The folks to my right often seem to make great fuss and feathers over declaring that America is a republic, not a democracy. They puff up with professorial pedantry (hey, I thought that was my gig!) as if this simple observation is the cornerstone of all political wisdom. They recite their Adams, Hamilton, and Madison, and fulminate as if praise of democracy is blasphemy against the Pledge of Allegiance and other sacred American texts.
America is a republic, not a democracy. Sure. So what?
How does "republic, not a democracy!" change our approach to any practical question of policy? How does it help us frame our discourse about health insurance reform, taxes, or education? Whether the Senate is elected by state legislatures or we let the darn 17th Amendment contravene our Founding Fathers' intent and elect Senators ourselves, we still have to build roads and schools and fighter jets. Whoever is making the decisions, the great unwashed masses, the Senators, the philosopher kings, does "republic, not a democracy!" help anyone make a practical decision?
The only takeaway I get from the "republic, not a democracy!" chanters is that the chanters are elitists. Aren't they really saying that they, like the Founding Fathers, didn't trust the common citizen to make decisions of great import, and that we thus had to insulate the leaders from popular pressure? Aren't they saying that expecting our ruling elites to mingle with the masses at town hall meetings and take their cues for governing from the hysterical shouts of the mob is absurd, farce at best, tyranny at worst? Aren't they really saying that our leaders should be further removed from and less responsive to the momentary passions of the citizens? That's not what I was hearing at the Glenn Beck Madison picnic on Saturday... but that's what "republic, not a democracy!" appears to mean.
Constitutional scholarship is great. But esoteric points about political philosophy don't really help us solve problems... and if you aren't careful, they can knock the legs out from under your everyday citizen activism.
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