Tuesday, September 07, 2004


Republic. n. 2a. A political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them.

There are many debates out there about the meaning of 'republic' versus the meaning of 'democracy' and which our nation has become today. Some cite the change in electing senators in 1911 to a transition for the USA from a historically-defined republic to a democracy. The problem in evaluating these terms throughout our history is that they tend to be altered by each generation to fit its own paradigm.

The definitions offered at the RNC were equally interesting. First Arnold Schwarzenegger's speech opened the gates to make the Republican Party widely inclusive and welcoming. Then Zell Miller's speech and all of his interviews have repeatedly defined what the Democratic Party used to be but is no longer. While few would claim that their party names would directly tie them to historical understandings of 'Republic' and 'Democracy,' there are deeply interesting differences between the emphases that show links to today's bipartisan politics. Republicans are not necessarily those for a republic and against a democracy and vice-versa for the Dems.

As George Washington left office, his charge to the country included two words of advice:
1. Avoid political parties
2. Avoid foreign affairs

While these hardly seem possible today, our country has gotten lost in the politics of partisanship to the extent that democracy is at stake. When the talking heads of a political party establish the platform that they would choose to run on and then expect the party's constituency to follow them, the process has fallen on its head, mortally wounded.

Take the 1904 election for example: the key issues were the gold standard, the rights of laborers, the independence of the Philippines, and the problem of monopolies. The two candidates, Roosevelt and Parker, basically agreed on the issues. The voters elected Roosevelt based largely on his personality (though in an age without the communications technology we have today, the average person would have had little knowledge of either's personal traits.)

In 2004 the predominant approach seems to be one of running on a platform that is clearly contrasted with the platform of the incumbent party and one that would also appeal to voters. The platform has to be original and marketable. The platform does not need to make sense or be true to the party's past, but must merely be drastic enough to promote a change from the current administration. If the incumbent party is in favor of putting green carpet in the White House, you must denounce green carpet and the color green itself while insisting that the only proper color for the White House carpet is red. Then sell your voters on the idea. Never, ever, under any circumstances, ask the public.

And they wonder why voter turn-out has been poor.

No comments: