When I was a kid, we were taught the importance of voting and the greatness of democracy. However, as I grew up I was exposed to an ever louder litany regarding the evils of government and the virtues of private enterprise. This year the Republican candidates are working hard to be the one who dislikes government the most and to promise that they will reduce the state more than any other candidate. Well, aside from defense and homeland security, of course. The Democrats have generally pushed to expand the state, but they have done little to create a favorable climate for democracy. This worries me.
I shall begin by noting the obvious: bureaucracies (public or private) seem analogous to people: unless properly maintained they tend to bloat, weaken, and slow down. As such, there is clearly a need to (as Socrates argued) keep an eye on the state and offer legitimate criticisms and corrections. There is also the added concern of corruption-money is a bit like termites: once it gets into a structure, it tends to start spreading until the whole thing is decayed and rotted.
Both the Democrats and Republicans are guilty of encouraging corruption and allowing the monied interests to dominate American politics. Fortunately, some Americans have begun to fight back against this. While today we see what some would call modern hippies protesting Wall Street, this could be the beginnings of a new movement that will push back the power of money and repair some of the terrible rot in our house of democracy. Naturally, more is needed than drum circles and other such things-what is needed is meaningful reform and the will to take on this corruption with courage and integrity. This, I am sure, will not arise from the established members of the political parties. The Democrats do make pious noises about it, but generally seem content to be part of the existing system (this includes Obama). The Republicans are quite active in simply making things worse under the banner of the Tea Party. The folks in the media largely seem to be going along with the establishment they are part of. While CNN has been accused of a liberal bias, in recent days the new morning folks have been making the disingenuous claim that the protestors do not know what they want. This is presumably to make them appear to be confused “hippies” who are just protesting in liberal ignorance. While these people do not have a detailed plan of reform, they do have clear goals-mainly to push back the corruption of our democratic system. That is a laudable goal, albeit one that will be hard to implement. After all, this is supposed to be a democracy and not a plutocracy.
While the Democrats are accused of adding to the state, the Republicans also do so-mainly under the guise of defense and security. However, the Republicans claim that they want to reduce the government. For example, Bachmann says she wants to eliminate the EPA. The Republicans also make a point of relentlessly attacking government and cast it as a great evil. On the face of it, it seems odd that folks who want to be in government are so intent to bash it. After all, if I was at a road race and someone spent her time telling me how awful running is while she was running, I would say the obvious “why the hell are you running?” Naturally, the Republicans say they are running so they can dismantle the state from the inside. This should worry us for two reasons. First, it seems like they are threatening to undermine democracy. Second, people who go into the system to fight it often end up simply becoming part of that system. That said, perhaps people can go into the system to make it better. There is, of course, a certain irony in hearing people talk about the founders with (alleged) reverence while promising to slash the government these people designed.
The Republicans have also been pushing to “reform” the voting laws. While countering fraud is fine, the main focus seems to have been on lowering voter turnout for the opposing party. To be fair to the Republicans, what they are doing now pales in comparison to the horrible Jim Crow laws of the Southern Republicans. But the fact that some Democrats once did something worse does not make what is happening today any less bad. This sort of tactic is a fundamental assault on the very foundation of democracy and must not be tolerated.
The Republicans have also pushed to make the state more business like. One problem with this is that it is based on the myth of private sector virtue and public sector vice. There is nothing inherent to the private sector that makes it better than the public sector (just look at all the inefficiency and corruption there). There is also nothing inherent to the public sector that makes it worse than the private sector. The quality of both private and public sectors depends on the quality of the people involved and the degree to which the people (customers or citizens) hold them to account. In the private sector this is done by customer choice (of course, some companies do not need to worry about this) and in the public sector it is done by voting. It is an amazing act of thought control that the Republicans have gotten so many people to repeat, zombie like, the mantra that private is good and public is bad. Such people fail to see that this is essentially accepting that a non-democratic, profit focused authoritarian system (the business model) is superior to the democratic system.
Of course, it could be argued that a democratic system is, in fact, an inferior system and that the authoritarian model is superior. Socrates argued against democracy in favor of rule by the best, so perhaps there is something to this claim. However, when people praise the private sector business model and say that the state should be run the same way, they need to keep in mind that this is not a democratic model and its main goal is profit and not the good of the people. Naturally, the Republicans also praise democracy while proposing a system that is fundamentally undemocratic. Interestingly, people uncritically accept this inconsistency-mainly because they hear what they want to hear (and have been conditioned to praise).
Let there be no doubt, democracy is in grave danger and the responsibility lies with us, the people, to defend and restore government of the people, by the people and for the people. And no, corporations are not people-no matter what bullshit the lawyers and politicians spew.