Thursday, May 17, 2012

Direct Democracy Sucks

Stephen Colbert
"So congratulations, North Carolina. Last night, you struck a decisive blow for loneliness. And tonight, as you go to sleep beside your heterosexual life mate, you can rest assured that all across your great state, a gay man or lesbian woman is crying themselves to sleep in solitude and making your relationship stronger with each tear." - Stephen Colbert

There are reasons the Founding Fathers chose a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy when it came time to write the U.S. Constitution. First and foremost they simply did not trust the average citizen to have the informed opinions necessary to make the most important decisions. Their hope and intention was that free and fair elections would lead to the selection of representatives with superior intellect and knowledge (like themselves) than the largely ignorant masses. They even adopted a bicameral Congress with a House of Representatives limited to two-year terms more subject to the whims of the public balanced by a more deliberative body, the Senate, whose members would serve longer six-year terms.

It has become common of late for states to hold referenda where issues with enough public support to get on the ballot can be voted on directly by the people. Sadly these experiments in direct democracy have confirmed the fears of the Founding Fathers. In referenda across the country ballot measures have been adopted that violate state and U.S. Constitutions and represent the opinions of extreme activist minorities. The North Carolina measure which violates the civil rights of homosexuals and heterosexuals alike is simply the latest example of the folly of direct democracy. In state after state referenda have passed that are nonsensical, ill-advised, discriminatory, and often unconstitutional. Think Proposition 13 which ultimately destroyed the California educational system, previously the finest in the nation, and Proposition 8 in which the efforts of out of state Mormons were instrumental in the unconstitutional restriction of civil liberties of specific minorities.

Making it more difficult for measures to qualify for a referendum could cut down on the current electoral nonsense. If Congress and the legislative bodies in the various states did their jobs we wouldn't need so many referenda. There may come a day when the average citizen is sufficiently informed and logic-driven for direct democracy to work, but that day is a long way off. Indeed, it seems farther in the future now than it did when Panderbear was a cub.

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