We Get What We Elect

Democracy. We all have views. We all have a voice. We all have a vote.

Representative Democracy. We elect people to represent our views, to speak our voice, to cast our vote.

But something is not working. Our government is broken. Congress cannot get anything done. Our leaders are not leading. The solution is less government/more government; less spending/more spending; less rules/more rules, for us/for government. The answer is simple, if only …

And there is the problem. In this age of instant gratification, one-click media, and slogans and shouting, we have forgotten that democracy takes work. It was always difficult; now it’s even harder.

Much attention is being paid these days to the polarization of our political processes – from the effect of the Tea Party on the Republicans to the effect of the Liberals on the Democrats. We are not given moderate choices, so the argument goes. We cannot elect the thoughtful representatives we want, because we aren’t given the opportunity. But this, too, is an oversimplification. Democracy is about us – about We, The People – and if we don’t do the hard work, we surrender our Democracy to the Shouters and the Oversimplifiers. And then we get what we have elected.

Democracy requires respect for each other. We cannot all always be right. We cannot all prevail all of the time. Sometimes, we must each be a follower – and sometimes our elected leaders must be, as well.

Democracy requires conversation, not shouting. The Silent Majority must speak out, respectfully. We must all use our voices, constructively. We must converse with people with whom we disagree.

Democracy requires partnership, not just collaboration or compromise. We all have a stake in the outcome. Forcing one’s views or positions on others is inherently undemocratic.

Democracy requires a respect for knowledge. The right to express our opinion does not make our opinion right. Expertise and experience must be valued. The dumbing down of the conversation results in the dumbing down of our society.

We must put aside our labels. We must, in our own way, be the people who we want our democratic leaders to be. We must give voice to the thoughtful conversation that we want from our leaders. We must ourselves act the way we want our political process to be and our political leaders to represent.

There is no other way; there is no alternative. After all, that’s what Democracy is all about.

  • MikeNelson

    Art, thanks for being a voice for civility and sanity.  Larry Lessig, at a talk on Tuesday night at GWU, was talking about his new book, “Republic Lost.”  He made the very good point that both the news media and the two major parties thrive on conflict and vitriol.  Until we change that dynamic, compromise will just become more and more difficult.  I’m hoping a viable, third party could change the equation.  Even though Perot was never feasible as President, he did bring important issues (e.g. the deficit) into the debates during the 1992 election.  More importantly, the presence of a third candidate in a debates prevents the other two candidates from using vicious, ad hominem attacks on each other (since that only makes the third candidate look better.)  This is one reason that I hope AmericansElect.org gets more attention.