In his most recent missive, JMG hit a homer with me. He talks about democracy in many of the same words I use. My basic views of democracy fall under two categories, one it’s (perhaps only) virtue, that when things become so unbearably bad everyone recognizes things are bad, we can vote the rascals out (and replace them with another set of potential rascals). The second, which JMG dwells upon in this weeks column, is the responsibility of voters if democracy is to work WELL. That is, a successful democracy is dependent on an informed electorate. He stresses a prerequisite of an informed electorate, the ability to think.
The latter is where we are failing miserably. JMG used the same example from history that I often bring up, the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Accounts of those debates stand as a stark contrast to today’s so-called debates and even townhall meetings where candidates are routinely sheltered from any pointed questions. The Lincoln-Douglas debates usually took place in town halls and would last all day and into the evening with a break for dinner. The halls were routinely packed with citizens resulting frequently in hot stuffy conditions, but the audiences sat throughout the debates raising substantive points to be contested by the candidates.
Today, when they actually hold town hall meetings, candidates for Congress come well equipped with a litany of soundbites and handlers to make sure they stay on point and deflect follow-up questions that might stray into uncomfortable subjects.
I admit to a certain amount of dispair over the fact that we will likely not see a return to the best of democracy in my lifetime.