American Civics and Politics on flash cards!
by Charlie Leck
One of the little gifts in my Christmas stocking this year was a set of Knowledge Cards on Government and Civics (published by Pomegranate with copyrighted text by Alan Bisbort). I guess Santa thinks I need a brush up on my civics.
Thanks, Santa. I found myself flipping through them this morning while a pot of poultry stock began cooking on top of the range – the turkey carcass from Thanksgiving, heavily seasoned and getting ready to become the base for some wonderful vegetable soup.
I came upon the card labeled Republican Democracy and I felt very comfortable when I flipped it over and began reading.
Nevertheless, it reminded me of something very important that American citizens should really understand; that is, that our system of government here in the United States is not (not, mind you) a pure democracy. When the founding fathers of this extraordinary nation joined in debate about how our government should be organized, they were nearly unanimous in their opposition to a pure democracy and, instead, finally decided that the nation would be established as a Republic.
The people of California should take note; for they are doing out there exactly what the brilliant men who established our government were afraid might happen under a pure democracy. Referendums that create instant law or popular amendments to the constitution are not sensible.
Why is law by voter referendum foolish?
The California system is foolish for several reasons. Our founding fathers must be rolling over in their graves as a result of what they do in California – like holding a popular vote on a reasoned decision by its own state supreme court and overturning that decision.
This is why we elect legislative bodies, choosing people who are reasonable and bright. These bodies are supposed to conduct debate over potential governing law. These are people qualified to think through such issues and study in depth the various reasons why one might pass such a law or reject it.
Our national constitution makes it very difficult for our Constitution to be amended. Any such proposal needs to be ratified by the legislative bodies in 38 of the 50 states. Notice, the Constitution was written in such a way that ratification in these states was not put up for popular vote.
Pure democracy runs amuck of problems all the time. Making laws through the direct vote of the people limits law to what might be popular at a given moment.
“Republican democracy originated as an ideal in the writings of Tacitus, Cicero, and Plutarch, who used the Roman republic as their model. It was updated during the Renaissance by Machiavelli. Egalitarianism, or pure democracy, on the other hand, goes back to ancient Greek civilization and philosophers, equally influential on the thinking of the Founding Fathers. The tensions between these two ideals have helped to shape the American government.”I think Bisport doesn’t emphasize enough the volume of opposition that came out of the early constitutional debates against pure democracy. Pure, unbridled democracy was quite feared by the authors of the Constitution. They felt it could lead to anarchy. It is much closer to where the Libertarian movement stands today. Libertarianism scares the hell out of me.
Alterations to the Constitution and the creation of law needs to be reasoned and debated and thought about. No one body – not even the Congress – would be able to make law without a process of checks and balances by the other branches of government. The Chief Executive would have the opportunity to veto legislation and send it back for a vote of more than just the majority of the legislative branch. To override such action by the President, the legislative branch would need to convince two-thirds of its body to vote for the law.
Finally, the Judicial Branch of our government, when appealed to, might strike new legislation from the books because it is in opposition to the spirit and intention of our Constitution
No straight, popular vote of any body, including the people themselves, could be unbridled to run free under such a system. The checks and balances our Founding Fathers created and set in place in our Republican Democracy are nothing short of ingenious.
When and if anyone in your state argues to create a system similar to the California instant referendum to establish law, remind people about Republicanism and why our nation was established as a Republic rather than as a Democracy.
Let me conclude this way. I have some wonderful neighbors. I have a lovely collection of friends all over the state of Minnesota. Yet, I wouldn’t want these folks making legislative decisions for me – not on your life… or mine!
P.S. Going to see the movie, Valkerei, tonight. I'm not quite sure just why. I'll let you know a bit about it tomorrow. I'm not hopeful.