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An Ideal Democracy

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.

A politician would not be judged positively for acquiring federal money for local projects, as this would be recognized as thinly veiled support for a candidate’s re-election at the taxpayers’ expense. It would be understood that projects that benefit a particular city or region should be paid for by taxes collected as locally as possible, in the interest of not spending taxpayer money on projects that most taxpayers don’t want their taxes to pay for. Voters would recognize that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and politicians would be praised for their fiscal prudence. A constitutional amendment would be passed requiring a 3/4 supermajority to allow deficit spending. Voters would approve of surpluses to pay for future projects, or to finance extra spending in the event of a recession, so deficit spending wouldn’t be necessary.

About Semprini

  • zingzing

    stm: “Down south for me zing: Virginia, Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, parts of Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and those bits of the mid west that might be loosely described as south.”

    ah, the home base of the aforementioned republican breed of american “thought.” (that was for dave.)

    doc: “No need. Notwithstanding all the sun, some buildings in California do have roofs.”

    and here i thought they all lived at redondo beach, wore no shoes and called each other after ladies undergarments.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    “language-specific cultural signifiers”;
    “the confluence of tongue and cheek.”

    There you go, show ‘em zing.

    Let no one be knocking down American education.

    Only a Yankee can flirt with their language so.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    It’s Venice beach you must be thinking.

  • zingzing

    roger–public schools, the whole way! and if that was flirting, i had my pants around my ankles and my fingers up lady language’s shirt.

  • zingzing

    and i was certainly thinking of redondo beach. surfin’ usa by the beach boys is stuck in my head.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Then you must have been typing with the other hand.

  • zingzing

    i always type with the other hand. actually, i just grab my penis and aim carefully. slap! “w” slap! “h” slap! “a” slap! “t” slap! “?”

  • STM

    zing: “american football is rugby for sissies” again, i’ll bring this up. “i don’t make comparisons,” my white ass.

    Even though there’s some truth in that statement, I’ve always just been winding you up. And lately, mainly because you pretended to know that rugby and rugby league were two completely different games, when you plainly didn’t know.

    I’m fully cognisant of the need for Americans to pad up in case they get a bit of a knock, and to have two separate teams for offence and defence in case they get a bit tired and can’t play out the full whack.

    But I’m appreciative of the athleticism involved, and the toughness required. Even though most would get eaten alive playing rugby league :)

  • STM

    zing writes: “get a sense of humor, dave. seriously. just because i make fun of you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to see a damn joke.”

    Pot, meet kettle … again.

    Gotta love you though zing. You never take a backward step (not like some of those helmet-head nancy boy footballers you like :)

  • STM

    Doc: “I dunno, zing. I’m English and I’m constantly being asked if I’m from Australia.”

    Paradoxically, back in the 80s and 90s, people asked if I was British. One guy asked if I was Welsh.

    I said, “Not really, but I am from New South Wales”.

    He said, “I didn’t know there was a new part.”

  • zingzing

    “And lately, mainly because you pretended to know that rugby and rugby league were two completely different games, when you plainly didn’t know.”

    actually, you must have me confused. i do know that they are different (although “completely different” is another issue), even if i don’t know the many specifics of their differences. but i believe you are thinking of someone else, as we never have really delved into the specifics in conversation.

    “Even though most would get eaten alive playing rugby league :)”

    don’t you get started.

    “Pot, meet kettle … again.”

    bah. besides, i was just winding you up (as “my white ass” should have informed you), so you and me and dave and all our blackness should meet up and compare.

  • STM

    Doc: “No tan, man. I stay indoors as much as possible.”

    The original pasty Pom, ed Doc?

    At least you don’t moan and carry on all the time.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    and called each other after ladies undergarments

    Dude? Bro? Man? Victoria’s Secret? Whut???

  • STM

    zing: “english people with tans are creepy.”

    Mate, that’s a generalisation. Most of the buggers are just creepy, full stop.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Yes, you’re right. Most people with tans are creepy.

  • STM

    The closest I’ve come to that is when I walked into that surf shop in Manhattan Beach and asked the girls behind the counter if I could look at their thongs.

    See, there are many traps for the unwary. I only wanted to buy a pair of essential beach footwear, not chalk up an LAPD arrest record for making lewd comments.

  • zingzing

    doc: “bra” is the particular raping of a word i’m after. as in, “what’s up, bra?” *shudder*

  • Baronius

    Then again, I heard this anecdote recently, about a British couple visiting a friend in Ontario. The couple had never been to North America, so they planned on renting a Winnebago and driving down to Florida, then visiting Napa wine country, and stopping in Vancouver to ski on their way back to Ontario. They were visiting for ten days.

