|Nicholas Wishek: 'Tyranny of the majority' looms|
|In The News|
|Monday, 20 August 2012 10:27|
An inherent drawback with democracy is likely to play a role in the 2012 election.
Many Americans aren't aware that we don't have an actual direct democracy; instead we have a democratic republic. The founders were very aware of the danger of direct democracy. They generally shared Ben Franklin's observation that "democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch." They were fearful of what Alexis de Tocqueville later labeled the "tyranny of the majority." James Madison, called the father of the Constitution, wrote, "It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part."
This may become a problem in November. Indeed, a major theme of President Barack Obama's campaign strategy seems to be to convince the so-called 99 percent that Mitt Romney supports only the 1 percent, who need to pay their "fair share." As Aristotle wrote more than 2,000 years ago, "In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme."
In the long run, if there is not enough money to pay for government's promises, everything is going to go bust, and everybody will suffer. Sadly, everyone doesn't think so far ahead. We have the examples of Greece, in particular, and Europe, in general, to warn us.
Many U.S. states are severely in debt, and some cities are filing for bankruptcy, but in the upcoming election the president's assurances may convince many that, in spite of the evidence to the contrary, economic disaster is not looming on the horizon. Winston Churchill quipped, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." In November, many voters will cast ballots based on promises in political ads or on slanted internet and media outlets – promises they are predisposed to believe.
The founders worried about this tendency. In a letter to Charles Yancey in 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
Newsweek recently asked 1,000 U.S. citizens to take America's official citizenship test: 29 percent of them couldn't name the vice president, 73 percent couldn't correctly say why we fought the Cold War, and 49 percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights.
Worse, a survey sponsored by the American Revolution Center revealed huge gaps in Americans' knowledge of civics and history. About 1,000 American adults were given a multiple-choice exam, and only 6 percent passed.
An ignorant electorate is more likely to vote for their immediate self-interest rather than for policies that are soundest for the future of our country.
Sure, voters should rely more on common sense and logic, along with knowledge of history and current events, to cast responsible votes. Many don't. It should be obvious that what we have been doing can't be sustained. While the Bush-era "neocons" certainly didn't have the right answers, the social progressives now in charge have done even worse.
Jefferson said, "I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them." As a nation we have spent trillions of dollars on programs designed to help the poor, yet more Americans than ever before are living below the official poverty line.
Nevertheless, the president still leads in many polls. If he wins reelection, and the Democrats regain complete control of Congress, the concerns of our nation's founders will have come true. We will have a tyranny of the majority and will see our nation decline.