Thursday, July 12, 2012

Totalitarian Democracy

Americans celebrated the 236th signing of the Declaration of Independence last week with traditional bar-b-que’s, time off from work, and visiting with family and friends.  Parades and fireworks marked the occasion for hundreds of towns and cities across the land.  It’s generally a non-religious, non-political holiday that celebrates the principals and ideals of freedom.  So why would anybody vote for anything but American-style democracy?

The PRI party won the Presidential election in Mexico last week.  The party had been out of power for two cycles, 12 years.  The Democratic Revolutionary Party has filed a legal challenge after the recount confirmed their loss, claiming the party paid people to vote. They’re unlikely to prevail.  Prior to their ouster in 2000 the PRI ruled Mexico for 71 years .
Vladimir Putin was reelected President of Russia in March.  Opposition parties have claimed fraud and more than 20,000 people protested the inauguration.  He took office shortly after the vote and there have been few reported skirmishes since then. 
Leaders who rule with the proverbial iron fist have the base support of their people since a majority voted for them.  There is something calming about a “decider” who has the confidence to dictate how things should be.  The appearance (or the reality) of indecisiveness is perceived as weakness.  One only needs to look at how President Carter is remembered for his handling of the Iranian Hostage crisis The release of the hostages happened in the first minutes after President Reagan’s took office.  Carter couldn’t do it in 444 days, Reagan did it by just taking the oath…that's the mythology from the time.  The reality is, of course, that their release was the result of months of work by Carter’s team but Reagan's own image and PR machine made a much more interesting and commpelling narrative.
President Obama has mirrored George W. Bush in providing unapologetic, intrusive and far reaching policies to protect America from terrorists.  Bush began two major military conflicts that Obama has continued, albeit modifying the commitment in Iraq downward in favor of a larger buildup in Afghanistan.  President Obama, even more than his predecessor, uses an expansive definition of the role of “Commander in Chief.”  He even reviews and personally authorizes the killing of those he alone believes are enemies or threats without utilizing any Rule of Law.   
Jeffersonian Democracy is the bedrock of what Americans believe freedom is:  civic duty, individual rights and the power of the people over the corruption of aristocracy.  These principles are realized via three separate but theoretically equal branches of government that follow strict constitutional guidelines in establishing policy.    Its opposite is totalitarianism - where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life. 

The United States has the same totalitarian streak as those we criticize.  Democracy as envisioned by Thomas Jefferson and the other founders is messy.  For democracy to work representatives must collaborate and compromise for the common good and no one person can make decisions for the rest.  In an unstable world the democratic process will continue to be used to elect those who will undermine it.  It’s totalitarian democracy at work.  As we celebrate freedom we should work to insure it actually exists.

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