Democratic Republicanism in Early America

There was much debate and confusion around various terms, in early America.

The word ‘democracy’ wasn’t used on a regular basis at the time of the American Revolution, even as the ideal of it was very much in the air. Instead, the word ‘republic’ was used by most people back then to refer to democracy. But some of the founding fathers such as Thomas Paine avoided such confusion and made it clear beyond any doubt by speaking directly of ‘democracy’. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the first founding document and 3rd president, formed a political party with both ‘democratic’ and ‘republican’ in the name, demonstrating that no conflict was seen between the two terms.

The reason ‘democracy’ doesn’t come up in founding documents is that the word is too specific, although it gets alluded to when speaking of “the People” since democracy is literally “people power”. Jefferson, in writing the Declaration of Independence, was particularly clever in avoiding most language that evoked meaning that was too ideologically singular and obvious (e.g., he effectively used rhetoric to avoid the divisive debates for and against belief in natural law). That is because the founding documents were meant to unite a diverse group of people with diverse opinions. Such a vague and ambiguous word as ‘republic’ could mean almost anything to anyone and so was an easy way to paper over disagreements and differing visions. If more specific language was used that made absolutely clear what they were actually talking about, it would have led to endless conflict, dooming the American experiment from the start.

Yet it was obvious from pamphlets and letters that many American founders and revolutionaries wanted democracy, in whole or part, to the degree they had any understanding of it. Some preferred a civic democracy with some basic social democratic elements and civil rights, while others (mostly Anti-Federalists) pushed for more directly democratic forms of self-governance. The first American constitution, the Articles of Confederation, was clearly a democratic document with self-governance greatly emphasized. Even among those who were wary of democracy and spoke out against it, they nonetheless regularly used democratic rhetoric (invoking democratic ideals, principles, and values) because democracy was a major reason why so many fought the revolution in the first place. If not for democracy, there was little justification for and relevance in starting a new country, beyond a self-serving power grab by a new ruling elite.

Without assuming that large number of those early Americans had democracy in mind, their speaking of a republic makes no sense. And that is a genuine possibility for at least some of them, as they weren’t always clear in their own minds about what they did and didn’t mean. To be technical (according to even the common understanding from the 1700s), a country either is a democratic republic or a non-democratic republic. The variety of non-democratic republics would include what today we’d call theocracy, fascism, communism, etc. It is a bit uncertain exactly what kind of republic various early Americans envisioned, but one thing is certain: There was immense overlap and conflation between democracy and republicanism in the early American mind. This was the battleground of the fight between Federalists and Anti-Federalists (or to be more accurate, between pseudo-Federalists and real Federalists).

As a label, stating something is a republic says nothing at all about what kind of government it is. All that it says is what a government isn’t, that is to say it isn’t a monarchy, although there were even those who argued for republican monarchy with an elective king which is even more confused and so the king theoretically would serve the citizenry that democratically elected him. Even some of the Federalists talked about this possibility of republic with elements of a monarchy, strange as it seems to modern Americans. This is what the Anti-Federalists worried about.

Projecting our modern ideological biases onto the past is the opposite of helpful. The earliest American democrats were, by definition, republicans. And most of the earliest American republicans were heavily influenced by democratic political philosophy, even when they denounced it while co-opting it. There was no way to avoid the democratic promise of the American Revolution and the founding documents. Without that promise, we Americans would still be British. That promise remains, yet unfulfilled. The seed of an ideal is hard to kill once planted.

Still, bright ideals cast dark shadows. And the reactionary authoritarianism of the counter-revolutionaries was a powerful force. It is an enemy we still fight. The revolution never ended.

* * *

Democracy Denied: The Untold Story
by Arthur D. Robbins
Kindle Locations 2862-2929

Fascism has been defined as “an authoritarian political ideology (generally tied to a mass movement) that considers individual and other societal interests inferior to the needs of the state, and seeks to forge a type of national unity, usually based on ethnic, religious, cultural, or racial attributes.”[ 130] If there is a significant difference between fascism thus defined and the society enunciated in Plato’s Republic,[ 131] in which the state is supreme and submission to a warrior class is the highest virtue, I fail to detect it. [132] What is noteworthy is that Plato’s Republic is probably the most widely known and widely read of political texts, certainly in the United States, and that the word “republic” has come to be associated with democracy and a wholesome and free way of life in which individual self-expression is a centerpiece.

To further appreciate the difficulty that exists in trying to attach specific meaning to the word “republic,” one need only consult the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.[ 133] There one will find a long list of republics divided by period and type. As of this writing, there are five listings by period (Antiquity, Middle Ages and Renaissance, Early Modern, 19th Century, and 20th Century and Later), encompassing 90 separate republics covered in Wikipedia. The list of republic types is broken down into eight categories (Unitary Republics, Federal Republics, Confederal Republics, Arab Republics, Islamic Republics, Democratic Republics, Socialist Republics, and People’s Republics), with a total of 226 entries. There is some overlap between the lists, but one is still left with roughly 300 republics— and roughly 300 ideas of what, exactly, constitutes a republic.

One might reasonably wonder what useful meaning the word “republic” can possibly have when applied in such diverse political contexts. The word— from “res publica,” an expression of Roman (i.e., Latin) origin— might indeed apply to the Roman Republic, but how can it have any meaning when applied to ancient Athens, which had a radically different form of government existing in roughly the same time frame, and where res publica would have no meaning whatsoever?

Let us recall what was going on in Rome in the time of the Republic. Defined as the period from the expulsion of the Etruscan kings (509 B.C.) until Julius Caesar’s elevation to dictator for life (44 B.C.),[ 134] the Roman Republic covered a span of close to five hundred years in which Rome was free of despotism. The title rex was forbidden. Anyone taking on kingly airs might be killed on sight. The state of affairs that prevailed during this period reflects the essence of the word “republic”: a condition— freedom from the tyranny of one-man rule— and not a form of government. In fact, The American Heritage College Dictionary offers the following as its first definition for republic: “A political order not headed by a monarch.”

[…] John Adams (1735– 1826), second President of the United States and one of the prime movers behind the U.S. Constitution, wrote a three-volume study of government entitled Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (published in 1787), in which he relies on the writings of Cicero as his guide in applying Roman principles to American government.[ 136] From Cicero he learned the importance of mixed governments,”[ 137] that is, governments formed from a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. According to this line of reasoning, a republic is a non-monarchy in which there are monarchic, aristocratic, and democratic elements. For me, this is confusing. Why, if one had just shed blood in unburdening oneself of monarchy, with a full understanding of just how pernicious such a form of government can be, would one then think it wise or desirable to voluntarily incorporate some form of monarchy into one’s new “republican” government? If the word “republic” has any meaning at all, it means freedom from monarchy.

The problem with establishing a republic in the United States was that the word had no fixed meaning to the very people who were attempting to apply it. In Federalist No. 6, Alexander Hamilton says, “Sparta, Athens, Rome and Carthage were all republics”( F.P., No. 6, 57). Of the four mentioned, Rome is probably the only one that even partially qualifies according to Madison’s definition from Federalist No. 10 (noted earlier): “a government in which the scheme of representation takes place,” in which government is delegated “to a small number of citizens elected by the rest” (ibid, No. 10, 81-82).

Madison himself acknowledges that there is a “confounding of a republic with a democracy” and that people apply “to the former reasons drawn from the nature of the latter ”( ibid., No. 14, 100). He later points out that were one trying to define “republic” based on existing examples, one would be at a loss to determine the common elements. He then goes on to contrast the governments of Holland, Venice, Poland, and England, all allegedly republics, concluding, “These examples … are nearly as dissimilar to each other as to a genuine republic” and show “the extreme inaccuracy with which the term has been used in political disquisitions.”( ibid., No. 39, 241).

