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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 1:56 pm 
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Geez, elendil, how big does the hammer have to be?

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 7:06 pm 
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Jeferson wrote:

Jim, what you refer to as "bad consequences" of the current system is, in my opinion, a fatal flaw. Again, when the current system can result in a candidate winning an election despite receiving less votes than a competitor, there's a problem that undercuts the principles of a democratic system.

Jef


Well, I'm not Jim, but what you see as the fatal flaw I see as a strength for the reasons I've already stated. I also disagree somewhat with Jim in saying the US is a democracy. If you define a democracy as the person or the idea with the most votes always wins, then no that's not what the US is. If it was then taxes would never be raised (OK so there is one good reason to have a true democracy).

The US was not formed to have a homogeneous collection of states and citizens. The same arguments we have now about federal governments usurping state's powers were raging then, too. The electoral college was formed in an attempt to recognize both population-based opinions while at the same time giving individual states a voice. It's the same principle as having the House based on population while the Senate gives each state an equal vote.

As someone else has said, this argument tends to come up mainly when there is a discrepancy like in 2000. This is oftentimes is partisan - if you think back to the 2000 campaign there was actually some fear that Bush would win the popular vote and lose the electoral. The GOP lawyers were busily trying to think of arguments to fight such an occurence, while many Democrats were talking about the sanctity of the electoral system and how it must be respected. Of course the opposite occurred and both camps are hypocritical to an extent. Just depends which side your bread is buttered on.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 7:18 pm 
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Quote:
Geez, elendil, how big does the hammer have to be?

Depends. :)

It seems to me that this jpeg is begging for a good caption:

http://www.detnews.com/pix/2004/02/24/asec/a024-nader-0204n-4.jpg

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 8:21 pm 
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Democracy--gov in which the people hold the ruling power
either directly or though elected representatives. Websters

Hi, this is consistent with a system where the guy with
the most votes doesn't necessarily win. The
essential feature of democracy is that the people hold the ruling power.
Even with the electoral colleges, it's still the case
that the people of the country hold the ruling power.
You're on to something, I think, but I don't think
it's that this isn't a democracy. Best


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 9:03 pm 
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jim stone wrote:
Democracy--gov in which the people hold the ruling power
either directly or though elected representatives. Websters

Hi, this is consistent with a system where the guy with
the most votes doesn't necessarily win.


Jim, I agree with you, but it seems like democracy is commonly defined in these discussions as "majority rules", which does not describe the US system of government. It occurred to me that examples of a truer democracy were the California recalls and referendums, many of which have been roundly criticized despite reflecting the wishes of the majority.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 9:28 pm 
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And though most people elide the difference:

The US is not, nor was it intended to be a democracy: we are a Democratic Republic.

And since under the Articles of Confederation the US was, in theory, a collection of independent States (as in "Nation-State", not as in "subdivision of the US"), the constitution needed to give incentives to the states to give up their autonomy. So we got the Senate (2 Senators per state, no matter the population, vs the population-based House of Representatives) and the Electoral College (originally, the members of the Electoral college from a state could be chosen by any means a state desired - elected directly, chosen by the state legislature, appointed by the state Governor . . .)

Over time, we have moved to a more federalist stance on most things. But the oddities in our system are remnants of the original intent. Though I could argue that for all its faults (many!) the current system probably works better than one where every citizen votes on every issue. Not that it necessarily works perfectly, or even close to it. But about as well as any other system we could easily come up with, and better than most that have been tried over the last few millennia.

We need to fine-tune our system. But anyone who seriously thinks we have a MAJOR problem with the system, rather than the details of the system, has read insufficient history. We - and I mean all the modern, first-world countries now, not just the US - have a degree of political freedom and affluence inconceivable just a few generations ago. And we all too often take it for granted, as a given, rather than the great gift it is.

I try not to forget that, and to vote - thoughtfully! - in every election in good part because I know how fragile a thing liberty can be.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 9:46 pm 
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 10:06 pm 
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There seems to be a paradox here. The ones who want it the most are often the ones who least deserve our trust. But then, why aren't we out there seeking office? Weird. Should office be forced upon the unwilling?

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 11:45 pm 
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Democracy--gov in which the people hold the ruling power
either directly or though elected representatives. Websters

Republic--a state or nation in which the supreme power
rests in all the citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives elected directly or indirectly by them and responsible to them.

