Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Voice of America

One of the arguments that I hear with increasing frequency these days is that we should let the voice of the American people be heard. While in principle this sounds good, in reality it is a very bad idea. If you are looking for proof, you need to look no further than the Nov 2 election (at least pending the results of independent investigations into allegations of widespread electoral fraud.)

Among the reasons why a republic is preferable, at least in theory, to direct democracy, is the premise that our elected officials are supposed to make smarter and more informed choices than the majority of the people that elect them. Our representatives are, ideally, well-educated individuals, endowed with a mixture of exceptional common sense and an uncommon ability to see beyond the present, well into the future, what's good for us and for our country. They should have great listening-skills, above-average empathy, intelligence, and creativity. They should be great problem-solvers, capable mediators, and skilled decision-makers. Unfortunately, in many cases, they are fairly short-sighted individuals, who look no further than the next election, and whose only interest often lies in the financial advancement of themselves and of a few, select cronies. The current president of the United States, being the supreme politician in the land, is the most extreme example of this type of politician.

The other and perhaps the biggest reason why a republic is preferable to direct democracy is the fact that the majority is often catastrophically wrong, and history is rife of examples of this simple but undeniable truth. In recent times, there have been a few well-publicized examples: the majority of Americans believes that there was a sure tie between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. The majority of Germans elected Hitler to power. The majority of Supreme Court Justices believed it was right to stop the Florida recount in 2000. The majority of Galileo’s colleagues believed at the time that his theories were wrong; even the Church condemned his theories as heresy. The list goes on and on. So, with an eye on current affairs, who is to say that the majority is right on the right of same‑sex couples to contract civil unions? In this case, as in the case of the criminalization of drug use, it may very well be that the majority is indeed wrong.

Now, I do not know for a fact that the majority of politicians is in favor of legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples. Nonetheless, it is unconscionable and repugnant that our elected officials refuse to take a stand on the issue, and that they have chosen to abdicate their responsibility to make a decision, good or bad, to “we the people.” Sometimes the courage to stand up for what you believe in comes at a high personal cost, and flies in the face of the majority (which, by the way, is not synonymous with reason.) God forbid that a congressman should stand up for his personal beliefs and for the conviction that what the majority sees as wrong now would lead to progress down the path of this nation! This class of spineless, selfish politicians would rather let the people decide, in the form of “ballot initiatives” (referenda, really, but most people are not even smart enough to know that,) but only on those things that involve putting their congressman’s re‑election in jeopardy.

But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that “we the people” are indeed smart enough to know: Why not give us a chance then to vote on other, more significant matters? For example, the importation of cheap, safe, and foreign (Canadian, not Sudanese) drugs? And when are we going to see a referendum on the obligation of the government to pursue corporate tax evasion, with stiff penalties for those who certify fraudulent tax returns or recommend the use of well known tax loopholes to cheat the system? When, again, will the fateful day come when people are called to express themselves on the abolition of corporate welfare? The answer, you know it, is never. In such cases, our elected officials are perfectly capable of doing the "right" thing. In the meantime, let us rejoice in the fact that we can all democratically join forces to deny same-sex couples their right to pursue their happiness, without spoiling anyone else’s, all people being created equal.

Oh, I almost forgot! When we go to the polls to ban same-sex marriages, let’s not forget to do it in the name of Christian values and morals that apply only to sexual preferences but not to trifling matters, such as when or why a president should decide to bring war and destruction to other people, for pretexts as fickle as the wind.

For all it matters, this is what’s left of the voice of America.

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