Thomas Paine offers a different viewpoint: “What is now called a republic, is not any particular form of government. It is wholly characteristical [sic] of the purport, matter, or object for which government ought to be instituted, and on which it is to be employed, res-publica, the public affairs or the public good” (Paine, 369) (italics in the original). In other words, as Paine sees it, “res-publica” describes the subject matter of government, not its form.

Given all the confusion about the most basic issues relating to the meaning of “republic,” what is one to do? Perhaps the wisest course would be to abandon the term altogether in discussions of government. Let us grant the word has important historical meaning and some rhetorical appeal. “Vive la Republique!” can certainly mean thank God we are free of the tyranny of one-man, hereditary rule. That surely is the sense the word had in early Rome, in the early days of the United States, and in some if not all of the French and Italian republics. Thus understood, “republic” refers to a condition— freedom from monarchy— not a form of government.

* * *

Roger Williams and American Democracy
US: Republic & Democracy
 (part two and three)
Democracy: Rhetoric & Reality
Pursuit of Happiness and Consent of the Governed
The Radicalism of The Articles of Confederation
The Vague and Ambiguous US Constitution
Wickedness of Civilization & the Role of Government
Spirit of ’76
A Truly Free People
Nature’s God and American Radicalism
What and who is America?
Thomas Paine and the Promise of America
About The American Crisis No. III
Feeding Strays: Hazlitt on Malthus
Inconsistency of Burkean Conservatism
American Paternalism, Honor and Manhood
Revolutionary Class War: Paine & Washington
Paine, Dickinson and What Was Lost
Betrayal of Democracy by Counterrevolution
Revolutions: American and French (part two)
Failed Revolutions All Around
The Haunted Moral Imagination
“Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.”
“…from every part of Europe.”

The Fight For Freedom Is the Fight To Exist: Independence and Interdependence
A Vast Experiment
America’s Heartland: Middle Colonies, Mid-Atlantic States and the Midwest
When the Ancient World Was Still a Living Memory

Trump’s Populism, Something For Everyone

Yeah, Trump.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan claims in the title of a recent article that, America Is So in Play. She writes that, “Mr. Trump’s supporters aren’t just bucking a party, they’re bucking everything around, within and connected to it.” And that, “Something is going on, some tectonic plates are moving in interesting ways.”

On the subject of elites, I spoke to Scott Miller, co-founder of the Sawyer Miller political-consulting firm, who is now a corporate consultant. He worked on the Ross Perot campaign in 1992 and knows something about outside challenges. He views the key political fact of our time as this: “Over 80% of the American people, across the board, believe an elite group of political incumbents, plus big business, big media, big banks, big unions and big special interests—the whole Washington political class—have rigged the system for the wealthy and connected.” It is “a remarkable moment,” he said. More than half of the American people believe “something has changed, our democracy is not like it used to be, people feel they no longer have a voice.”

Mr. Miller added: “People who work for a living are thinking this thing is broken, and that economic inequality is the result of the elite rigging the system for themselves. We’re seeing something big.”

I would agree that there is something interesting going on and has been for some time.  Populism is in the air! From Occupy to the Tea Party.

This is why outsiders are making waves on both sides. Trump and Sanders even have overlap on some major issues: immigration reform to protect American jobs, campaign finance reform to eliminate bribery and corruption, tax reform with progressive taxation, etc. Trump is conservative on some issues, but on others he is more liberal than the Democratic Party establishment.

By the way, Trump said of the last four presidents that Bill Clinton was his favorite and has supported Hillary Clinton throughout her political career. About a decade ago, he stated that “Republicans are just too crazy right” and that “If you go back, it just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans.” Near the end of Bush jr’s presidency, Trump strongly denounced him as “possibly the worst in the history of this country.” He thought it “would have been a wonderful thing” if Pelosi had impeached Bush for the 2003 Iraq invasion. He actually praised Saddam Hussein for killing terrorists. On the opposite side, he has strongly supported many of Obama’s policies and appointments. He has also changed his party affiliation at least four times in the last 16 years.

Both Trump and Sanders are populists with progressive tendencies. It’s good to keep in mind that in the past there was great ideological diversity in populist and progressive movements, including strong support from the political right and religious right. Populism and progressivism have no consistent history in terms of the mainstream left-right spectrum, although economic populism has often had a strong nativist strain.

Trump’s views are rather mixed. Some might say they are ideologically inconsistent. Certainly, he has flipped his views on many issues. He sure likes to keep it interesting.

  • for progressive taxation and higher taxes for hedge-fund managers
  • wanted to get rid of the national debt with a one time massive tax on the wealthy
  • not for cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security
  • praises single payer healthcare as working in other countries, but thinks it is past the point of implementation for the US
  • previously stated wanting guaranteed healthcare for the poor paid by an increase in corporate taxes
  • has used unionized labor for construction projects, but has criticized teacher unions
  • supports using eminent domain for private gain
  • no longer supports abortion rights, and yet sees no constitutional argument for banning it
  • has supported stricter gun laws, including bans of some guns
  • used to support amnesty, but obviously has changed his mind
  • favors trade protectionism and wouldn’t mind starting a trade war with China
  • talks about campaign finance reform and sees big money as essentially bribery
  • spoke out against the Iraq War, but says he is now for strong military responses
  • wants to neither raise nor get rid of minimum wage

It’s not just GOP insiders who dislike Trump. Libertarians, of course, don’t care much for him. But also strong critics of liberalism, from Glenn Beck to Jonah Goldberg, really can’t stand him.

You could say that Trump is just confused. But if so, the American public is also confused.

When you look at public polling, there is a wide range of views toward ideological labels, depending on the demographic. Many those who identify as conservative support liberal policies, especially in terms of economic populism. And during the Bush administration, many on the political left became patriotic war hawks in support of the War On Terror. Conservatism is a more popular label than liberalism, but progressivism is more popular than both, including among Republicans.

Most Americans have a more favorable view of capitalism than socialism, although the opposite is true in some demographics: those under 29, African Americans and Hispanics, and those making less than $30,000 a year. Then again, more Americans have a favorable view of socialism than the Tea Party. Even a large percentage of Tea Partiers have a favorable view of socialism. Strangely, more Democrats than Republicans have a positive view of libertarianism and fewer Democrats than Republicans have a negative view.

Sea Change of Public Opinion: Libertarianism, Progressivism & Socialism

Little Change in Public’s Response to ’Capitalism,’ ’Socialism’

‘Liberal’ unpopular, but newer ‘progressive’ label gets high marks in poll

“Socialism” Not So Negative, “Capitalism” Not So Positive

Just 53% Say Capitalism Better Than Socialism

Socialism Viewed Positively by 36% of Americans

Section 2: Occupy Wall Street and Inequality

Poll: 26% of tea partiers are okay with socialism

NEW POLL: 42 Percent of Americans Think Obama Has Expanded Presidential Power Too Much; 53 Percent Want the US Less Involved in Israel-Hamas Peace Talks

It is hard to know what any of that means.

People change their opinions depending on current events, framing of questions, and on the basis of who is asking. Polls have shown that Republican support for some of Obama’s policies increase when it is stated that Trump supports them. Democrat views changed depending on whether or not they early on saw video of the 9/11 attack or heard about it on the radio or in the newspaper. People are easily influenced by external conditions.

Anyway, here are various articles from across the political spectrum tackling Trump’s brand of populism:

Sanders and Trump: Two peas in a pod?

Republicans are way more likely to support single-payer when you tell them it’s Donald Trump’s idea – AMERICAblog News

Is Donald Trump still ‘for single-payer’ health care?

