Tuesday, November 2, 2010

This ain't no [direct] democracy ...

"Force without wisdom falls on its own weight."

-- Horace

I can't begin to even describe the number of misconceptions people of the world have about the United States.  And I can understand why those who don't live in this country would not have an adequate understanding of this country.  But what puzzles me is how Americans have all sorts of misconeptions about their own form of government.

Americans falsely believe a number of fallacies about this country, like:  "English is the official language," "in America, I'm free to do what I want," or "Christianity is the official religion."  But my favorite ... "we live in a democracy!"  Well, sort of.  It is a democracy, but not in the way people realize. 

The United States is a republic, a government where we choose people who represent us and make decisions for the population.  Indirectly, citizens believe the federal government should cater to their wants.  Approval ratings for President Obama hover in the mid 40s, while Congress has an abysmal rating of 26%.  This is a clear sign that people are not happy.  Whatever the people demand, the government should do, right? 

To think in such a manner is undercutting the structure and purpose of the national government.  Of the structures in the three branches of the government, only the House of Representatives was originally directly elected by the people.  That fact, coupled with short, two year terms, meant the House was supposed to be responsive to the will of the people.

The Senate was originally chosen by state legislatures, as to provide states with a check against the national government.  This combined with their six year terms allowed for them to have insulation from public opinion.  This body was created in such a way to represent state interests, not the will of the people.

The Supreme Court's members were appointed by the President (with Senate confirmation) and were kept out of the hands of the people because the people need not have influence or sway over the way the law should be interpreted. 

Furthermore, the President of the United States is not chosen directly by the people.  Votes cast by citizens serve as a signal to members of the Electoral College on how to vote.  They, in turn, actually choose the President.  Members of the Electoral College serve as a bulwark against the mob mentality that could potentially break out in the country.  In fact, this is precisely why the Electoral College is needed (and to help smaller states have more value). 

The men who created the Constitution and our system of government realized the passions of citizens may sometimes overwhelm their ability to make the right choices (see Federalist number #51 for more).  This is one reason we do not have a direct democracy.  So gripe to your district's House representative if you like or vote them out of office, but as for the other government leaders, quit complaining.  They have absolutely no imperative or mandate stating they must listen to what the people want. 

Members of our government are required to do what is right, not what is popular. Our citizens today are no more educated on the issues and government than they were over 200 years ago. On certain occasions, people need to be saved from themselves.

When Americans vote today, many of them will unwisely do so out of anger.  They believe President Obama is the cause of their problems.  Granted, being president also means being the focal point of success or failure of the nation, even if it isn't his doing.  However, the choices our citizens make today aren't for or against President Obama, no matter how much they'd like to believe otherwise.  These choices are for the Senate and the House, the men and women who represent and serve your state or district.  Choose wisely.


  1. well said and i couldnt agree with you more
    it is also worth noting that the government benefits from this ignorance
    if people believe they have immediate and direct influence (democracy), then any action done by the government apppears to them to be the will of the people. to educate the people would be to inform them that we are really a republic. i wonder how that would change the country's politics?

  2. The current system of electing the president ensures that the candidates, after the primaries, do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all rule (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), under which all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on only a handful of closely divided "battleground" states and their voters. In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign events and ad money in just six states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). 19 of the 22 smallest and medium-small states (with less than 7 electoral college votes) were not among them. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). In 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states; over 80% in nine states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states, and candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states.

    Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections.

  3. In 1789, in the nation's first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, Only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote. Later, state laws gave the people the right to vote for President in all 50 states.

    The current system does not provide some kind of check on the "mobs." There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector's own political party. The electors are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

    If a Democratic presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state's dedicated Democratic party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. If a Republican presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state's dedicated Republican party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. The winner of the presidential election is the candidate who collects 270 votes from Electoral College voters from among the winning party's dedicated activists.

  4. Thank you toto. Everything you stated is accurate, however I think you're missing the point.

    The point being, the government doesn't owe the people any special favors just because the people are whiny. As for the Electoral College, each state has their own method for determining who casts electoral votes, however this practice has been distorted over the years (similar to how the 17th amendment harmed the United States Senate).

    Yet, if those loyal party members have a change of heart, they can cast an electoral vote in whatever way they choose (even though some states require by law for the electoral votes to go to the winning candidate, which also defeats the purpose of the Electoral College).