What would the perfect democracy be like?
It seems to me that to understand more clearly what’s wrong with something, it is useful to consider what could be right. Imagine, for a few moments, a democracy in which every citizen took his or her civic obligations very seriously. I don’t mean just that they vote, of course.
It starts with staying well-informed. Everyone would read the newspaper enough to know about the issues that affect us all. We would know not just about the economy and the employment situation, but also about prison conditions, the military, domestic abuse, foreign aid, and all of the dozens of issues that affect us as a country. We certainly wouldn’t agree on all these topics, but we would know the important factors in understanding them. We wouldn’t neglect an issue just because it didn’t personally affect us.
We would vote based on this knowledge. We would, directly and through the media, demand thoughtful answers from the candidates on these questions, not just feel-good sound bites. We would know the candidates’ stands on issues not only important to us, but also important to the country. A candidate who evaded hard questions would not be seen as someone serious enough about his responsibilities to be elected. We would remember a candidate’s past promises, and vote out someone who had not made a good-faith effort to fulfill them. We would not vote for a candidate who attacked his opponent’s character, or made charges based on anything other than the opponent’s record or statements. Insinuations and misleading statements would be recognized as the equivalent of lies, and punished by the voters accordingly.
We would vote based not just on how the candidates’ proposed policies would affect us as individuals, but on how they would affect all of us. We might be ideological, but we would not be dogmatic. Liberals would respect the crucial role played by the free market in a free society, and introduce market principles in government where appropriate; conservatives would understand that sometimes governments must do what the free market isn’t equipped to do. We all would encourage our representatives to negotiate to make laws that represent the interests of all of society, not to stand firm on ideology and reject any agreement not perfectly to one side’s liking.
The media would consider themselves to have a sacred responsibility: to provide us with information designed to give us the best insight possible into the country and world around us. The more serious the issue, the more coverage there would be. Politicians and bureaucrats would be held to account, asked tough questions to which complete answers would be expected; a politician who evaded a question would be reminded that he hadn’t answered the question. If a politician said something factually incorrect, the media would note this as a matter of course. Reporters would avoid being on friendly terms with members of the government, knowing this could interfere with their objectivity as journalists.
It would be well understood that money can be a corrupting influence in politics, so steps would be taken to prevent this. Public money would be allocated to pay for every political campaign, from President to city council member. The money would be given on the condition that it not be used for television advertising; the Web is more than sufficient to spread the politician’s message to those who want to hear it. Private and corporate donations, while not being illegal, would be frowned on due to the potential for corruption, and those who took such donations would not be elected for that reason.