That Time When Donald Trump Praised Single Payer Health Care in a GOP Debate

Trump Calls Himself a ‘Conservative With a Heart’ Because of His Controversial Stance on This Issue

Trump On A Wealth Tax: ‘I Think That’s A Very Conservative Thing’

Trump More Progressive Than Democrats on Warren Buffett Problem

Donald Trump, Campaign Finance Reformer? | The Progressive

Donald Trump’s Nixonian populism: Making sense of his grab bag of nativism & welfare statism

Donald Trump Must Reckon With Rich Progressive History: Part II

The Surprisingly Strong Progressive Case For Donald Trump

Donald Trump names his favorite prez: Bill Clinton

Donald Trump Can’t Win. But He Can Build a Lasting Political Movement. Here’s How.

No, Donald Trump is not a “true conservative”

Donald Trump is not a traditional Republican — including on some big issues

Donald Trump’s Surprisingly Progressive Past

Who was Ronald Reagan? And what was the Reagan Revolution?

When Reagan was a Democrat, he was a union leader, socially liberal Hollywood actor, starry-eyed liberal progressive, anti-communist, pro-capitalist, ultra-nationalist, big-spending FDR New Deal supporter, big government public welfare state promoter, and patriotic cold warrior.

And then when Reagan became a Republican, he instead was a union opponent (although still able to get labor union support to get elected), socially liberal political actor, starry-eyed neoliberal progressive, anti-communist, pro-capitalist, ultra-nationalist, big-spending permanent debt-creating militarist, big government corporate welfare state promoter, and patriotic cold warrior.

Nothing fundamentally changed about Reagan, as he admitted. He liked to say that the Democratic Party left him. This is in a sense true as Democrats turned away from their racist past. Other things were involved as well.

I’d say that his shifting attitude about the New Deal welfare state was more situational, as many white Americans were less willing to support a welfare state after the Civil Rights movement because it meant blacks would have equal access to those public benefits. Reagan probably was always a racist, but it remained hidden behind progressivism until black rights forced it out into the open. Even his union views were more of a situational change, rather than an ideological change, for the Cold War reframed many issues.

The combination of Civil Rights movement and Cold War were a powerful force, the latter helping to make the former possible. The Cold War was a propaganda war. To prove democracy was genuinely better, the US government suddenly felt the pressure to live up to its own rhetoric about civil rights. Black activists pushed this to their advantage, and many whites in response went from liberalism to conservatism. This created a strange form of conservatism that was dominated by former progressives turned reactionary, which in some ways just meant a reactionary progressivism that hid behind conservative rhetoric.

This is how Reagan went from a standard progressive liberal to the ideal personification of reactionary conservatism. Yet he did this while politically remaining basically the same. Reagan didn’t change. The world around him changed. There was a society-wide political realignment that went beyond any individual person.

Still, it wasn’t just a party realignment with the old racist Southern Democrats switching loyalties to the Republicans. There was that, but also more than that. Many old school Democrats, even those outside of the South, changed party identification and voting patterns. Prior to the shift, many Republicans would praise liberalism (from Eisenhower to Nixon) and there was room for a left-wing within the party itself. After the switch, all of that was replaced by a mix of neoliberalism and neoconservatism, an alliance between economic libertarians and war hawks. So-called conservatism became a radical and revolutionary force of globalization.

The deeper shift involved not just to the political spectrum but the entire political framework and foundation. Everything shifted and became redefined, as if an earthquake had rearranged the geography of the country to such an extent that the old maps no longer matched reality.

One major change is that the noblesse oblige paternalism of the likes of the Roosevelts (TR and FDR) simply disappeared from mainstream politics, like Atlantis sinking below the waves never to be seen or heard from again. Politics became  unmoored from the past. Conservatism went full reactionary, leaving behind any trace of Old World traditionalism. Meanwhile, liberals became weak-minded centrists who have since then always been on the defense and leftists, as far as the mainstream was concerned, became near non-entities whose only use was for occasional resurrection as scapegoats (even then only as straw man scapegoats).

Two world wars had turned the Western world on its head. Following that mass destruction, the Cold War warped the collective psyche, especially in America. It’s as if someone took a baseball bat to Uncle Sam’s head and now he forever sees the world cross-eyed and with a few lost IQ points.

As with Reagan, nothing changed and yet everything changed. The Reagan Revolution was greater than just Reagan.

* * * *

http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1894529_1894528_1894518,00.html

He may be the patron saint of limited government, but Ronald Reagan started out as a registered Democrat and New Deal supporter. An F.D.R. fan, the Gipper campaigned for Helen Gahagan Douglas in her fruitless 1950 Senate race against Richard Nixon and encouraged Dwight D. Eisenhower to run for President as a Democrat in 1952. While he was working as a spokesman for General Electric, however, his views shifted right. “Under the tousled boyish haircut,” he wrote Vice President Nixon of John F. Kennedy in 1960, “is still old Karl Marx.” By the time it actually happened in 1962, Reagan’s decision to cross over to the GOP didn’t come as much of a surprise. “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party,” he famously said. “The party left me.”

http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2010/mar/30/charlie-crist/crist-says-reagan-was-democrat-converting-gop/

Giller said Reagan endorsed the presidential candidacies of Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 as well as that of Nixon in 1960 “while remaining a Democrat.” [ . . . ]

Historian Edward Yager, a government professor at Western Kentucky University and author of the 2006 biography Ronald Reagan’s Journey: Democrat to Republican, said Reagan “was registered Democrat from the time that he voted for FDR in 1932, when he was 21.”

Yager said he’s never seen copies of the voter registration cards, but noted “virtually all the sources that refer to” Reagan’s party affiliation indicate that he was registered as a Democrat and that “he has two autobiographies in which he refers to his voting for FDR four times, then for Truman.” Reagan was a Democrat, added Yager, even when he voted for Dwight D. Eisenhower.

http://www.shmoop.com/reagan-era/ideology.html

Interestingly, Ronald Reagan himself did not always espouse the firm anti-government beliefs that eventually came to define Reaganism. As a young man, Reagan was actually a Roosevelt Democrat. The Reagan family only survived the Great Depression because Jack Reagan, young Ronnie’s unemployed father, was able to find a job in one of the New Deal’s work-relief programs. A few years later, Ronald Reagan found himself admiring Roosevelt’s leadership of America’s World War II effort to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. (Reagan joined the military but performed his wartime service in Hollywood, acting in American propaganda films.)

http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1082

Reagan was a New Deal Democrat. He joked that he had probably become a Democrat by birth, given that his father, Jack, was so devoted to the Democratic Party. The younger Reagan cast his first presidential vote in 1932 for Franklin Roosevelt, and did so again in the succeeding three presidential contests. His faith in FDR remained undimmed even after World War II, when he called himself “a New Dealer to the core.” He summarized his views in this way: “I thought government could solve all our postwar problems just as it had ended the Depression and won the war. I didn’t trust big business. I thought government, not private companies, should own our big public utilities; if there wasn’t enough housing to shelter the American people, I thought government should build it; if we needed better medical care, the answer was socialized medicine.” When his brother, Moon, became a Republican and argued with his sibling, the younger Reagan concluded “he was just spouting Republican propaganda.”

http://www.politicususa.com/2014/02/11/barack-obama-tax-spend-liberal-ronald-reagan.html

http://my.firedoglake.com/cenkuygur/2010/07/08/who-is-more-conservative-ronald-reagan-or-barack-obama/

http://mises.org/library/sad-legacy-ronald-reagan-0

http://open.salon.com/blog/rogerf1953/2010/01/29/the_myth_of_ronald_reagans_iconic_conservative_image

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/opinion/15herbert.html?_r=0

http://www.forwardprogressives.com/4-things-conservatives-hate-to-admit-about-ronald-reagan/

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/07/21/997013/-Ronald-Reagan-officially-too-liberal-for-modern-GOP

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2003/0301.green.html

http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/02/05/142288/reagan-centennial/

http://www.nationalmemo.com/5-reasons-ronald-reagan-couldnt-make-it-in-todays-gop/

http://www.msnbc.com/the-last-word/watch/when-reagan-was-a-liberal-democrat-219696195576

https://books.google.com/books?id=U2cs7IHERBwC&pg=PA5&lpg=PA5&dq=Ronald+Reagan%E2%80%99s+Journey:+Democrat+to+Republican&source=bl&ots=iYjMx2KM_g&sig=gQtw5ENydTFPXhmJ0bOiAwIp_uE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=HyjAVLe2AYuVyATR8oKYBg&ved=0CCsQ6AEwBQ

“I’m a Republican because of social issues.”