A Democratic Republic is a democracy.
There are at least two kinds of democracy,
direct and indirect. A republic is an indirect
democracy. Both share the feature that the
ruling power is held by the people.

The president is elected by the states.
The states decide by majority vote to whom their
votes will go. As the people of the country hold the ruling power that
determines who will be president,
this is democracy.

An anomoly of the electoral college system,
which awards to each state a number of electoral
votes equal to the number of its senators plus
the number of its representatives,
is that in a close election one can win a majority
of electoral votes by barely winning in several
electorally rich states and losing badly in
other states. So it's possible, but unlikely,
for a president to be elected by the states,
through the way the majorities in the states
vote, but get fewer votes totally than
the individual who loses. Typically the
states will elect the individual who
gets the most votes totally.
Nonetheless, in every case the people of the
country hold the supreme power that determines
the presidential election's outcome. Democracy.

Every other elected office
is simply by majority vote. Even if this is an anomolous, weird
system, it's an anomolous, weird
democracy. What makes a democracy
a democracy is where the supreme and
ruling power ultimately lies. What our discussion
suggests, I submit, is that even if in extraordinary
circumstances the total majority of votes
doesn't determine the outcome, nonetheless,
as the way the people vote does determine
the outcome, the supreme and ruling
power still lies with the people. Best


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 25, 2004 12:11 am 
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Just want to add that the force of the phrase
'majority rule' is that the majority of people in
the country vote. 'Majority rule'
is about where the supreme power lies.
We still have majority rule
even when a candidate is elected by the states
who didn't get the largest number
of votes cast by the citizens. We would
not have majority rule if only white
male property owners could vote. Best


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 25, 2004 12:43 am 
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jim stone wrote:
A Democratic Republic is a democracy.
There are at least two kinds of democracy,
direct and indirect. A republic is an indirect
democracy. ...


jim stone wrote:
Republic--a state or nation in which the supreme power
rests in all the citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives elected directly or indirectly by them and responsible to them.

Aren't those contradictory, as far republics being "indirect" democracies is concerned?

I wonder when this "republic is indirect" usage gained currency. The Roman republic (after which the thing is named after all, from res publica, "matters of the people") had strong "direct" elements. The usage that I am familiar with (and which may not comport with right-wing US propaganda needs) is that a republic is "a democratic government that follows a monarchy or tyranny/dictatorship." Certainly that is the historical meaning since antiquity. A republic is therefore by definition a democracy, but that democracy may be "direct" or "indirect" without making the republic more or less of a republic. And that also is accepted historic usage, or have people already forgetton those funny Communist tautologies like "German Democratic Republic": the East-German state's need to say twice that it was a democracy when in reality it wasn't at all.

Anyway, while there is some good in discussing the comparative merits of direct vs. indirect democracy (when it comes to referenda on the federal level, for instance), I can't get excited about the electoral college. It's best explained historically, and I don't think much of either consternation at its continued existance (how many elections has it really affected?) or of the attempts to imbue it with some sort of systematic purpose or benign effect. Generally, I am not convinced that the purpose of democratic elections, no matter how direct or indirect, is to find the right man. The point is probably to be able to get rid of the wrong one without a revolution (that's Popper for you, btw).

I think that the electoral college and the "America is a Republic not a Democracy" slogans are more like secret handshakes for the right-wingers, so they can test one anothers' loyalty by proxy, and not really serious issues. But I don't mean to offend anyone who thinks that if only we were a democracy and not just a republic, life would be sweet, or anyone who thinks that the electoral college stands between us and the abysmal plunge into communism and same-sex marriage.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 25, 2004 3:50 am 
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Bloomfield wrote:
I think that . . . the "America is a Republic not a Democracy" slogans are more like secret handshakes for the right-wingers, so they can test one anothers' loyalty by proxy, and not really serious issues.


Heh heh... to some extent, it's symbolic name defending between a party which calls itself "Republican" and one that calls itself "Democratic" (having evolved from Democratic-Republican).

When I was a young child, in the public school, one of the things they wanted us to commit to memory was "The American's Creed." Written in 1918, it refers to the USA as a democracy in a republic,

I believe in the United States of America as a Government of the people by the people, for the people, whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a Republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect Union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.
I therefore believe it is my duty to my Country to love it; to support its Constitution; to obey its laws; to respect its flag, and to defend it againest all enemies.


