I just read that the American people think that Congress is doing a good job to the tune of 9% of the populace. (The Contrarian always points out, that those folks all exclude their own congress people from the mix however.) That is some figure. Bush no doubt feels that somehow that must mean he’s in pretty good shape. I don’t think so, but it kind of fell into line with something I’m reading at the moment.
Jeff Sharlet has written a book called The Family. I’ll be reviewing it for you probably next week some time. Something he said at one point has stayed with me and I’ve let it rattle around for nearly a week. This poll seemed to bring it to a head and I thought I’d share my thoughts with you.
Mr. Sharlet opined that America found itself reaching for (or having it thrust upon it if you insist) imperialistic power long before the country had worked out its own democracy. What he was referring to, is that we started “exporting” democracy before we had a very clear idea of what exactly we had involved into. The more I think about what he said, the more I think he is correct.
Now many will quibble from the start, pointing out that we were designed not to be a democracy in the tradition of Athens, but a representative democracy, based on a federalist system. I recognize that and that is not really my point.
When we look at the Federalist Papers, by all accounts, our best reference book on what our Founding Fathers intended, we see that within that framework of “representative” democracy, there were two main threads of debate. Neither was adopted as it were, and in truth, there was no need to adopt either one perhaps. What they reflected was two very different ways to look at what it means to be a senator or representative of the great people of the US.
The two sides were defined thusly:
- I am elected to serve the interests of my constituents. I determine to the best of my ability what they want, and then represent them in Congress accordingly, voting as they would have me do.
- I am elected to serve the interests of my constituents. They elect me with the express purpose of looking deeply into all these issues that they don’t have time to, and expect me to vote my best conviction based on my expertise.
Now, to some degree this was accomplished by the design of the two Houses of Congress. The person who is elected to the House, represents a smaller constituency, likely more homogeneous and more susceptible of having their actual desires discerned. So House members might be thought to represent the actual desires of their actual constituents more closely than the Senate. The Senate, given a longer tenure, and representing a much larger constituency, needs its members to balance more diverse desires and vote their considered opinion of what they think best.
But in reality, there was never any sharp division, and assuredly members of Congress feel differently about what their responsibilities are. What seems to have happened is that most decided that they knew best most of the time and have voted accordingly. We cannot know all the intricacies and deals that must be struck to attain the “greater” good. It may appear that they are on the wrong side of a particular issue when in fact they are not. So they say at least.
What we have essentially is a small group of people, elected or not, who have power, or who have great access to power, and most of these folks think they know what is best, best for us they mouth, but mostly better for them or at least their personal world view.
No one in this country would claim that it is a good thing to give armaments to horrid military dictators who murder their citizenry indiscriminately in order to solidify their power. Yet America has done so more times than you can count on all your fingers and toes, mostly in the name of counterbalancing “Communism.” You can look all over Africa, Indonesia, and Latin and South America and find all the evidence you wish. No, or at least very few Americans would sanction this type of thing. Yet it’s done, for our own good, because we can’t see the “big picture” as they can.
Once it was done on the basis of manifest destiny. We had a “right” to the continent, but then, I would argue, most Americans actually did agree with that policy. I’m talking about not acting like a democracy. Depriving other peoples of their rights because we had “needs” that must be met. Of course all kinds of justifications are always made. In the long run, we claim, it’s in their interests too, those that survive that is.
It’s happening again in this “war on terror.’ We are compromising our stated philosophy of human rights and self-determination, in the interests in our security. Of course, once again, we tell ourselves that it is their security as well, again to those who can survive us and our present policies. It’s called ends justifying means, and we do it more often than not.
The Bush administration has begun to gut our civil liberties. At the same time, it has turned every regulatory agency in the US government into a industry apologist. Congress seems paralyzed to do anything about it. Why?
Because they too are busy doing what is best for us. Bush gets a good deal he actually wants because all this wheeling and dealing keeps getting in the way. “We had to cave in on this, because it’s tied to this, and we really really want this.” I have to get elected, so I can’t step too harshly on the toes of X industry, it contributes too much to my campaign. I have to get elected, because I know what my people need, even if they don’t. This is just what I have to do.
A good deal of it is a good deal more sinister than what I’ve related. There are quite hidden agendas out there. Some of them are sick. They all seem to revolve around the idea that those in power have a right to set the agenda. Us little folks are just the fodder for the war machine and the economic rape they continue. We can’t understand, and even if we could, we don’t count, because we don’t have power.
And they are right. The power of the vote? Well, okay, there is some of that. But not really. Much as I will continue to hammer everyone to vote for Obama, I’m not stupid. He is not a radical. And neither are any of the others. We are not going to wake up Christmas morning 2009 and find universal health care, an end to the Iraq war, safe medicine, fair wages, a sparkling environment, two dollar gas, and a whole host of other things we are being promised. We are voting on center to right versus center to left. You might have to turn sideways to get between ’em. It always seems like a lot more, but at the end of every four years, precious little has been accomplished.
You can look at FDR, a most savvy politician. He had to lead us carefully into WWII. He had to coddle us to it. He knew it was inevitable, but being re-elected was essential (no doubt to the world he told himself). And so he had to take us step by step, so in the end we would agree. And guess what? They pretty much knew what Hitler was doing to Jews for a couple of years before we got in. How’s that for morality in action?
But times have changed. Republicans, at least of the neo-con variety, no longer even bother to give lip service to the people. They KNOW we don’t really matter. They can and do do exactly as they wish. As I pointed out several times, Cheney responds with a “So what?” to queries about how the American public doesn’t support their policies.
If you think any of this is lost on the rest of the world, you are deluding yourself. They see in stark reality the difference between what we preach and what we do. Especially this is not lost on those nations who have suffered at our hands when we propped up vicious dictatorships to protect our “interests in the region.” It’s not wonder we are hated so far and wide. It’s not wonder our “exporting” of democracy is not welcome.
We can have all the rights we claim of free speech and free assembly and all that. Until we make the government respond to our desires, we have nothing at all but empty rhetoric. It’s one of the reasons that this despicable thing we call a media makes me sick. Our first line of getting out the truth is failing us all miserably. The bloggers on the internet are the last line of defense.
The bottom line is simple. We cannot honestly and truthfully impact all the moderates out there in the Muslim and “other” landscape until we start living what we preach. It’s time to BE a democracy instead of talking about it. When and if we do that, we might find a more listening world. Right now all they respect is our “given” ability to bomb the hell out of them. That’s not going to be enough in the end.