The bars had just closed. She was a young attractive woman wearing a dress that accentuated her assets. She was probably a student at the local university with a bright future ahead of her. She was accompanied by a young man, also good looking and sharply dressed. They were having a discussion. As they sat down on a bench in the pedestrian mall, she said, “I’m a Republican because of social issues.”

Behind this young couple, another row of benches had other people on them. The couple didn’t seem to notice they weren’t alone as they were focused on one another. The other benches were all filled with mostly middle aged men. They were scruffy and for certainly they weren’t scantily clad as the young lady. Each of these men was alone on his respective bench, each laying down trying to get some sleep. Some of them probably heard the young lady’s comment, but none replied.

GOP Base vs Traditional Conservatives

There is some interesting data from Pew. I had looked at this data many times before, but in looking at it again I noticed a distinction within the conservative demographics which I hadn’t noticed previously. This distinction seems to at least partly explain why many moderate conservatives have left the GOP in recent years and why some of the most strongest conservatives are also the most critical of other conservatives.

What is interesting is which specific demographics most strongly support torture and the Patriot Act. It’s most particularly clear with the latter. Conservative demographic groups (Enterprisers, Social Conservatives, & Pro-Govt Conservatives) have the strongest support for the Patriot Act. That isn’t surprising, but what is surprising is which specific conservative demographic groups have majority support (Enterprisers & Social Conservatives) and which don’t (Pro-Govt Conservatives).

Let me explain.

Enterprisers are essentially neo-cons, neo-liberals, and (neo-) libertarians which demographically translates as mostly rich white males who have partisan loyalty to the GOP and who are the most loyal viewers of Fox News. Social Conservatives are essentially the fundamentalists and rightwingers in general which demographically translates as older whites who represent the other big chunk of Republican voters. Both groups are known to criticize the government for different reasons and yet both love the idea of a strong military (the military, rather than democracy, being the symbol of their ideal government). They may use pro-constitutional rhetoric in their criticizing the government, but ultimately they don’t take the constitution all that seriously when it comes to protecting human rights and freedom for all.

It’s telling that Pro-Govt Conservatives are the one conservative demographic group that doesn’t have majority support for the Patriot Act. That is a very telling detail. To be a conservative who actually believes in the government serving a positive function means to be a conservative who also genuinely believes in strictly adhering to the constitution and to the moral vision upon which this country was founded. This is the group that I consider as being ‘real’ conservatives in that they are more moderate and traditional (i.e., they believe in conserving social institutions such as government) compared to the radicalized element within the GOP. But these down-to-earth conservatives don’t get as much attention as they’re too reasonable. Also, despite being the most traditional of conservatives, they aren’t the base of the Republican Party. In fact, they are almost evenly split between Republicans and Independents (which is the same role the Liberal demographic group plays in the Democratic Party).

The fact that traditional conservatives (traditional in the larger historical sense) are the least supportive of the Republican Party says a lot about what has become of the party that supposedly represents ‘conservatives’. It also explains a lot about why traditional conservatism is ignored in America. The GOP doesn’t care about traditional conservatives as much because it isn’t their base. These conservatives are the poor and working class people. Unlike the wealthy Enterprisers, they don’t have lots of money to donate to political campaigns. And, unlike the upper middle class Tea Party supporters, they don’t make for entertaining media coverage. These people are too busy just trying to get by and going by the media you would hardly know they existed.

Related to this, I was comparing conservatives between the parties. It might surprise some people to see how many conservatives there are in the Democratic Party. In particular, poor minorities living in the South are extremely conservative and yet loyal Democrats. Rightwingers like to argue that only liberal Democrats want big government for social issues, but government being involved with social issues has always been a traditional conservative position. Why are liberal Democrats defending the traditionally conservative role of the government as an institution upholding social order and the public good? Maybe because it’s in the nature of liberals in general to defend the powerless when attacked by the powerful.

So, what exactly is traditional conservatism?

Here is a very good explanation/description:

Conservative? Americans Don’t Know the Meaning of the Word
Guy Molyneux

True conservatism is a philosophy committed to conserving– conserving families, communities and nation in the face of change. Committed to preserving fundamental values, such as accountability, civic duty and the rule of law. And committed to a strong government to realize these ends. What passes for conservatism in America today bears only a passing resemblance to this true conservatism. It worships at the twin altars of free enterprise and weak government–two decidedly unconservative notions.

Real conservatism values security and stability over the unfettered free market. In Germany, for example, it was the conservative Otto von Bismark–not socialists–who developed social insurance and built the world’s first welfare state. Today conservatives throughout the world–but not here–endorse government-provided national health care, because they recognize public needs are not always met by the private sector. And they see a role for government in encouraging national economic development.

A true conservative movement would not ignore the decay of our great cities, or see the disorder of the Los Angeles riots only as a political opportunity. Nor would they pay homage to “free trade” while the nation’s manufacturing base withered. Nor would a conservative President veto pro-family legislation requiring companies to provide leave to new mothers, in deference to business prerogatives.

Traditional conservatives champion community and nation over the individual. They esteem public service, and promote civic obligation. They reject the “invisible hand” argument, that everyone’s pursuit of individual self-interest will magically yield the best public outcome, believing instead in deliberately cultivating virtue. Authentic conservatives do not assail 55 m.p.h. speed limits and seat-belt laws as encroaching totalitarianism.

Finally, a genuine conservatism values the future over the present. It is a movement of elites to be sure, but of elites who feel that their privilege entails special obligations. The old word for this was “stewardship”–the obligation to care for the nation’s human and natural resources, and to look out for future generations’ interests.

Such conservatives would not open up public lands for private commercial exploitation, or undermine environmental regulations for short-term economic growth. They would not cut funding for childrens’ vaccinations, knowing that the cost of treating illness is far greater. And a conservative political party would never preside over a quadrupling of the national debt.

In America, then, what we call conservatism is really classical liberalism: a love of the market, and hatred of government. Adam Smith, after all, was a liberal, not a conservative. As the economist Gunnar Myrdal once noted: “America is conservative . . . but the principles conserved are liberal.”

American conservatives have often celebrated the country’s historically “exceptional” character: the acceptance of capitalism and the absence of any significant socialist movement. Curiously, though, they often miss their half of the story: the absence of a real Tory conservatism. What Louis Hartz called America’s “liberal consensus” excluded both of the great communitarian traditions–ain’t nobody here but us liberals.

True conservatism’s weakness as a political tradition in America is thus an old story. When values confront the market here, the market usually wins. In recent years, though, conservative social values seem to have been eclipsed. Many of today’s conservatives are really libertarians–proponents of a radical individualism that has little in common with conservatism.

Dems Facing Disaster in 2010 Elections?

