How would you answer if asked this question by a pollster?
Because even in a democracy people can’t be trusted to make good decisions for themselves, they should be guided by:
__2. The President of the United States
__4. talk-radio hosts
__5. global corporate leaders
__6. the Communist Manifesto
__7. moral values
The multiple-choice format itself is a problem. It doesn’t offer all possible choices, nor allow for a novel-but-appropriate response that might be better; it tempts the respondent to please -- or annoy -- the interrogator; it suggests that there is one right answer, and that all the good citizen needs do is to choose it.
Worse, even if it were open-ended, the question itself is an ideological agenda -- making assumptions about people and democracy that are not universally accepted and in fact undermine the very idea of democracy.
Many of us believe that democracy can’t be merely a mechanism by which national decisions are made by a majority of citizens ratifying the "right" answer from a shortlist of choices provided by those in power. Rather, we conceive of democracy as a process that starts from open-ended questions of citizens about how we want our society governed, and proceeds with agendas and leaders emerging as we generate answers we can live with.
What concerns many liberals in confronting four more years of George W. Bush is his assumption that the ratification of his presidency by a majority of voters also validates his conception of democracy as a top-down process directed by God. -- a God who assumes that people are incapable of democracy, and one who specifies to Bush both the questions and the answers about matters that affect the lives and livelihoods of humans all over the planet.
Many liberals believe that faith in God and faith in democracy are mutually exclusive epistemologies. If you believe that God determines what is right and good for humans and bestows or imposes morality and goodness from the top down -- then there is no use for democracy. Democracy is a process by which all people participate in building good lives and good societies by working together from the bottom up -- determining what is right and good for ourselves and society by talking together about shared needs, common goals, cultural values, social institutions, civil laws, and tenets of faith. Democracy rises from our fundamental humanity, sociability and capacity to love one another, and from our free choices to respect, trust and help one another.
We worry that Bush -- with his allegiance to a bellicose God and his isolatation from criticism and dissent -- has got himself into a godawful mess that he is basically unequipped to resolve. This week we’re asking if Condoleeza Rice, as Secretary of State, will serve the will of the people of the United States or whether her loyalty is only to Bush’s divinely driven agenda for the world. We’re asking if the new Attorney General will use his post to justify torture. We’re wondering how Bush’s God intends to deal with truly moral issues like nuclear proliferation, global poverty, and environmental degradation.
With a start like this, many of us fear that in the next four years the Bush administration will either crash and burn in explosions of terrorism and war or judder into the chaos of worldwide economic, social or environmental disasters.
In the long run, in the absence of mediating processes of democracy and public involvement, unless Bush’s Avenging God stages some spectacular miracle, lesser gods will prevail. We can only hope that the malign gods of wealth, oil, power, racism and religious zealotry will be offset by the kinder gods of human love, compassion, reason, fairness, and that the impartial gods of incompetence, miscalculation, inattention, random error and unforeseen consequences will afflict the comfortable as much as they afflict the rest of us.
And yet ... Some liberals assume our only failure was in marketing our multiple-choice agenda exam to voters. Others think we could have aced the exam by crafting questions that were more agenda-driven and multiple-choice answers that were more shrewd and appealing.
In order to re-establish democracy in our nation Democrats should:
__1. go to Canada
__2 pray to God
__3. do more polling and focus groups
__4. move agenda to the Right
__5. court more corporate contributions
__6. disband party and form a new one
None of the above. We need to stop appealing to divine, scientific or rational authorities and listen to one another -- especially to the poor and outcast. We need to practice democracy not by winning a majority for a canned or holy agenda, but by engaging one another in conversations about the issues and values that affect our lives.
Democracy is messy, it’s labor intensive. It’s ...well, human. And it’s ours, to make the best we can. Like us, it’s not perfect, but it can be made better.
And finally, like us, democracy is a living process. If you nail it to a cross, to an agenda or to a multiple-choice question, it dies. If you live it -- honestly and openly -- it thrives.
Caroline Arnold (firstname.lastname@example.org) served 12 years on the staff of Senator John Glenn and is now active in civic and environmental affairs in Kent, Ohio.
This column will appear in the Kent-Ravenna Record Courier on Sunday November 21, 2004