Column on Democracy, When I like the Outcome

Democracy, When I Like the Outcome

Tibor R. Machan

Many moons ago California had a referendum, as only California can have them, promoted by the Democratic operative Bill Press, urging huge taxes on oil company incomes and profits, just about when the massive oil spill occurred in the Santa Barbara Channel. (I think it was immediately following the spill that Press imagined he could get the voters to lay in on Big Oil!) Alas, the voters went against Press’s people and for Big Oil, but, of course, Mr. Press & Co., immediately cried foul. Clearly democracy was only a valid method for reaching public policy decisions when it favored what Mr. Press & Co., the Democrats, in other words, wanted. Anything else had to be corrupt, not bona fide democracy.

We are these days witnessing the same thing across the country. Mr. Obama & Co. want health care reform and they insist on doing it their way. As they spread across the land taking their plans to various communities, people are gathering to hear them and in lots of places they are not liking what they are hearing. So they protest, sometimes showing visible outrage with what they are hearing. And, yes, some of these meetings are attended by people who have been urged to show up by organizers who would like them to make it evident that they oppose the administration’s plans. 

Many of them probably took a leaf out of Mr. Obama’s own book about how to organize communities to achieve exactly what these protesters and their own organizers have in mind. (Mr. Obama was famously involved in leading people in various communities to organize people so that they can more effectively promote their agendas.) But turn around is not fair play by any means, not if one listens to Mr. Obama’s cheerleaders in the media, the likes of Paul Krugman, Gail Collins, and Charles M. Blow, all of them writing on the Op Ed page of The New York Times denouncing the protesters and whoever may or may not have had a hand in organizing them. 

Why is it Democrats who finds it so intolerable when democracy doesn’t go their way? Why can only those results that support their own "ideological agenda"–a term Mr. Obama & Co. like to deploy when they wish to besmirch the opposition–manage to be democratic, while when the vote or the meetings go against them, something must have undermined the democratic process? My guess is that many of these folks really do not want democracy at all. They have their plans, in which they have full confidence whether Americans across the country agree with them, and only when the majority likes those plans will majority rule–or even just minority participation–be something that’s acceptable to them. 

Mind you, it is not my point to insist on carte blanches for democracy, not by any means. I am in full accord with the implication of that famous example of misguided democracy provided by the lynch mob. However the majority might insist on hanging someone, if no due process was followed in convicting him, it’s a no go. Democracy itself isn’t sufficient. It must be guided by principles of justice, which is what due process brings to the table. Limited democracy, applied by restricting the process to matters open for a vote, is the ticket, not the bloated, illiberal sort so many enthusiasts want. An that is how democracy is supposed to work in a free country. Some rather few matters can be up for a vote, yes, but not everything. The Bill of Rights was added to the U.S. Constitution precisely in that spirit. No majority support for forcing people to worship in a given way can be legitimate; no majority support for shutting down disagreeable editorialists–and, by extension, community organizers–is legitimate. Not even majority support for taking people’s property unless, again, due process has been in play.

Maybe Democrats should abide by the spirit that gave rise to the principles of their party. Even the Bush administration took it to heart not to roundly denounce the protesters of its policies by impugning their commitment to the democratic process. 

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