Saturday, November 12, 2011

When voting isn't democracy--plebiscite, plus the American Presidency

I think that the pure existence of a vote does not mean that it's truly democratic. Case in point: Napoleon, dictator of France, put his policies as well as his status as ruler to a plebiscite referendum and when they passed he declared legitimacy and victory. The thing is that even though there was a vote, the overall structure of the system was anti-representative and a-democratic, and the vote was little more than bread and circuses. It's impossible to vote a dictator in, since representative government is fundamentally opposed to the idea of unaccountable dictatorship. A symbolic vote that over rules a representative system of government isn't legitimate or democratic, no matter how many people support it.

*on edit: in my opinion, for democracy to be real has to be transparency and effective representation. By effective representation I mean that the representatives in question, or the issues voted on, have to be linked to reasonably small units of voters. One representative for 300 million people is quite disproportional, while many legislators representing smaller blocks who then act in concert, is much more reasonable. The same can be said for initiative voting. Having an up down vote on a single issue is much less democratic than having groups of people tell their representatives what the spectrum of their concerns are about an issue, and then having the representatives work out and pass, or fail to pass, something that represents the nuanced sum of the voters'concerns.

Applying this criteria to the United States it's clear that there's absolutely no way the election of a single chief executive by hundreds of millions of people can be called authentically democratic, electoral college or not. Presidential elections might as well be Napoleonic plebiscites, even though real change can and does come through them.

A much more reasonable way for the Executive branch to be chosen is having the leader of the party in the House of Representatives be the Prime Minister, and other high ranking members serve in cabinet posts. The Representatives themselves would be elected in their own districts. Having the Executive, who's supposed to execute the will of the people, selected separately from the people's House, Congress, is anti-democratic in the extreme. They have to be linked.

If we in the United States are so big on not having kings, it's worthwhile to ask why we elect one every four years, and why we create and fawn over political dynasties reminiscent of monarchies such as those of the Kennedys and the Bushs.

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