IT’S THE REPUBLIC, STUPID!
Assessments of the shift in electoral sentiments evident in the recent US legislative election would be incomplete without considering the individualist streak shared by many Americans.
To understand this, start with the names of the 2 major political parties in the US—the Democrats & Republicans—that encapsulate a crucial issue relating to modern political governance.
Indeed, this was the unifying issue behind the Tea Party movement whereby a group of small “r” republicans found common cause with big “R” Republicans in hopes the GOP would state their case for them.
This struggle can be traced to the debate among America’s Constitutional Fathers whose worries about “unlimited” Representative Democracy led them to lock it in the cage of a Constitutional Republic.
While concerned about autocracy, they also feared that the demands of the majority might lead to “mobocracy” that undermines individual liberty & rights. As it is, authority under Representative Democracy is derived from expressions of the “will of the majority” through elections.
The problem with majority rule can be seen in legislation & international interventions like those taken by US government as it repelled from the horrors of 9-11. While these measures had bipartisan and wide electoral support, they led to reduced liberty offered as a trade off for more security as well as tarnishing America’s credentials as a peace keeper.
And so America’s Constitutional Fathers envisioned a Constitutional Republic that constrained the majority from using elected governments to take steps that violate liberty & individuals rights. They created a “Rule of Law” to constrain democratic excesses with clear, stable, comprehensive & consistent legal standards covering public & private behavior.
Under such a system of Law, standards are enacted & administered by executive & legislative branches adhering to a fixed & transparent process. In turn, citizens, political officials & bureaucrats must obey fundamental laws enforced though an independent system of courts to adjudicate & oversee enforcement.
A Constitutional Republic involves carefully-defined, basic rights that protect citizens from abuse by governments or disproportionate impacts of influential minorities. And so the framers of America’s Constitution sought to place limits on the electorate’s ability to grant powers to government to achieve momentary or special-interest ends.
An important element of this involved an “enumeration of powers” so that the US Congress was limited as to what it could do even when compelled by the electorate. & the “separation of powers” set a boundary on actions that might be motivated by momentary impulses that could otherwise do significant long-term harm to the country.
As mentioned above, unconstrained Representative Democracy driven by momentary passions or prejudices can interfere with sober judgments about possible long-term consequences. Another abuse involves special interests exerting a disproportionate influence on the shaping of public policy. For example, “soft money” donations & Lobbying allows interest groups to influence political outcomes.
And so, a well-organized minority can muster a bloc of votes & financial support for politicians that support their causes. This can result in “minority rule” instead of the presumed outcome of “majority rule” that should be at the heart of representative democracy. Therefore, a Constitutional Republic provides a bulwark against manipulations of politics to serve special interests.
Unfortunately, nuances of “Representative Democracy” & a “Constitutional Republic” tend to be lost on politicians & pundits that intone about the importance of heeding the voice of the people. While voting rights should be honored & participation encouraged, the “Rule of Law” defined under constitutional limits should prevail over the “rule of law makers & lawyers”.
Regarding the recent US Congressional elections, amidst the heated passions & expressions of patriotism were disagreements over the obligations established in the US Constitution. This is supported by a survey taken by the Cato Institute indicating that “libertarian” attitudes are shared by about one-half of Tea Party activists. Most of the respondents stated a preference that “the less government the better” & that government should not promote “traditional values”.
Despite attempts by critics to taint them as Neanderthals, Tea Partiers avoided social issues to focus on economic instability that many believed arose from an erosion of Constitutional restraints.
A majority of Americans voters indicated that they wanted their system of government to be more than an algebraic concept with a sterile numerical outcome. Instead, they demanded that a process of compromise & agreement to find common ground for public actions that respect liberty & rights. And so, the recent electoral results can be interpreted as a triumph of Constitutional Democracy, an outcome that America’s Constitutional Fathers would applaud.