Friday, January 20, 2012

small-d democrat

small-d democrat
A democrat, that is, a person who holds democratic views; not necessarily someone who is a member of a country's "Democratic Party".

The voter roll at my local polling location has a capital D next to my name, but I may be more of a small-d democrat. I’m not the only one. Not so long ago the President of the United States felt much the same way,

"As a democrat, as a person who believes in democracy -- a Republican democrat, I might add -- as someone who believes that everybody has a right to live in a free society. . . January, 2005, is an extraordinary month." George W. Bush

I was outraged when my fellow small-d democrat lead my nation into a decade long war. I rejoiced when he worked accomplished landmark victories in the fight against AIDs in Africa. And in between I felt rather in different. But recently I have found my self-labeled as capital-D democrat more and more. My support for the current president has forced me to suffer through a great deal of naming calling. From ‘Liberal,’ ‘Progressive,’ to even ‘Socialist’ and ‘Communist’ sometimes all in the same sentence. According to the dictionary those are to word that shouldn’t even appear side by side. And that is the problem. Suddenly my support of a candidate or my party affiliation has become more defining to who I am then my actually beliefs, my actions, or who I actually vote for.  I have awoken to find my self in a society, where no matter your title, you are forced to be either for government or against government.

This is what my Intro to Philosophy professor Schlitz would have classified as a false dichotomy. We are presented with a choice between to respectively exclusive options; either we dismantle the government or allow it to expand with out check. Clearly there are other options. But where do we begin? How about with a question posed by Ezra Klein during the 2010 midterms? Would progressives being willing to sacrifice many of their political gains from Gay rights to the most recent Health Care Reform Act in the face of a new Republican Majority? His answer is critical to defining a small-d democrat and the choices they make about how we should be governed. Even though a individual like my self may strongly support a piece of legislation, it is in the best interest of the legislative process that the majority still commands the power needed to reverse past legislation. In 2010 we saw a Republican/Tea Party take over of congress on the promise or repeal. No such repeal came to be. Although we are left to ask why the new majority chose to focus its new mandate on debt ceilings and endless debates about ‘class warfare’ when it could have clearly have brought repeal to the floor of at least the House? This is because when faced with the threat of filibuster political actors fail to act in accordance to the wishes of the majority and by doing so muddy the waters of political responsibility. As Klein states:

“Strengthening that crucial relationship between cause (one party got elected) and effect (they passed bills) is not only better from the perspective of assuring action on problems. It's also a road to a better-informed citizenry that knows who to blame, and who to reward, for the condition of the country and the performance of the most recent Congress.” Ezra Klein[1]

And this brings me to an Anonymous article written in 1962. The essence of the article is that in the United States we have what the author refers to as capital-D democracy. This is a system where individuals elect representatives and by such process the minority is forced to accept the edicts of the majority as law.[2] This is placed in stark opposition to what could be called small-d democracy or ‘economic democracy.’ Individuals go into the market place, and by spending their money they receive products and services according to their direct wishes. In essence no matter how large a majority selects Coke over Pepsi those who choose Pepsi still get to drink Pepsi.

This is the fundamental problem that arises with defining some people as small-d democrats and others as ‘Democrats.’ It draws a stark black and white distinction between to conceptions of what it means to adopt a democratic system whether it is economic or political. Our anonymous friend fails to recognize the hidden costs buying a product like Coke. These include economic, health, and social side effects not accounted for in the actual monetary cost of a can or bottle of Coke. It also assumes that people act as static agents, that their desire to be ruled by on individual over another dose not change with over time.  This has been clearly proven wrong on countless occasions like that of the 10’ congressional elections. In essence the two stark conceptions of democracy presented by our anonymous friend represent yet another false dichotomy within American politics.

There is one thing we can be sure of in all of this. That our economic system is best served when individuals are allowed to make economic decisions with as little out side influence as possible. But without the protections generated by the political majority there would be no freedom in the market place. The monopolies once held by Standard Oil and Carnegie Steel proved that unregulated market places do not maximize individual liberty. Nor is it possible to maintain an efficient economic system with out a universal form of currency to insure fair trade of surplus goods and services. A government operated by majority consent is necessary to maintain the market place just as the market place is necessary to maintain the liberties protected by government.

The increasing use of the language of class warfare illustrates this point further. Not so long ago a phrase like ‘class warfare’ went under a more accurate synonym  ‘economic democracy’ during the Roosevelt years. Geoffrey Nurnberg in a 2005 commentary on ‘Fresh Air’ demonstrated this quantitatively by pointing out that the number of occurrences of ‘economic democracy,’ with in the pages of the Times, dropped from hundred and sixty times over the course of the 40’s to less the twenty times in the 90’s.[3] Politicians, it seems in general, have chosen to seek out new and more provocative forums of political rhetoric rather then actually tackle the issue of what a democratic economy should actually look like. This is a fundamental issue for all of us, small d-democrat or not. The Constitution provided for us a system of making decisions and a series of basic protections, check and balances, to restrain government from over stepping its boundaries. It did not, nor did or our founding fathers leave us with a good answer as to how to prevent the wealth of our nation from gathering in the hands of the few. The top one percent of individuals controls 34 percent of the nation’s wealth. The next 19 percent of individuals control over half. That means the other 80 percent are left to get by on less then a quarter of the nations wealth.[4]

This is not democratic. Although as a small d-democrat I have no interest in some socialist redistribution of wealth. I also would not see the top percent of Americans, who have the most to benefit from the American economy, protected and supported by our national infrastructure, health care systems, universities and armed forces be allowed to go with out paying their fair share. The problem is many Democrats and Republicans would. And as someone who refuses to pick a political party or stand idle while our political system grinds to a stand still are simply left to keep living. Keep voting, working, writing, playing, loving, laughing, and refusing to allow other to dictate or limit our choices. We are left to keep democracy alive in our hearts and our personal lives and to confront every cynic who tells us the end of our nation is nigh or that we must chose between anarchy or domination. These are not the choices. The choices are with out limit. We decide what we are and what we will become.



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