Finally, I happened across a few lines from Mark Twain, the other day, that I thought I might quote here.

A man can be a Christian or a patriot, but he can't legally be a Christian and a patriot--except in the usual way: one of the two with the mouth, the other with the heart. The spirit of Christianity proclaims the brotherhood of the race and the meaning of that strong word has not been left to guesswork, but made tremendously definite- the Christian must forgive his brother man all crimes he can imagine and commit, and all insults he can conceive and utter- forgive these injuries how many times?--seventy times seven--another way of saying there shall be no limit to this forgiveness. That is the spirit and the law of Christianity. Well--Patriotism has its laws. And it also is a perfectly definite one, there are not vaguenesses about it. It commands that the brother over the border shall be sharply watched and brought to book every time he does us a hurt or offends us with an insult. Word it as softly as you please, the spirit of patriotism is the spirit of the dog and wolf. The moment there is a misunderstanding about a boundary line or a hamper of fish or some other squalid matter, see patriotism rise, and hear him split the universe with his war-whoop. The spirit of patriotism being in its nature jealous and selfish, is just in man's line, it comes natural to him- he can live up to all its requirements to the letter; but the spirit of Christianity is not in its entirety possible to him.

The prayers concealed in what I have been saying is, not that patriotism should cease and not that the talk about universal brotherhood should cease, but that the incongruous firm be dissolved and each limb of it be required to transact business by itself, for the future.


- Mark Twain's Notebook

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 25, 2004 7:27 am 
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jim stone wrote:
Democracy--gov in which the people hold the ruling power
either directly or though elected representatives. Websters

Republic--a state or nation in which the supreme power
rests in all the citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives elected directly or indirectly by them and responsible to them.


Actually, the supreme power in the US rests in the Constitution; that's the difference between a Constitutional Republic and a Democracy. The Constitution was explicitly designed to circumvent the "tyrrany of the majority."

Regarding the electoral college, people seem to forget (or not know) that the states decide how their electoral votes are apportioned. Not all states are winner-take-all. If the people really want proportionate apportioning of their electors, it will happen. But can you see the California legislature ever passing that? It's simply not in the interest of a very large or very small state.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 25, 2004 8:13 am 
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A direct democracy is one where the people directly vote
on issues, generally. If we all voted through some sort of
computerized system on each piece of state and federal
legislation, that would be direct democracy.
Government by constant referendum.

Indirect democracy is a democracy where the people
typcially elect representatives who vote on legislation.
According to Websters, another word for 'indirect
democracy' is 'republic.' So if you want a tautology
it's that a republic is a democracy.
If you want a logical contradiction, it's that
a republic isn't a democracy (compare: 'a bacheror
isn't unmarried').

If the supreme power were the constitution,
then no politcal system with a constitution could
be a democracy. The supreme power isn't
the constitution, but the people. The constitution,
at least as it presently exists grounds a political
system where the supreme power is in the
hands of the people. The people can amend the
Constitution. If they do so that only male white
property owners above the age of 50 can vote,
we would no longer be a democracy.

The dictionary definition isn't just a choice of words.
It tracks the question of where political power
ultimately lies, which is what makes the difference
between democracy and other forms of
government. An oligarchy is a government
where all the politcal power lies in the hands
a minority, and so on. Where the political power
is in the hands of the majority, simply in the sense
that most citizens can vote and this actually gets
counted toward the outcome of whatever is
being voted on, and representatives, if
any, are accountable to the people through
this process, you've got a democracy.
Government of the people, by the people...
as Lincoln put it. Demo--people, cratia--rule.

I think some people are thinking that there's something
deep here. Is a republic a democracy?
But I think that's like asking 'Is a bachelor unmarried.'
Given the meaning of the words, the answer to
both questions must be Yes. This has nothing
to do with whether your conservative or
liberal.

There may be other issues here that people's
posts are tracking, more important ones.
I see what I'm saying as mostly a question of getting
the terminology clear. I've taught political
science; as far as I know
I'm saying nothing controversial, and it
falls immediately out of the definitions. Best


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 25, 2004 8:37 am 
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I agree that the supreme power lies with the people, not the constitution, which is in some sense just a piece of paper, after all.

I also agree with Jim that the democracy/republic thing is a matter of terminology, although I am less inclined to trust a dictionary in matters of taxonomy. But I have been taken to task in the past for refering to America as a Democracy, rather than a "Republic", which puzzled me.

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