  • STM

    Lol. We get that here too. We were talking yesterday about a Yank and a Brit who came out for a series of meetings. They tried to organise a morning meeting in Melbourne, a flight back to Sydney for an afternoon meeting and then a trip to Perth, for another meeting, returning that night.

    Then they just wanted to relax for a few days. We had to point out that the Melbourne meeting alone would take up an entire day of travel time, with drive to and from airports and flying time, then if they somehow managed to get the red-eye to Perth they would have to overnight there and have a meeting the next day then return from Perth that following evening or night, getting in to Sydney either very late that night or at 6.30 the next morning.

    They hadn’t worked out that it was like flying from New York to Boston and back, then on to Los Angeles and back.

    I must say though, long distances don’t faze me coming from here. When I was first in the US, planning to drive from coast to coast was just another car drive.

    It’s nothing for us to plan a drive up to Queensland to visit family, which is about 10-12 hours. Beats flying if you have the time and you get to drive your own car while you’re up there.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    “what’s up, bra?”

    I’m not hiding anything up my bra! I mean… what bra? I’m not wearing a bra! And I’m not hiding anything up it! I mean… if I was wearing a bra, which I’m not, I wouldn’t be hiding anything up it! And I’m not hiding anything anywhere else either! Shit! Enough with the third degree! Aaarrrgggghhhh…

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Baronius @ #118:

    Dang. That might have been just about doable, but only with the help of some sustained Bay Area-style driving. But nobody can sustain that level of psychosis for ten days.

  • STM

    Might have been fun trying though. You wouldn’t get much sightseeing done, however, except through the window of the winnebago.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    It’s nothing for us to plan a drive up to Queensland to visit family, which is about 10-12 hours. Beats flying if you have the time and you get to drive your own car while you’re up there.

    Ugh. Not something I’d fancy doing, although it does depend on the scenery along the way. What is the drive from Sydney to Brisbane like?

    The longest I’ve driven for is the six-hour haul from Fresno to San Diego. Done that in both directions over the course of a weekend. Not the prettiest of drives, even along the coast through Orange and San Diego Counties.

    Driving out of Fresno to anywhere is tedious, because you have to navigate through at least an hour of flat, smoggy farmland in any direction before the topography starts to liven up a bit – and even longer if you’re going north or south.

    It’s why I prefer to fly if I’m going any further than a couple of hours’ drive out of town.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Not the prettiest of drives, even along the coast through Orange and San Diego Counties.

    Having said that, there is one very entertaining highlight along that stretch of road, which is the San Onofre nuclear power station with its two suggestively-shaped reactor halls.

    It was famously featured in one of the Naked Gun movies, in a scene where Leslie Nielsen is reminiscing about an old girlfriend. At the moment he says, “Everywhere I go, something reminds me of her”, the reactor buildings are seen through the window of the car he’s riding in.

  • zingzing

    i once took a drive, mostly along the pacific coast highway, from san francisco to vancouver, bc. i had an erection for most of the two days it took (i stopped off in portland and seattle, two of the most beautiful cities in the country). i’ve also, several times, driven from charlotte, nc to indianapolis. now that is like watching your eyes get shit on. sometimes, driving is worth it. sometimes, it’s not.

    (i also once flew over southern russia going into northern china, and, not knowing where i was in the least, thought i saw mars from the plane.)

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    (i also once flew over southern russia going into northern china, and, not knowing where i was in the least, thought i saw mars from the plane.)

    The Australian Outback looks a lot like Mars as well – and not just from a plane. If you ever get the chance, you must visit Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) in the aptly-named Red Centre: for my money the most extraordinary, magical place on Earth.

    Take away the vegetation (of which, considering it’s a desert, there’s a surprising amount), and you could easily be standing in one of those panoramas the Spirit and Opportunity rovers beamed back.

  • Dr. McClay

    “Democracy has developed over time. Just as it has gone through many different stages in the past, it will continue to evolve and improve in the future. Along the way, it will be shaped into a more humane and just system, one based on righteousness and reality. If human beings are considered as a whole, without disregarding the spiritual dimension of their existence and their spiritual needs, and without forgetting that human life is not limited to this mortal life and that all people have a great craving for eternity, democracy could reach the peak of perfection and bring even more happiness to humanity.” (Fethullah Gulen)
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  • db

    I haven’t read all of the comments so apologies if someone already said this:
    I don’t think it’s enough to say that ‘people should behave better, but they probably never will’.
    People are behaving rationally, given the political system they live in.

    I think that only changes to the democratic process can improve the behaviour of people and politicians – constitutional changes. Addition of the ‘single transferable vote’ and ‘direct democracy’ are two thing that would change voter behaviour and give people the power to change their society. And therefore, give people a good reason to be interested in politics as a means to change things, not in the cynical ways people usually treat politics.