Why Not Direct Democracy?

As I read this jeremiad on how unfair our present national electoral system is by Kathy Gill at The Moderate Voice:

Yet in a very real sense, that 51-49 vote on Friday represented the tyranny of the minority, just like the committee vote that preceded it.

Those 51 senators represent only 44% of the U.S. population.

The 49 opposition senators (46 Democrats, two Independents, one Republican) represent 56% of the U.S. population.

On the Senate Judiciary Committee, all Republican members are men; 51% of the U.S. population is female. Most women in America, according to polls, oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Tyranny of the minority.

it occurred to me how narrow the analysis was. Why are party and gender the only things that matter in electoral politics? Why does party matter at all? I don’t think that Ms. Gill realizes how ironic her use of a quote from James Madison was. Madison thought that political parties as such were problematic.

The Democratic Party is already majority minority or very nearly so but that’s not reflected among the Democratic House representative or senators. If it were there would be many more black and Hispanic representatives and senators than at present. If you’re going to argue for proportional representation, proportion of what? Total population, legally resident population, voting age population, eligible voters, registered voters, voters? In a country where the majority of those registered to vote can’t be bothered to do so, it’s hard to sympathize.

Switzerland approximates direct democracy. Every matter of significance is put to a popular vote but Switzerland is small. Would such a system work in the U. S.? Why is representative democracy sacrosanct?

As I have tried to make clear over the years, I favor federalism, subsidiarity, and a federal government limited to its enumerated powers. “Subsidiarity” means that government action and authority resides at the lowest practicable level. In the U. S. that would require an enormous devolution of power back to state and local governments. The irony of holding those views and residing in the state of Illinois is not lost on me. I believe that our present system infantilizes state governments until we get, well, Illinois. An epitome of what I believe is that I think that banks should not be able to operate across state lines and that they should be regulated by states.

9 comments… add one
  • Gray Shambler

    Another example is Roe v Wade, looming large in present debate. I don’t think it will be overturned, but if it were, it would simply throw abortion law back to the states. As it were circa 1973. Hardly an argument for women having second class status.

  • Andy

    Well, I agree completely. Also, I don’t think the people who advocate for such “reforms” really understand the implications of what they’re suggesting. It’s the underpants gnome strategy. And I think it’s both irresponsible and immoral to delegitimize our present system while having no real plan to actually achieve the ends they want. Finally, I think these sentiments are rarely based on notions of effective governance – rather, they are reactions the present system not delivering the ends and policies they prefer.

  • PD Shaw

    One of the impacts of eliminating the filibuster was to make closer votes. If we possessed the power of telepathy, it would not be surprising to discover these thoughts:

    Manchin: K. is going to be confirmed regardless of my vote, so it makes sense for me to vote for him.

    Murkowski: K. is going to be confirmed regardless of my vote, so it makes sense for me to vote against him.

  • steve

    I think it a bit odd that you are writing about pushing power back to the states when the author is talking about a vote for a SCOTUS justice. (On the general issue of pushing things back to the states i am pretty agnostic as I think the states are just as ad or worse as the feds. Look at Illinois!) I think the author has staked out the case that senators represent the people of their states, so hence the use of the total population number. Seems fairly reasonable. I guess if you use the home standard, they have always been underrepresented in Congress so not sure that is especially relevant to this vote.

    Steve

  • steve

    ” As it were circa 1973. Hardly an argument for women having second class status.”

    I am old enough to remember women coming to the OR having major complications after having had an illegal, back alley abortion. Is that how we treat first class citizens?

    Steve

  • Ben Wolf

    The failure of Thomas Jefferson to assemble his thinking into a magnum opus meant we missed a genuine democratic alternative, a uniquely American philosophy of governance.

    Power would have devolved well beyond the states; in fact I think Richard Mathews makes a good case that Jefferson’s values were communitarian anarchist, so of course he was excluded from serious involement with drafting the Constitution.

    That doesn’t mean we can’t still have something similar in spirit.

  • Gray Shambler

    “I am old enough to remember women coming to the OR having major complications after having had an illegal, back alley abortion. Is that how we treat first class citizens?”

    Or travel alone at 18 to New york state to have it sucked out legally.
    If it’s against the law, don’t do it. I’m old enough to regret legal abortion. Personally.

  • steve

    “Or travel alone at 18 to New york state to have it sucked out legally.”

    Only because you dont know the history. It was only legal in NY for 3 years before it was legalized everywhere.

    Steve

  • Gray Shambler

    Yeah, but that point in time in NYC is when they sucked my nephew out of my frighted teenage sister.

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