November 7, 2006

"Will a Democratic victory in today's election suddenly restore the integrity of America's political system...?"

Lawprof John O. McGinnis looks at two books that say American democracy is broken and thinks what he's seeing are two authors who don't like who's winning the elections these days:
In "Does American Democracy Still Work?" Alan Wolfe answers his own question with something equivalent to: if so, just barely and badly at that. For him, American democracy is in radical decline. Americans no longer get the information they need to make decisions properly, and politicians are no longer held accountable for the decisions they make in office. Emotional populist appeals, he believes, block out important facts....

In "Our Undemocratic Constitution," Sanford Levinson locates the flaws of the system in America's founding document itself--the Constitution....

He contends that the Electoral College, the Senate, the presence of two legislative chambers and the presidential veto all detract from "real" democracy. The Electoral College and the Senate give an unfair advantage to voters in less populous states; the requirement that both House and Senate approve of a bill makes it harder to fashion new law, and the veto makes it harder still, privileging the status quo.

Of course, the Constitution's design has a purpose--to make democracy republican and not "direct," to slow it down, lest wayward passions push the country too violently in one direction or another. Time seems to have vindicated the Framers' wisdom on such matters.... Mr. Levinson does not come close to showing why it would be prudent to rebuild this framework and put its redesign up for grabs.

16 comments:

DBrooks said...

This is the same old tripe we have seen from the left forever. They believe the only reason anyone would ever vote for a Republican/Conservative is because "Americans no longer get the information they need to make decisions properly." You have to love that word "properly." I suspect the authors of these books would be fine with the "broken" process if a Democrat was in the White House, and Democrats had comfortable margins in the House and Senate.

Fenrisulven said...

Has Levinson ever studied the fall of Athens? I may send him a few books.

Zeb Quinn said...

He makes a common mistake. The federal government was supposed to be by design a government of extremely limited powers, and when it acts, it's supposed to be ponderous, deliberative.

Shanna said...

The Electoral College and the Senate give an unfair advantage to voters in less populous states
Yeah, that's the whole point. It's not a bug, it's a feature :) Democracy in a Republic, people. The framers didn't want the whole government being run by New York and California.

This guy just doesn't like who's winning elections. The fact is, we have more access to real information on the candidates then ever before, should we chose to seek it.

Henry said...

For him [Alan Wolfe], American democracy is in radical decline.

Hmmm. Does he read blogs?

As for Levinson, he needs to read some Kenneth Arrow.

Levinson also misses the point that while the constitution may mathematically give more power to voters in small states, in practice, the seniority system gives the most power to the voters who don't change their minds much. In other words, the problem isn't the constitution, it's the parliamentarian practices of Congress. I wonder what Levinson thinks of the filibuster. Or the incumbency protection provided by campaign finance reform.

AJ Lynch said...

I agree with Dbrooks comment.

For example, I work with a far-left lib and she said just a couple weeks ago that people should have to pass a test before being allowed to vote!!!

Sheez, it reminds me of folks that blame the Iraq invasion on a compliant media- like the MSM had veto power or some such.

Scott Ferguson said...

I don't think that it's about people not getting enough information. I think that people realize that their choices are not that significant. The country's political culture has become completely divorced from the society of which it should be a product. We need a less ossified national party system. I'm not sure that a top-down solution is possible. The organic development of regional parties could help, but this hasn't been a phenomenon since the Civil War.

Bruce Hayden said...

One problem alluded to above with our current system is that, yes, the real power in Congress is by seniority. But seniority doesn't usually come because the Senators or Representatives were good, but rather because they were running for safe seats. Thus, you have Kennedy and Kerry representing Mass. in the Senate and Pelosi being pushed to give Hastings the chair of the Intelligence committee, because she had booted Wm. Jefferson from Ways and Means. All four come from ultra-safe districts, the two Representatives from racially gerrymandered districts that all but guarantee an African-American as their Representative, regardless of competence.

The amazing thing about Kerry is that with over 20 years in the Senate, he is still the junior Senator from Mass. Because Colorado is a swing state, I don't remember any Senators from here serving for anywhere near that long in my lifetime. Typical is either one and two terms.

The result is that Kennedy, Kerry, and Hastings have seniority, and no matter how competent the newly elected Congressmen (and women) are, they won't have such for years, if ever.

(Actually, despite his personal problems, Kennedy does do a good enough job that he would be reelected in a much less liberal environment than Mass. Kerry though is a different story).

