Saturday, February 11, 2012

Defend Democracy from Republic Advocates

Most Americans assume that Democracy is still a central American ideal. It may not work as well as we might like, but one of our jobs as citizens and as a nation is to perfect Democracy.

A dangerous movement exists in our nation to take away voting rights from most citizens so as to turn back the clock and return America to being a Republic run by a limited set of people having full citizenship. They are able to confuse many honest citizens because the terms Democracy and Republic are not necessarily opposites. A Republic in which every adult person has recognized rights, including the right to equal treatment and the right to vote for elected officials, is called a Representative Democracy. The history of the United States of America, under the U.S. Constitution, is largely a history of moving from a corrupt Republic to a shining Democracy. [See America: Republic or Democracy?]

This anti-democracy movement started on the fringes of the far right, but in the last few years has gained traction among the Tea Party and even among some mainstream conservative Republican Party members. To make headway it lies about the differences between Democracies and Republics. It purposefully conflates the Democratic Party with democracy and the Republican Party with republicanism (of the type it espouses). It revises American history to deceive the American people about the genesis of our nation, our liberties, and the creation of our Constitution.

The Republican Party was not named for the idea that only rich white men should vote, as was the case when our Constitution was written. It was called the Republican Party because the best name, Democratic Party, was already taken. There is nothing wrong, or inherently bad, in the concept of a Republic. If anything, a key concept of the Republican Party when it formed in the 1850's was that the Democratic Party was not democratic enough. The Democratic Party was the party of slavery.

The Democratic Party arose when property requirements to qualify for the franchise were being reduced and eliminated in the early 18th century, allowing all white male citizens to vote for elected officials. This was a critical turn in U.S. history, and within the racialist and sexist thinking of that era meant that our republic was becoming more democratic. Andrew Jackson and his cronies saw the potential in becoming leaders of these newly enfranchised voters [See Internet Biography of Andrew Jackson] and so created the Democratic Party.

The Republicans did not advocate taking away rights from poor white males. They advocated eliminating slavery and extending the right to vote (and other rights) to non-white ethnic groups, notably African-Americans. Thus, in their early history, Republicans also helped to forge our democracy out of the entirety of our citizenry.

Both Republicans and Democrats later supported the right of women to vote, extending our democracy further with the 19th Amendment. In the 20th century the Republican Party championed the right of African-Americans living in the old south to vote. In the 1960's the Democratic Party finally overruled its segregationist wing and joined in making our nation one where every adult could vote and was equal in the eyes of the law.

Two Big Lies are being told right now by the anti-democracy demagogues. One is that only Republics protect human rights. They claim democracies mean majority rule and the ability of majority to take away rights (and private property) from individuals. Yet we have a democracy that protects individual rights better than most real Republics ever have. Republics typically are run by minorities that trample on the rights of majorities. Communist Party leadership of Soviet Republics is one recent historic example. More commonly in Republics voters and rulers have been limited to a small class of rich people. In American history our early republic was run by slave masters who refused to treat slaves (and American Indians, and even middle class white men) as having the rights listed in our Bill of Rights.

The other big lie is that God, through our Founding Fathers, embodied in our Constitution, mandated that the United States would be a republic with a limited franchise. They point to where the Constitution ensures that state governments are to have "a republican form of government." They conveniently forget that a Republic can be democratic or undemocratic, and still have a Republican form (elected officials instead of a monarch). They failed to note that the most powerful branch of government in the new Federal constitution was the House of Representatives, which was constituted according to democratic, not merely republican, ideals. The House may exhibit all the imperfections of humans and politics, but it successfully accomodated the extension of voting rights to all adults.

Don't think this issue will go away. There is money behind it and forceful evil intent. Advocating disenfranchising American citizens may be protected speech, but it verges on treason.

These people need to be stopped. Their ideas must be soundly refuted. Help create a body of public opinion that will reject their poisoned mind set. Forward this essay, speak out, or write your own commentary on this critical issue.

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