeding your kids, tell them to go dumpster diving. If that sounds like France before the revolution, it is -- because autocracy is good. We can forgive a corporation anything, but you've got to muddle along as best you can without any help, because E Pluribus Unum means "get off your lazy ass." At no point and in no situation will a Republican say, "We're all in this together."

So you've got Rand Paul saying that criticizing BP is un-American, while saying that the solution to unemployment is to go out and get your slacker ass a job. We've got the reliably lunatic Rep. Steve King thinking the coast is clear to say that Barton was right on the money. We've got Rep. Darrell Issa saying that, if the GOP takes the house in November, he'll stop investigations into corporations and start seeing if he can figure out some way to get Obama impeached.

At every turn, if there's a choice to be made between moneyed interests and you, they'll chose moneyed interests. Every time. Because they don't trust you, they don't believe in you, and -- frankly -- they're scared to death of you. And you have way too much political power. You're a problem and they're solving it.

So the US isn't a democracy, it's a republic. Because democracy is bad.


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