Is Bill Maher right that Americans are stupid or is the power elite just extremely effective at propaganda?

Either way, Americans are sheeple. I’m not only blaming the GOP and Tea Party. Democrats failed to keep their promises which relates to Chris Hedges’ criticisms of the liberal class. Even so, it makes no sense to vote Republican. If all the outraged people had any brains, they would vote in some third party or independent candidates.

I haven’t lost faith in US politics. I’ve lost faith in the American people.

GOP Busted On Talking Points!

In the past, I’ve noticed various talking points being repeated using very similar and sometimes exact phrasing (). I was frustrated because most people don’t seem to notice this form of propaganda/brainwashing. Even the liberal media in the past seemed oblivious to this technique used by conservatives. But it seems the liberal media is finally catching onto this game.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/24/gopers-parrot-lines-from-_n_710541.html

An extensive review of GOP campaign literature, floor speeches and public statements reveals that Republican candidates and officeholders routinely use GOP talking points verbatim in their speeches and campaign literature, while passing off the language as their own personal views.

Using the plagiarism detection software program iThenticate as well as Google and the Library of Congress, HuffPost found that more than 30 members of the House and Senate eschew originality when it comes to making their case.

A search for Democratic violations turned up far fewer instances. But if Democrats show less of a penchant for blatant copying, it may reflect their traditional unwillingness to follow the party line more than any higher ethical standards. Will Rogers’s oft-quoted declaration — “I’m not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat” — has worn well over time.

– – –

State of Confusion by Dr. Bryant Welch

p.136:

Advertising succeeds on the basis of repetition. Assert the reality you want over and over again. Be absolute and never tentative. Tentativeness encourages independent thinking. The more people think independently, the less malleable they are. If there is a gap between your position and common sense, simply rewire the connection with “associational logic” that obscures the gap. Associational logic… creates the illusion of logical connections where there are none.

pp. 143-4:

While the ostensible joke is that these people are all ike puppets articulating a canned message…, there is much more than that at play. If the same language is used, the words can be transformed from language into symbols. University of California at Berkley linguist George Lakoff writes:

When a word or phrase is repeated over and over for a long period of time the neural circuits that compute its meaning are activated repeatedly in the brain. As the neurons in those circuits fire, the synapses connecting the neurons in the circuits get stronger and the circuits may eventually become permanent, which happens when you learn the meaning of any word in your fixed vocabulary. Learning a word physically changes your brain, and the meaning of that word becomes physically instantiated in your brain.

Repeating over and over does not simply persuade someone that what is being said is true; it actually makes it true in the inner workings of the mind. The target audience may not even be aware that they have adopted the particular point of view in question, but a space that was once filled with uncertainty is now filled with an idea. Further, it is an idea shared by a very self-confident and powerful other person. If that idea is repeated over and over, it begins to play a symbolic role in the mind.

pp. 134-5:

Symbols, primitive emotional states, and repetition are not the only vulnerable aspects of the mind. Associational thinking also plays a key role in current political gaslighting. Sometimes it is very humbling to recognize the true nature of the mind. It is made out of symbols that are connected to one another by associations of emotional connections. What we think of as logical connectiosn play a much more limited role in mental functioning. This has tremendous implications not just for advertising, but also for political reality formation. Gaslighers can build emotional connections between symbols without their target audience really even knowing what is being done. In 2000, the Republican Party spent over two and a half million dollars running an advertisement attacking the Gore prescription plan that ahd the word rats written across it but that flashed with such speed that it was invisible to the naked eye. With today’s technology, people can literally build a connection in the mind between rats and an opponent’s policy position.

These same associational connections once established can also create a pseudologic in which associations create the illusion of logical connections used to support policies and positions that simply have no logic behind them. The fact that two items are in some way associated in the mind serves as a substitute for the formal logical connections that people associate with cause and effect and rational thought. The mind is tricked just as our eyes are tricked in a shell game. For an undiscerning audience, this can be very effective. People frequently do not appreciate, or even notice the role that highly subjective emotional states play in formulating what they take to be rational and logically constructed “thoughts.” Psychologist William James said, “People often think they are thinking when in fact they are just rearranging their prejudices.”

If these associational forms of “logic” lead to a pleasant emotional state such as a simplistic and self-gratifying conclusion about a difficult and complex problem, people are even less likely to challenge the faulty reasoning behind it. If one’s mind is saturated with images that are the psychological equivalent of a trademark that brands Fox News as fair and balanced, it will for many people completely override any assessment of whether Fox News is actually fair and balanced.

Libertarians: Rich White Males of the Republican Party

“You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.”

~ Ludwig von Mises writing to Ayn Rand

In the above videos (I think he mentions it in the first one), brainpolice2 mentioned the data of libertarians being mostly white males from the upper middle class. The point being they’re supposedly out of touch with the average person and particularly out of touch with demographics that have in the past lacked political power and representation (minorities, immigrants, women, etc).

I thought I’d seen this data before, but I decided I should verify it. I found some data from the Cato Institute (which certaintly represents wealthy libertarians). Indeed, libertarians are 82% white (80% for all demographics) and 7% black (12% for all demographics). So, that isn’t all that extremely off the average and in fact is the same as what Cato labels as liberal (both groups being below the 83% white and 10% black of conservatives). This is a bit confusing as I’d have to look at their definitions more closely, but one comparison stood out. Cato’s diagram of ideologies puts populism opposite of libertarianism and populism has the highest percentage of minorities at 15% black (and 80% white). The Democratic party tends to draw both liberals and populists which is why there is higher representation of minorities among Democrats.

I suspect, however, that with the Tea Party there has been an increase of populism among whites which oddly has combined forces (at least in part) with the opposing ideology of libertarianism. I think this is because conservatism stands between the two and conservative nationalism bleeds over into libertarianism and populism. Anyway, at least in 2006 when this data was taken, white libertarians were the demographic most opposed to black populism (opposed both in terms of ideology and minority representation).

Some other demographic details:

Libertarians – second most well educated (after liberals), second most secular and least church attending (after liberals), highest percentage of males of any demographic, youngest demographic (youthful idealism?), wealthiest demographic (idealism supported by a comfortable lifestyle?), below average percentage in all regions except for the west where they have the highest representation of all demographics (I’m not sure why that is), mostly identified as Republican.

And let me compare to their opposite ideology:

Populists – least well educated, one of the most religiously identified and church attending (only slightly below conservatives), majority female, oldest demographic, poorest demogrpahic, most southern demographic, Cato doesn’t have the political identification data for this demographic (going by Pew data in “Beyond Red vs Blue”, I’d assume that this demographic would mostly Democrat).

According to Cato definitions, libertarians are socially liberal and fiscally conservative and populists are socially conservative and fiscally liberal. Since I brought up the Pew data, my guess is that these two ideologies would correlate to the Pew Demographics in the following way. Libertarians seem to be a perfect fit for what Pew labels as Enterprisers (which are basically the rich, white, males who vote almost entirely Republican and are the most loyal viewers of Fox News). Populists are probably mostly what Pew labels as Conservative Democrats and Disadvantaged Democrats (which have higher percentages of minorities, females, and the poor), although populists might also be found among the demographic Pew labels as Pro-Government Conservatives (the poor, female minorities who are almost evenly split between Republican and Indpendent).

In conclusion, it would seem that libertarians in the US are simply the rich, white, male demographic of the conservative movement who mostly identify as Republican. If I’m reading the data correctly (from the two above sources), libertarians seem less prone towards identifying as Independent than many other demographics (such as liberals or else conservatives who are some combination of poor, minority and female). Rupert Murdoch, the self-identified libertarian and former board member of the libertarian Cato Institute, is the Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, the owner of Fox News Channel. Murdoch seems the perfect representative of this libertarian demographic and he seems to have intentionally conflated libertarianism with the Republican party.

