Thursday, January 06, 2005

Column on Sen Boxer & Democracy

Senator Boxer and American Democracy

Tibor R. Machan

California Senator Barbara Boxer, leading the effort of the Democrats in
Congress to hold up the confirmation of the Electoral College vote on
January 6, claimed that the absolutely core principle of America is
democracy. Because, she claimed, the last two presidential elections had
threatened the democratic process, it was necessary to call attention to
this fact in both the United States House and Senate by this delay.

Leave aside for a moment that every time Democrats lose an important
vote, they complain not that people didnÂ?t vote for them but that the vote
wasnÂ?t honest. This was true in California back in early 70s when
Democrats wanted to pass a law burdening the oil companies but lost. Bill
Press, who lead the effort, claimed widespread deception which mislead
voters. In Florida, back in 2000, it was all about a bias based on a
technical feature of the voting machines.

According to journalism Professor at U. C. Berkeley and Bard College,
Mark DannerÂ?writing for the January 13, 2005, issue of The New York Review
of Books, and author of The Road to Illegitimacy: One ReporterÂ?s
Adventures in the 2000 Florida Vote Recount (Melville House, 2004)Â?the
2004 presidential election went as it did not because of the difficulties
faced by poor voters in Ohio, which was BoxerÂ?s pitch. But he, too, had an
excuse. According to this sophisticated analyst, the basic trick the
Republicans perpetrated is to put the trumped up fear of death into too
many people. The concerted effort by the Right Wing to portray Bush as a
war president and Kerry as a wimp did the trick.

But it was a trick. Danner didnÂ?t discuss that more voters in America
agreed with Mr. Bush than with Mr. Kerry. He didnÂ?t debate the substance.
He merely pointed a finger, following the DemocratsÂ? refrain, at the
subversion of democracy.

For my money, democracy is a minor political virtue. It is completely
derivativeÂ?based on the far more important principles associated with the
American political tradition of the individualÂ?s right to liberty.
Democracy follows this rightÂ?one is free, so one is free to take part in
politics. But what is far more important is what should be part of
politics. And that is where constitutionalism comes into the picture.

Based on the American political tradition, a constitution spells out the
limits of politics, of political power, of what governments are permitted
to do. This is the revolutionary part of AmericaÂ?curtailment of the scope
of politics in a community.

In most of human history prior to the American Revolution (and in too
many countries today), the scope of governmentÂ?of politicsÂ?had been
virtually unlimited. There had been efforts to limit it, for instance, via
the Magna Carta, but the philosophy that defined the principles why
government must be limited in its scope of power had to await the American
FounderÂ?s adoption of classical liberal thinking, such as that of John
Locke, and the ensuing statement of this in the Declaration of

Senator Boxer just doesnÂ?t get it, unfortunately. It is this limitation
of the scope of government that is the centerpiece of AmericaÂ?s political
system, not democracy.

Strictly speaking, if the government is properly limited by a
constitution of individual rights, it doesnÂ?t even make all that much
practical difference whether democracy is in effect or, say, monarchy. If
the king has no power, there is no threat but if a democratically elected
Congress has unlimited power, democracy is uselessÂ?it can become a tyranny
as easily as a one party system can.

I am not one of those who thinks AmericaÂ?s experiment with individual
liberty has been a roaring success so far, quite the contrary. Slavery,
conscription, and innumerable other elements of that history have made
freedom only a dream rather than a reality for too many people. But this
had been understood by many and there had been a clear cut effort to
remedy matters. But with the likes of Boxer in the U. S. Senate any
further remedies are not very likely.