Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What Does Democracy Mean?

     One of the troubles with Democracy (and the reason that the United States is not one, is that true Democracy often turns into a tyranny, of sorts. Democracy is mob rule, and while I wouldn't deign to question the collective wisdom of mobs, it tends to be unworkable in the long run. Maybe this is just my low opinion of human nature coloring my words. But the Truth is that the United States is a Republic with a tinge of Bureaucracy, not a Democracy. In a Democracy, we would be voting on laws, not electing members of Congress who would be doing it for us. We would be voting for the head of the FCC, the head of the FDA, the head of the FBI. We would be voting on whether to allow Vioxx to be sold, and whom to. We would be voting on whether Janet Jackson's breast violated decency standards. In other words, in a nation of almost 300 million citizens, we would be voting all day, every day. But since we're a Bureaucratic Republic, we allow our elected and unelected representatives to do the work for us. There's a level of trust there, whether or not we like it.
     Still, a Republic is very much like a Democracy, if only on a superficial level. We still come together to vote, except we choose the people who will make decisions, and we choose them every few years, so nobody rules absolutely. We have checks and balances and we've made government as inefficient as possible so that nothing gets done unless it's really important. We've limited our Democratic rights to those involving choosing our representatives. So it's very important that we retain those rights.
     That's why a recent news story is puzzling to me. On Monday, a new poll was released showing that President Bush was enjoying his lowest approval rating ever at 37%. By historical standards, it's bad but not fatal. Clinton's low was 37% in 1993 and Reagan's low was 35% in 1983. Of course, that assumes that Bush's popularity has bottomed out. If it went lower, he could be in real trouble, keeping company with his father (low of 29% in 1992), Jimmy Carter (28% in 1979), and Richard Nixon (24% in 1974). Be that as it may, Bush is still the President (as so many "W" stickers like to point out) and we do live in a Republic, so he's got three more years to govern. But it's mystifying to me why "The White House has said it doesn't pay attention to poll numbers and the figures do not affect policy." Why shouldn't poll numbers affect policy? The American people elected him, don't they deserve to at least have their opinion respected? When Clinton had his lowest rating in 1993, it was due in large part to his attempts to nationalize health insurance. He quickly dropped the effort when it became clear that the American citizenry did not want it. What exactly is so bad about respecting the American people now?
     I'm not suggesting that Bush waver between policy when his approval teeters from 52% to 51%. That would be poor judgment and weak leadership. But when his approval dropped 20 points from 57% in February to 37% today, that's getting the sense that 300 million people (or at least 189 million people) are unhappy. If Democracy means anything, why is it a point of pride for him to ignore the people?


ORF said...

Perhaps because he's generally an ignorant person. Old dog, no new tricks!

Ben said...

There's a lot of polls out there, and Gallup has the 36% rating. Most are higher.

I'm curious what you would ahve him do? All I see is whining from you and the Democrats, and few actual suggestions, except cut and run from Iraq, and the polls show that the people don't want to do that. Or would you rather him alter his economic policies, the ones that have us recording historically low unemployment along with high and steady growth?

It makes sense that his approval rating is low. Ever watched the network news, which does more to shape public opinion one current events than just about anyone else? Most stories involving Bush in any way are negative, and they rarely highlight anything good. Clinton didn't get a low rating during certain of his latter scandals because the press gave him a pass and moaned about the right wing attack machine all the time. If you don't believe pure democracy will work, don't you think it's pretty hypocritcal to then say the President elected by a huge percentage of the citizenry should make decisions based on small sample polls?

Just a note, I wish I could say pure democracy would work, but it won't. Not unless you can get rid of ignorance and apathy, because some entity will always be able to influence too many people by lying or omitting information, and not everyone would bother to find out the truth, or believe it over their normal influence. On the other hand sometimes our current system really bugs me, too. But it's better than anything else I can think of.

scorcho said...

"Why shouldn't poll numbers affect policy? The American people elected him, don't they deserve to at least have their opinion respected?"
Indeed. Even now there is still a fight in Congress, as dems want some sort of time frame to bring the troops home, and the GOP won't hear of it. I guess these politicians aren't all that influenced by the people they allegedly represent.

Ben said...

I don't see the logic for a time frame in a war like this. Isn't that just telling the bad people that they just need to lie low and wait a few months and they'll win by default?

Add to that the fact that a poll on whether you disapprove of Bush or not is a very different animal than a poll which asks if you think we should cut and run.

A republic rather than a pure democracy makes more and more sense when you start realizing that in a pure democracy people who have no education at all in military matters will be making decisions for our generals who are likely to be West Point graduates, where they spent years actually learning what works and doesn't work in conflict.

Scott said...

Uh, like the President, for example?

And Ben, your "bad guy" tactic is actually the perfect strategy to counter Bush's current plan in Iraq - which is to stay until things calm down. If the "bad guys" were thinking strategically, they would just lie low until we left.

Forget leaving or not leaving - it's just disrespect to make a blanket statement to the effect of "We don't give a rat's ass what the majority of the American people think and we will never re-examine policy to please Americans"

Oh, and Ben, do you suppose that maybe Bush is getting shown in a negative way because that's the way reality is going? Oh no - is reality interfering with your Bush-worship?

Ben said...

I don't worship Bush, but facts are facts. The economy is going great, we overthrew an evil dictator and our bringing democracy to a place that has never had it before with remarkably few deaths, and terrorists are blowing people up over there instead of on our own soil. And don't forget Afghanistan, which is also going pretty well. Actual fact shows that things are going great on many fronts, but you never hear anything but bad on the news. Leaving out 2/3's of the story is not accurate reporting, and sways the public based on incomplete, slanted information. It seems like Bush has done exactly what he said he would do, though maybe not on the same time frame.

The idea, Scott, is to keep going in Iraq until they can take care of themselves. I understand they now have several battalions of well-trained soldiers with more coming. Given a time-frame that is not set, the terrorists may lie low till we leave, but then the Iraqi government will be strong enough that it won't matter. On the other hand, saying we're leaving in 6 months no matter the state of the Iraqi military/police, gives the terrorists much more reason to think they'll be successful after that 6 months. I thought that was obvious, but I guess I have to point some things out to you even though Bush has talked about it a million times.

Ben said...

If you polled the American people, you'd probably get a majority to be in favor of high protectionism for jobs and such. Of course that would cripple our economy, but hey, the polls showed a majority, right?

Scott said...

And that's why we're not a Democracy, genius. I didn't say he should have the electorate vote on courses of action - I said that was unworkable and generally unwise. I did say he's an idiot for making a blanket statement saying he would never reconsider policy that the American public opposed and that he never looks at polls. That last bit just makes him a liar.