Ron Paul is another libertarian who fits the description of rich, white, male Republican. He might be a bit different than Murdoch in emphasizing civil libertarianism slightly more, but I doubt they’d disagree on much. Ron Paul did show his true libertarian colors recently.

Compared to many conservatives, I like how Ron Paul comes off as well-intentioned in his values. I get the sense that he is the complete opposite of the cynical neo-conservative who will use anything, including libertarian rhetoric, to win votes. In the comment section of the above video, there was a mocking portrayal of libertarianism which was on target. Despite good intentions, even someone like Ron Paul often comes off as a bit detached from the average American’s experience.

clownporn1 wrote (see comments here):

One of the more pretentious political self-descriptions is “Libertarian.” People think it puts them above the fray. It sounds fashionable, and to the uninitiated, faintly dangerous. Actually, it’s just one more bullshit political philosophy.

– George Carlin

Libertarianism is a fad political ideology for 13 year old boys, first year college students, and white business owners who use the “private property” argument so they don’t have to serve blacks.

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US Department of Energy.I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility.

After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels to see what the National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like using satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Then, after spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, I drive back to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and the fire marshal’s inspection, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to the local police department.

I then log onto the Internet which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration and post on freerepublic and fox news forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can’t do anything right.

self pwnage you say

US: Republic & Democracy (pt 2)

The other day, I wrote a post about the rightwing assertion that the US is a republic and not a democracy (US: Republic & Democracy). The basic confusion is that rightwingers are using a narrow definition of democracy that was used by some of the founding fathers.

“Hence it is that democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths… A republic, by which I mean a government in which a scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.” (James Madison, Federalist Papers, the McClean Edition, Federalist Paper #10, page 81, 1788)

What the founding fathers meant by republic is what modern scholars mean by representative democracy. When you get right down to it, rightwingers don’t like ‘democracy’ because it shares the same letters in the same order as the ‘Democratic’ party. Anyways, it’s obvious that the founding fathers weren’t arguing against the democratic process of voting and representation. I don’t think most rightwingers are arguing against that either. So, it all comes down to semantics.

There is no inherent conflict between a republic and a democracy. To clarify, here is the Wikipedia definition of a Republic:

republic is a form of government in which the people or some portion thereof retain supreme control over the government,[1][2] and in which the head of government is not a monarch.[3][4] The word “republic” is derived from the Latin phrase res publica, which can be translated as “a public affair”

Both modern and ancient republics vary widely in their ideology and composition. The most common definition of a republic is a state without a monarch.[3][4] In republics such as the United States and France, the executive is legitimized both by a constitutionand by popular suffrage. In the United States, James Madison defined republic in terms of representative democracy as opposed to direct democracy,[5] and this usage is still employed by many viewing themselves as “republicans”.[6] Montesquieu included bothdemocracies, where all the people have a share in rule, and aristocracies or oligarchies, where only some of the people rule, as republican forms of government.[7]

I noticed someone even dedicated a webpage to this issue, titling it: The “Not a Democracy” Gnomes. The author states he has noticed this rhetoric going back to 2000, but I’m sure it goes back further. It’s just the internet (especially in its growth this past decade) has been a useful medium for popularizing and spreading such viral memes. Here is the first point the author makes:

The Gnomes Rely on an Absurdly Narrow Defnition of “Democracy”: as absolute, direct, simple and immediate majoritarian authority on matters of policy. Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, they find problems with “democracy” so defined. They then depend on the reader to assume that their narrow definition of democracy matches the much broader common definition of democracy, and that therefore their criticism applies to that broader definition.

That is the same argument I’ve been making. These rightwingers use a definition so narrow that they make it seem ridiculous. Meanwhile, they ignore the long history of democracy in the real world. It reminds me of a conservative I once debated about the meaning of ‘socialism’. It turns out that this person had such a wide definition of ‘socialism’ that it involved all forms of government. Since he was a anti-statist conservative, it was convenient for him to define all state government as socialist. This is a weird way to win an argument, either over-simplifying or over-generalizing the terms of the debate.

Like me, the author goes on to give the actual, rather than imagined, definition of ‘democracy’:

The ridiculous nature of that argument is clear with the knowledge that a republic (the gnomes’ contrast to democracy) is actually itself one variety of democracy. Let’s look at the Oxford Modern English Dictionary definition of the word:

democracy. 1a) a system of government by the whole population, usually through elected representatives. b) a State so governed….

A “republic“, which provides for governance indirectly through elected representatives, is covered as a possibility under this definition.

The definition of “democracy” stretches back much further, of course, to the Greek, in which demos refers to “the people” and “cracy” to rule or authority. The broadest definition of “democracy” is therefore simply “the rule of the people,” the ideal of a citizenry engaged in civic life and enfranchised to take part in some meaningful fashion in politics, the exercise of decision-making in a sphere of authority (see Oxford here as well). Now why would some parties have a problem with this democratic ideal? Any ideas?

And the second point the author makes:

Proponents of democracy recognize it is an ideal. We do not live in a full democracy, since it has not yet been achieved. Especially after the latest election debacle, we’re all too aware of that. But the pursuit of the democratic ideal in the United States is a righteous quest with a long history, involving an ever-broadening emancipation of citizens. It is an overwhelmingly popular quest, and one which, in my opinion, should continue.

The democratic quest requires for its support a thoroughly educated and informed public, a tolerance for the questioning of authority and the spirit of community. For those who are opposed to these conditions and to their ultimate end, sending out the “not a democracy!” gnomes is a pleasant diversion. But the more educated, the more questioning, and the more civic we become, the more clear it is that the gnomes’ verbal minuet is trivial and therefore irrelevant.

I was wondering about the origin of this rightwing ploy to dismiss democracy. It sounds more like rhetoric than an argument. Somehow it’s being spread which makes me think it’s either a talking point in the rightwing media or else some particular group is using it for an agenda. Whatever the origin or motivation, there is certainly a memetic quality about this simple idea.

I suspected that one source would be Glenn Beck or someone like him. I was correct.

That isn’t surprising, but Glenn Beck isn’t the originator. What Beck preaches has been preached before by many others. So, I wasn’t surprised to see a video by the John Birch Society arguing against democracy.

I also shouldn’t have been surprised to see a video making the same argument in an interview by Alex Jones (interviewing Aaron Russo).

I did find it interesting that Milton Friedman was also spreading the same rhetoric.

If I had to guess, it’s probably the John Birch Society (or other similar groups) who have spread this rhetoric the most. The John Birch Society has been around for a very long time. As I recall, Cleon Skousen had some connection to that group. And, of course, people like Glenn Beck have been heavily influenced/inspired by the tradition of thought that includes Skousen and the John Birch Society. It’s the same tradition of thought that included the KKK back when it was a part of respectable society. This tradition of thought includes very specific beliefs and attitudes: patriotic nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiments, traditional family, white culture/supremacy, and Christian fundamentalism. These are the people who argue that America is a Christian nation. Instead of a democratic republic, they’d prefer to have a theocratic republic.

[…] the society we have which remember is not a democratic society and wasn’t intended to be. If you take a course in political theory here, I’m sure they’ll teach you that the United States is not a democracy. It’s what is called, in the technical literature, a polyarchy. […] Polyarchy is a system in which power resides in the hands so those who Madison called the ‘wealth of the nation’, the responsible class of men; and the rest of the population is fragmented, distracted, allowed to participate… every couple of years, they’re allowed to come and say ‘yes, thank you, we want you to continue another four years’ and they have a little choice among the responsible men, the wealth of the nation. That’s the way the country was founded. It was founded on the principle, explained by Madison in the Constitutional Convention, that the primary goal of the government is to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.

