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What’s In a Name?

It is too easy to look at politics today and say it is “us” versus “them” and it doesn’t matter who “they” are. It is too easy to forget that names have meaning. What am I talking about? I am talking about the Democratic and the Republican Parties. Everyone who is even dimly aware that the United States has a political system should know that they are the two principal political parties who field most of the candidates who become our representatives in government. But how often do you think about the names of the parties?

The Democratic Party is the party of democracy. Democracy is a Greek word; ‘demos’ means people and ‘cracy’ means rule, so democracy is ‘rule by the people’. On the face of it, this seems great. Who doesn’t want rule by the people? Well I don’t, because I am an inheritor of the great American tradition of neither trusting the government nor the people it rules over. The Founding Fathers didn’t set up a democracy, nor did they want one, indeed, they feared democracy as much as they feared monarchy. They understood that at the end of the day tyranny is tyranny regardless of whether it is a tyranny of one or a tyranny of the majority.

As Thomas Jefferson said “Democracy is merely mob rule where 51% of the people can take away the rights of the other 49.”

This is why the Democratic Party is not the party of the Founding Fathers. They not only trust government and the use of its power (hence their unquenchable desire to expand the government and its power), but they want more democracy. They want more people to vote, they want more things to be decided by voters, and they despise when the will of the people can be counteracted by unelected bodies (the epitome of which is the Supreme Court). Thus they want the Constitution to be a “living document” something with no fixed meaning so that whatever is the order of the day is constitutional. In fact, I suspect many Democrats would be happy to have what Britain has: an unwritten constitution where anything that Parliament passes (and is signed by the Monarch) is automatically constitutional.

Democrats want a streamlined lawmaking process because they want to constantly pass laws. This is in keeping with their larger view of the world: that it can be perfected and it can be perfected through legislation. Of course the great flaw in their thinking is: if the people they rule are so stupid that laws need to be passed to enable the government to take care of the people, why are those people responsible enough to decide who should run the country? But I digress.

So why do I oppose democracy? Because it is dangerous. What are the dangers of democracy? Democracy is dangerous because it appeals to the lowest common denominator. It favors simplistic arguments based on imagery, emotion, and catchphrases. Why should people vote for a Democrat? Because he cares about you, he wants to give you free stuff, and he is on the “right side of history” (a phrase that has recently come into vogue and which I, as a budding historian, despise).

A democracy is dangerous because it means putting the reins of government in the hand of an easily swayed, poorly informed mass of people who really have no business in deciding who should govern the country. Libertarians do not want the government to run their lives for them, and conservatives do not want them to decided who runs the government.

So if the Democrats want more democracy, does that mean Republicans want less? Well, sort of.

Republicans want a limit on democracy. They see democracy as good in moderation, for it allows a government to rule with consent of the governed, but too much democracy is bad for the reasons I expounded upon earlier. We want a limit to democracy and we see that limit as being perfectly balanced in the Constitution. It allows for the people to have representation in government, but the government is independent of the fickle mood swings of the populace.

Benjamin Franklin walked out of the Constitutional Convention debates one day and was accosted by a citizen, who demanded to know what kind of government had been created. Dr. Franklin responded: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

What we were given in our Constitution was a republic, and that is why the conservative party is called the Republican Party: it is the party that wants to conserve the Republic. And it is the Republican Party who have been the best (or the least worst) keepers of that Republic since about 1964.

-SL

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