Bruce Hayden said...

I agree that it isn't about the people not getting enough information, because far more is available than ever before. If you want it, it is easily accessible. My gripe is that too many still depend on the MSM to put the facts together for them, which opens them up to manipulation by such.

But realistically, that is most likely no worse, and probably better, than we have had through much of our history. Is is better to vote for someone because the MSM portrayed them positively and their opponent negatively? Or that the precinct boss told you how to vote? I would easily pick the former.

JorgXMcKie said...

AJLynch, I wouldn't mind a test before voting if it included solving a quadatic equation. 95% of the Lefties I know couldn't do it. ;->=

And I remember a prof of mine in 1995 pining for a 'unified' government (i.e. one party having both Congress and Pres), but I understand he hasn't been all that happy with it the past few years.

Anthony said...

I've posted the same sentiments elsewhere, that for liberals "Democracy" is defined as "We win".

If they do not, in fact, capture either house I have predicted that they will blame it all on Kerry (again) and thus avoid any nasty stuff like, perhaps, examining their basic philosophy of governance.

In 2004 I worked in a local government which was basically a Democratic HQ and they did that. All self-serving tripe about how "their message" was just too complex and (dare I say?) nuanced for all the "sheeple" to understand.

Which I guess they did act on since this cycle their sole message seems to be "Bush Sucks".

PatCA said...

Democracy has always been "broken." We are but poor humans, and democracy is the best system we can devise to govern ourselves with the least degree of oppression. As Churchill said, it's the worst form of government--except for all the others.

And it doesn't bother me in the least that turnout is low--who wants an uninformed ignoramus casting a vote? The people who do vote are likely also the most informed.

Per dbrooks, the left is just steamed that it keeps losing.

Anonymous said...

If they do not, in fact, capture either house I have predicted that they will blame it all on Kerry (again)...

I don't think they blamed it on Kerry the first time, and they won't this time, either. Bush "stole" both elections, and Democratic failure today could only mean "We wuz robbed."

Republicans can only win by cheating, don't you know?

Joe Baby said...

Hey, I'm just glad that Dems are complaining about not winning elections.

A few more underperformances in November and they'll want to do away with them entirely.

Cedarford said...

Joe Baby said...
Hey, I'm just glad that Dems are complaining about not winning elections.

A few more underperformances in November and they'll want to do away with them entirely.


Yeah, Joe Baby, you sure have this election astutely pegged as a Democratic underperformance.

*****************
Levinson has some great points in his book. Our Constitution, unlike what the Venerators believe - that is some Holy Parchment from Jesus or Allah whispered to the Divine Founders. And so perfect, so ordained by higher minds and even a divine guidance that it should never be changed....in fact...is a decent operating manual for a nation in the late 17th Century.

A decent operating manual, but one that other nations recognize must be updated and non-working features fixed with the passage of time - every 50-60 years. We compounded our woes by making the Amending process so difficult no one wants to do it except for glaring faults, and even those are unfixable in the days of partisan gridlock and Congressional "rules" that ensure things can be quietly sabotaged by a minority...much less changes that require a supermajority. Which is why activist judges have their unofficial constitutional conventions to "bring it up to date" with respect to new creative language interpretations and belief that the the "real" idea was to progress to no death penalty, gun bans, and gay anal sex.

Besides the fact that any DC decapitation strike that whacks a majority in Congress would likely
put America under military rule, we would have the possibility of Commander in Chief from the defeated Party. Anthrax Bush and Cheney, and Pelosi runs the country. We have archaic language and obsolete articles and clauses. No provision for a standing Army, only Navy. Amendments prohibiting the forced quartering of troops. And the lifetime aristocracy given to Federal judges - something every other nation and American States except Rhode Island have concluded was absolutely nuts.

The US Constitution is badly in need of fixing by a Convention. Some issues may not be resolvable, like the use of the vaguely written Commerce clause to take power from states, the confusing war powers and historically defunct verbiage about 'Letters of Marque" and "declaration of War" - (both long-banned). But enough of the rest is messed up enough it is obvious what language needs to be brought 220 years into the future, and what parts of the Constitution need clarification that all can agree on, and the very nature of the modern world mandates we create a better continuity of government and clear up Founding Father garbled lines of authority between the 3 Federal branches, and the branches and the States.

Cedarford said...

Erratum - should be late 18th Century. You know - The powdered wig and courtier era. Not the 17th Century - the religious war and late feudal era.