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Critical Essay

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Critical Essay

~The Problem with American Democracy is not too Little Democracy, but too much. Discuss ~

American democracy is “power of, by, and for the people.” It is, as Slavoj Zizek so eloquently puts, “the will and interests of the majority that determine state decisions” (Zizek, 2003). The problem with American democracy is not that there is too little democracy, but that there is too much. Alexander Hamilton tried to make sure there wasn’t too much when he advocated for the Electoral College. All through history, even before America, political minds have warned against too much democracy. Tyranny by majority, the uninformed, the undecided; they all contribute to too much democracy.

One of the greatest problems America faces is the uninformed voter. Jonah Goldberg wrote an article in which he said, “The ignorance of the typical American when it comes to politics is often staggering.” He does not mince his words in saying that he believes that normal people of society are not fit in knowledge to the extent of making a just decision of who should act as President. He is not the first to believe this however. The notion that society must be protected from itself when it comes to electing officials goes back to Ancient Greece.

Plato’s Republic is widely regarded as a masterpiece of social and political philosophies. He believed that all men were not created equal, but not in the physical sense that history has shown. He meant intellectually. When referring to democracy, he looks upon it as something that would result in tyranny and chaos. “Tyranny by the poor,” is why he believed that an aristocracy would be a better ruling tool than a democracy (Plato, B.C.). He criticized democracy as a way for which anarchy to breed and that political equality, as it partially exists now, inevitably leads to democracy. Although I object to the idea that I am not equal to some others, Plato is right in saying that the average citizen should not be trusted with the decision of electing officials in the case that they are not knowledgeable.

An article in The New Yorker title The Unpolitical Animal, written by Louis Menand, found a study done by Philip Converse that showed that seventy percent of Americans cannot name their senators or their congressmen and twenty-five percent don’t know who their governor is (Goldberg, 2003). The same study showed that in the 1992 election, the most widely known fact about George W. Bush was that he hated broccoli and while eighty-five percent knew that his dog’s name was Millie, only fifteen percent knew that both Bush and Clinton wanted the death penalty (Menand, 2004). So what does that say about American society? It says that the majority of American society is what Menand, Plato, and Zizek might call ignorant.

There are those who would say that American democracy has too little democracy in it. The League of Women Voters says in their Where We Stand section that their goal is to “Promote the election of the President and Vice President by direct popular vote and work to abolish the Electoral College.” Their argument is that the current election process is not conducive to what Americans claim they want; a representative government (League of Women Voters, 2002). The problem with direct popular vote is that the majority of the voters are either uninformed or undecided right up until the week before Election Day. In 2000, Thirty-three percent answered “don’t care” or “don’t know” when asked whether they cared who won the presidential election. The Electoral College acts like a buffer in this situation.

Go back over two hundred years. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay are writing the Federalist Papers which are being published in the New York city paper. Hamilton writes in Federalist Paper No. 68:

The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.

Hamilton saw that there would be need for a buffer, an “intermediate” in order to balance out any negative influence

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