Representative Democracy Doesn’t Work Anymore

posted Aug 6, 2012, 5:30 PM by Steven Bailey   [ updated Aug 6, 2012, 5:30 PM ]

In 1776 representative democracy marked a huge advance over monarchy. It had its detractors, Torys who believed the people too stupid or lazy to make reasonable decisions. Town meetings gave local government direct contact with its citizens. The federal government was so small tariffs were its sole source of income. The federal bureaucracy fit into the old executive office building which now houses a fraction of the president’s staff.

Today representative democracy’s ambiguity threatens to derail us. Liberals claim seventy six percent of voters support a single payer health system at the same time conservative talking heads see the numbers the other way round. Representatives when they campaign say any number of things which makes it impossible, should they be elected, to know what their constituents want. My representative, Jim Himes, ran as an anti-war candicate but he supported the supplemental appropriation for increasing troops in Afghanistan. All told he does not seem all that different from the Republican, Chris Shays, he replaced. This is not necessarily dishonesty on Himes part. Not knowing what his constituents want, he may succumb to the administration’s blandishments of a new project in his district or he may accept contributions from lobbyists which is not illegal although perhaps it should be.

So what are we the people to do? We don’t trust each other enough to take aggressive action. No one wants to refuse to pay his or her taxes thinking it’s a movement only to find he stands alone. Demonstrations like million people marches don’t work. What’s more they don’t edify in that they reveal nothing about the hundreds of millions who did not march. Finally, most people are not inclined to demonstrate. They prefer to hope this, too, shall pass. As for third, fourth, fifth or sixth parties they can’t work unless their potential is demonstrated beforehand especially these days when a handful decides some elections. The vote for Nader in Florida made it possible for the Repubs to hand the election to George Bush.

The internet may provide a way out. Say every community (cities present a problem of scale but are doable) puts their checkbooks on line. This might interest enough townspeople to attract them to the site. The site itself would be standard so a citizen of one town can get around a neighboring town’s site. This provides opportunities to compare one town’s answers to common questions. (i.e. per pupil costs, extent of police and fire coverage etc.)
Topics other than taxes may be more attractive. The point is we must organize town by town.

Once we get a network of cities and towns established, (that’s difficult and expensive what with servers and all), we can try organizing local demonstrations to occur on the same day and time, something that indicates the extent of popular interest. I lean towards local talent shows because thinking about what event I might join, that’s what I came up with. If, across the nation, we get twenty million people watching local talent shows at the same time, we might be able to create a political party worth its name. I suggest talent shows because they’re fun; they can be video taped and archived; and they step away from individualism towards a sense of community.

The fly in the ointment is our inability to have meaningful discussions on the internet amongst millions of people. I lean towards computer moderated discussions with the computer culling out repetition or irrelevancies like I’m having cookies and coffee this AM. I know cookies and coffee puts a human face on things and maybe it is necessary, but we should think about what we are trying to accomplish and cooperate to reach our end. We can have a Wikipedia type process to accumulate all the information we find about health care or other subjects. We need to attract sufficient numbers to persuade the police and military to join rather than fight us. We need to get huge numbers of people on the same page. The question is how to do it.