Reading the Wikipedia article on polyarchy, it’s not clear to me why Chomsky makes this distinction between democracy and polyarchy. Apparently, the originator of the term ‘polyarchy’ didn’t define it as excluding ‘democracy’. In fact, polyarchy would seem to be a specific form of representative democracy. As an anarcho-socialist libertarian, I understand that Chomsky would prefer a more direct form of democracy. It’s interesting that, for different reasons than the rightwinger, Chomsky also wants to narrow the definition of democracy. Whatever the reasons for Chomsky’s argument, Gore Vidal makes a similar assessment about the motivations of the founding fathers (On Europe and why the U.S. is not a democracy):

Many of us are descended from Cromwell’s men. That’s how we became to be such vicious Protestants. Well, if you want to see any of the founders, read the federalist papers. Any one of them looks like he’s near apoplexy, he’s about to have a stroke when he’s talking about the people. They hate the people. They want the people out of government. Their idea of bad government is Pericles in Athens. And that’s just, you know, forbidden country for our founders. They were Republicans, and they wanted a republic based on Rome, secretly based on slavery and based on imperial progress elsewhere in the world.

So from the beginning, we’ve been imperial. From the beginning, we’ve missed the whole point of the republican effort to create a republic in this brave new world.

People argue against the US being a democracy for various reasons. Some, on both the far right and far left, argue that the founding fathers didn’t intend democracy. Others might argue against our government being a democracy but that it includes democratic processes. Some counter that the democratic processes are failing or never existed.

Let me give my analysis. I would argue that our political system is either a type of democracy or, if you’d rather not call it a democracy for ideological reasons, it certainly contains democratic processes going back to the beginning of the country. Yes, these are imperfect, but the point is that they exist even if only in minimal form. I would, furthermore, argue that we don’t need to defend our republic against democracy. There are dangers in both republics and democracies, and I think the two systems balance eachother. I truly doubt it would be possible for a republic to exist entirely without any democratic elements and vice versa. Using the general definition of a republic as being other than a monarchy, a direct democracy would be the most extreme form of a republic. A direct democracy can and has existed on the local levels. Many communities have formed based on direct democracy, but a community would have to remain very small to maintain direct democracy. As an absolute ideal, direct democracy is an abstraction (and so is republicanism).

The founding fathers feared both monarchy and direct democracy…. or, to put it another way, a political system where the select elite has most of the power or a political system where the masses have great power. The founding fathers weren’t against the elite having power as they saw themselves as the elite, but they just wanted to guarantee that the power was evenly or meritocrously spread among all of the elite. They intentionally didn’t want to guarantee the average person (non-whites, females, working class, etc) had access to political power. Mostly, power was held by rich, white landowners (plutocracy). They believed in meritocracy and they assumed, as many Republicans do today, that the upper class men have earned or otherwise deserve their power. You have to at least give them credit for believing the idealistic role of disinterested aristorcracy that they saw themselves playing.

The founding fathers were scared of the average person for good reason. The French revolution demonstrated that the average person was a threat to rich people like them. I think similar reasons explain why modern Republicans are also afraid of what average Americans would do if given political power through direct democracy. It’s obvious, of course, why rich, white males continue to fear democracy. Beyond that, whites in general no longer hold the monopoly on political power they once had and whites are quickly losing their majority position. If you’re someone who identifies with being white and/or identifies with ‘white culture’, then democracy is a very real threat to you. Yes, just like you, the founding fathers were white. Many white conservatives like to take credit for what past white people did and claim the problems of society today are the erosion of traditional ‘white culture’. If you’re a conservative white person who fears what is becoming of the country, it is only natural to idealize the founding fathers who were white and idealize early America when whites had absolute power. It’s true that, if it weren’t for democracy, whites would probably still have all the power.

Since the time of the founding fathers, direct democracy has increased. From Republicanisn in the United States:

Over time, the pejorative connotations of “democracy” faded. By the 1830s, democracy was seen as an unmitigated positive and the term “Democratic” was assumed by the Democratic Party and the term “Democrat” was adopted by its members. A common term for the party in the later 19th century was “The Democracy.” In debates on Reconstruction, Senator Charles Sumner argued that the republican “guarantee clause” in Article IV supported the introduction by force of law of democratic suffrage in the defeated South.

As the limitations on democracy were slowly removed, property qualifications for state voters were eliminated (1820s); initiative, referendum, recall and other devices of direct democracy became widely accepted at the state and local level (1910s); and senators were made directly electable by the people (1913).

Women can vote. Non-whites can vote. The working class can vote. Not only can all of these people vote but they can also hold political offices. For our modern standards, a democracy where only rich, white men can vote and be elected doesn’t seem like much of a free society. Even most conservative white males who defend the good ol’ days have to admit that such a state of affairs was far from ideal. But, to be honest, that is exactly what a republic was prior to the increase of direct democracy. Democracy is messy and inefficient. It’s much easier to have a republic without democracy. Most fascist and communist governments are technically republics and many of them even identified themselves as such, but the founding fathers understood that having at least some democracy, however limited, was a good thing even for rich, white males such as themselves.

In conclusion, I’ll let Thom Hartmann have the last word. I’ll share a video where he argues the founding fathers were truly seeking egalitarianism and so were actually betraying their social class . It’s a much more positive vision of America’s beginnings. After the video, is a transcript from Thom Hartmann’s show. He summarizes perfectly the issue of republic vs democracy in American history.

(See here for full video.)

Thom Hartmann’s show, March 29, 2010:

If you want the most technical term, our country is aconstitutionally limited representative democratic republic. Our form of government, the constitution limits the power of government. We elect representatives, so it’s not a pure democracy. But we do elect them by majority rule so it is democratic. And the form of, the infrastructure, the total form of government, is republican, it is a republic.

In the early days of this country, James Madison basically created a distinction that didn’t exist before this, and this was in 1787. The, it used to be, if you look at dictionaries pre 1787, the words democracy and republic were interchangeable. The Roman republic was referred to as a democracy, the Greek democracy was refereed to as a republic. The words were interchanged. And in one of the Federalist papers, and I forget which one it was, I think 14 maybe, but it’s been a long time since I read them, in one of the Federalist papers in an effort to, which were put into the newspapers by Hamilton and Madison, and John Jay wrote a couple of them, to sell the constitution to people, because we were operating under the articles of Confederacy in 1787.

To sell the constitution, Madison created this artificial distinction. And what he said, basically, was that democracy, that we weren’t creating a democracy in the United States, and in a technical sense it is not a pure democracy, because like Greece, you had to have at least 6,001 people show up for a decision to be made. It had to be real majority rule. And so Hamilton, excuse me, Madison made the point that democracy could arguably be considered a form of mob rule, whereas a republic imposed, you know, an infrastructure of laws and prevented mob rule.

Now, what he omitted, intentionally, because he was trying to sell the constitution, he was trying to basically reinvent language, what he omitted was that we democratically elect our representatives. And later in his life, in the 1830s, after his presidency was over, keep in mind this was in the 1770s or 1780s, in the 1830s when he was an old man, when he was writing his memoirs, he came out and said, and there’s a whole, if you go to buzzflash.com and look at my book reviews, the very first book review that I ever did for BuzzFlash, which was like five years ago, it’s the oldest one on the list, is all about this topic, or it has several chapters on this topic. And I forget the title of it now, but it’s a great book and it’s written by a guy who’s a constitutional scholar [“How Democratic Is the American Constitution?” by Robert A. Dahl.] And Madison in 1834 said, you know, after all these years, we can, you can use the words interchangeably. And that was about the time that the Democratic Republican party that Jefferson created dropped the word “republican” from its name. And that was about the time that Madison, who was one of the early founders of the Democratic Republican party started again using the word democracy.

