If President Obama loses re-election, it won’t be because of the weak economy, the unpopularity of ObamaCare, the fallout from Benghazi or any other policy-related matter. At least that isn’t how many Obama supporters on the left are likely to explain it. Instead, we’ll hear that he went down to defeat at the hands of America the Pathological—a country where bigotry, corruption and political dysfunction reign.
Americans got a taste of that reaction four years ago, when Mr. Obama’s election wasn’t certain. “Racism is the only reason Obama might lose” to John McCain, Slate editor Jacob Weisberg wrote at the time. The argument was rendered moot when the first-term Illinois senator trounced Mr. McCain (53%-46%), winning a larger share of white voters than any Democrat in 40 years and entering the White House amid echoes of Camelot and approval ratings above 70%. Now the racism argument is being readied in the event of a Romney victory.
Attributing an Obama defeat to racism, though, is a weak charge because he is, after all, the incumbent—and so his defenders will need to bolster the America the Pathological diagnosis. That’s where a larger conspiracy would come in: The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision handed the levers of power to plutocrats like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson.
“Is a ‘Citizens United’ Democracy a Democracy at All?” asked Katrina vanden Heuvel of the Nation recently. Team Obama already has suggested that the election was being bought. “You’ve got a few very wealthy people lining up trying to purchase the White House for Mr. Romney,” said senior White House adviser David Plouffe in October. Added campaign strategist David Axelrod: “They are trying to buy this election.”
Actually, the spending by GOP donors has been about making a case to voters—and the same is true of spending by the Obama camp and every other campaign there ever was. Public rallies, television ads, direct mail, online videos and the like cost money. Such political speech is the essence of democracy, not its undoing.
Of course some campaign rhetoric is misleading or downright dishonest. That’s why it is good that politicians, journalists and regular citizens are free to push back. Ultimately the public decides—that’s the whole point. Unless the public can’t be trusted to bear that responsibility, a critique that seems to be at the heart of the scaremongering about the plutocratic takeover of American politics.
Which brings us to the indictment that could ring loudest of all if Mr. Romney wins: America is ungovernable, democracy not up to the challenge. The United States is “a nation of dodos . . . too dumb to thrive,” Time magazine’s Joe Klein wrote in 2010, after opinion surveys showed the public insufficiently impressed by Mr. Obama’s economic stewardship. Days later, in a column called “Down With the People,” Slate’s Mr. Weisberg wrote that “what may be the biggest culprit in our current predicament [is] the childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.”
This is familiar territory for progressives. As Herbert Croly, co-founder of The New Republic, wrote a century ago: “The average American individual is morally and intellectually inadequate to a serious and consistent conception of his responsibilities as a democrat.” So it has ever been thus: heads, our guy wins; tails, America loses.
How ironic is it that the “party of the people” is run by a group of snotty elitists that don’t trust the people?
Democracy is a radical idea. “One person, one vote.” Even our Founding Fathers didn’t completely trust the idea, that’s why they wanted to limit the voting franchise to white male landowners. Right now the only requirements to register to vote is to be eighteen years old, a citizen and have a pulse. In the vast majority of cases nobody even checks to see if you are telling the truth.
We let crazy people vote, along with the mentally deficient. (Half of all eligible voters are below-average in intelligence.) Poll tests are illegal – you don’t have to be literate or even demonstrate that you understand what issues you are voting on.
The historical record of democracy is mixed. Over the years the voters have elected some real losers – the current incumbent being a prime example. But they have also elected some great leaders at key moments in our history. You could probably get the same results by picking names at random.
So why do we keep democracy? Why not restrict the voting franchise to educated people who understand the issues?
The answer is pragmatic: Because democracy works better than anything else that’s ever been tried.