So from the 1830s, so from the founding or in the mid 1780s until the mid 1830s we referred to America as a Republic. From the 1830s until the modern era we referred to it as a democracy, but then when Joe McArthur came along he started, he and some of his advisors, and Karl Rove really got on this big time, said, “wait a minute, calling this a democracy sounds too much like the Democratic Party. We should call it a Republic because that sounds more like the Republican Party.” And so the talking point on right wing radio has been, and Limbaugh’s been pushing this for 20 years now, has been that we don’t live in a democracy, we live in a republic, and that you shouldn;t call it a democracy, it’s a republic. And the reason why is because they like the word republic because it sounds like republican and they hate the word democracy because it sounds like democratic. And … that’s the bottom line, we live in a democratic republic.

– – –

US: Republic & Democracy (pt 3)

US: Republic & Democracy

I keep noticing a particular belief among a certain kind of rightwinger. What they say is that the US government isn’t a democracy but a republic. I’ve seen this stated thousands of times in blogs and comments around the web.

I wonder what is the source of this claim. The fact that it keeps being repeated by so many people makes me think it’s a talking point often heard in conservative media. There is one thing that is obvious to me about this phenomenon. These people didn’t learn this idea by looking up the term ‘democracy’ in a dictionary or an encyclopedia or even Wikipedia.

Half of the statement is correct and half of the statement is false. The US government is BOTH a democracy AND a republic. To be more specific, the US government is a representative democracy and a constitutional republic. What these rightwingers fail to understand is that there are multiple definitions of democracy and multiple definitions of republic.

Even going back to Greek society, there was vast difference between Spartan and Athenian democracy. Sparta was a representative democracy with a political system that was divided. Athens was more of a direct democracy where even the lowest citizen could participate. The US is a bit of both these. The US is like Sparta in the following ways: representation instead of direct democracy, divided government, and a professional military. The US is only like Athens in one way: any citizen can participate and potentially become elected into government.

The only place where direct democracy operates in the US very partially is on certain major issues of local governance that are decided by citizen vote. I suppose also that jury by peers could be thought of as a watered down or constrained version of direct democracy. Still, the vast majority of the government is representative and the ‘mob’ of the citizenry has little direct influence.

The rightwingers are arguing that democracy is solely defined as direct democracy or, as some call it, mobocracy. But they are simply wrong. Their ignorance amazes me. Let me demonstrate by considering a random definition from a mainstream dictionary. I did a search and this is the top result (after Wikipedia):

Merriam-Webster, definition 1, part b (emphasis mine)
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/democracy

a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections

Here is the confusion. Rightwingers are taking the following part of the definition as if it were the whole definition:

Merriam-Webster, definition 3

capitalized : the principles and policies of the Democratic party in the United States <from emancipation Republicanism to New Deal Democracy — C. M. Roberts>

Basically, it comes down to a simplistic play on words. These rightwingers are trying to make an argument that the Republican party is the party of real America, the party that represents the emancipation Republicanism of the founding fathers. The problem is that this argument is so simplistic as to be inane. There is absolutely no conflict between a constitutional republic and a representative democracy. US democracy is constrained by being indirect and by having the govt divided. Furthermore, US democracy is constrained by the constitution (and the constitution is responsive to the democratic process, i.e., amendments).

There are a few basic confusions.

The original meaning of ‘republic’ was simply a government that wasn’t a monarchy. The difference between a monarch and a president is that the former represents himself or represents the ruling elite and the latter theoretically represents the whole population and the country as a whole. As far as I know, this doesn’t require a constitution. The term ‘republic’ just basically means that the leader can’t simply act on whim and must be held accountable to the law like everyone else, but these laws aren’t necessarily the same as a constitution. A constitution is similar to laws, but the difference is that a constitution is what all other laws are based upon and that they must remain basically unchanged. Most republics probably tend towards declaring constitutions, but a strong legal system independent of the leader can serve the same purpose as a constitution. A constitution is just a safeguard in case the legal system fails. The constitution, of course, has no power in and of itself. Still, it’s powerful in being a symbolic mission statement of a society.

Let me now share part of the definition of ‘republic’:

Merriam-Webster, definition 1, part b(1)
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/republic

a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law

That serves as an equally good definition of a representative democracy.

Two things come to my mind: 1) Henry Fairlie’s definition of a Tory; and 2) rightwing rhetoric about ‘mobocracy’ and ‘real Americans’.

So, how did Henry Fairlie define a Tory? The Tories support the British government… which includes the period of monarchy. The Tory has faith in government in general for the reason they mistrust capitalism controlled by the wealthy elite. The government represents the people or at least the country, but capitalists have no inherent loyalty to anything besides profit. I think this represents the basic distinction between conservatives and liberals in the US. Conservatives mistrust government and instead trust capitalism. Liberals have a basic faith in government while being wary of capitalism. This is demonstrated by how Democrats show stronger support for even Republican presidents than Republicans show for Democrat presidents. Liberals trust the government even when they don’t have one of their own in power because they see government as being greater than either party.

This brings me to the second point. Liberals also have more basic faith in the American people and human nature in general. Liberals believe humans are inherently good or at least have the inherent predisposition towards good. Conservatives believe that people need to be told what to do by traditional authorities (i.e., religious leaders) and by those who are seen as having earned authority (i.e., successful/wealthy capitalists). Conservatives talk about ‘real Americans’, but they don’t mean the average American. What they’re talking about is the specific group they belong to: fundamentalist Christians, ‘white culture’, etc. So, their notion of ‘real Americans’ is very narrow. The liberal notion of a real American is more broad and I doubt most liberals would even deny conservatives as being real Americans. Just look at the Democratic voters who evenly divide between identifying as liberals and conservatives (according to the 2005 Pew data: Beyond Red vs Blue).

I’d also point out that it’s because of conservatives mistrust of people and government that they emphasize the constitution so much. That is why they tend to think of the constitution as an unchanging document akin to a religious document such as the Ten Commandments. Conservatives trust principles and beliefs, traditional values and institutions; whatever they perceive as a living and unchanging tradition of their particular in-group. Democracy, even though ancient, isn’t a traditional part of Christianity and so not a traditional part of European culture. Greek ideas which inspired the Enlightenment Age were reintroduced to Europe from the Middle East and so Greek ideas are considered suspicious.

My main point in all this is just that it’s odd to see rightwing constitutionalists denying the very democracy that was created by the founding fathers. There are argument rests on the fact that when some of the founding fathers were using the term ‘democracy’ they were often referring to only direct democracy, although not always (Thomas Paine seemed to have meant something more broad when he wrote about ‘democracy’). Apparently, many of the founding fathers used the term ‘republic’ to mean representative democracy. However, in the modern world, the term ‘democracy’ is more commonly used for both direct and representative forms. The rightwingers using narrow definitions from a couple of centuries ago and dismissing modern meaning of words is rather pointless. The meanings of words change. That is just the way the world works.

Like it or not, the US government is a democracy. If (some) rightwingers for some strange reason wanted to get rid of democracy, they’d be forced to get rid of the republic itself which is built on the political process of democracy (voting, representation, etc). I’m assuming rightwingers don’t want to do this. So, why do they continue with the ignorant argument that America isn’t a democracy? Is it intentional ignorance in that there being ideoligically divisive in what they see as a battle that must be won at all costs, the battle of defeating liberals and Democrats? Or is it just passive ignorance of people who never read anything (including dictionaries and encyclopedias) outside of conservative media?

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US: Republic & Democracy (pt 2)