Note the small “r” in the headline.
I’m writing today to call out one of the silliest canards coming from conservative circles today: that the United States isn’t a democracy. That’s pure crap, of course. Here’s why.
The premise is that the Founding Fathers hardly ever used the term “democracy” but were very specific about founding a republic. The phrase, “Republican Form of Government” is in the Constitution (Article IV, Section 4) . That much is true. But the argument that this means we’re not and oughtn’t be a democracy stumbles right out of the gate.
First, just because Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton or Madison didn’t say something doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply. Second, those in conservative quarters who would have you believe, “America is a republic, not a democracy” are operating under the faulty premise that these two terms are mutually exclusive — if we’re a republic, then we can’t be anything else.
But the Founders never said anything about us having a two-party system and yet, for good or ill, that’s what we have. Not a quill-on-parchment blot about our being a superpower, either, but here we are. And they’d soil their knee-breeches if they knew who was sitting in the Oval Office today — whether or not they had any opinon about his policies. Hmm, what would Thomas Jefferson have to say to Barack Obama? Maybe something like, “Hey, how old’s Malia now?”
But I digress. While I’m digressing about Jefferson, though, it should be noted that he, along with James Madison, founded a political party. It was called the Democratic-Republican Party. So much for us being a republic to the exclusion of being anything else. The Democratic-Republicans, incidentally, were the party of small government, as opposed to the Federalists, who were the ones who wanted a strong, centralized seat of power. In the dawn of our republic (let’s use that perfectly good word), though, the Federalists were considered the political right and the Democratic-Republicans were considered the political left. Go figure.
Another flaw in the republic-not-democracy meme is the insinuation, “Republic good — democracy bad”. Democracy, so the thinking goes, is just mob rule while republicanism is an exercise in equal treatment under the law. But I’m left to wonder, for all the mileage the Founders got out of the word, why didn’t they call their country “The Republic of America”? I mean, it was just a few years later that the French Republic was founded. It’s still around today, still an ally of ours, and is in monetary union with the Federal Republic of Germany. You can’t use the “union of states, not a single country” argument because that’s what Germany is too. (These godless, effete European liberal nations consider themselves republics rather than democracies? Gasp!)
But not all republics are good. Another, blessedly defunct, federation of republics is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Not Union of Soviet Socialist Democracies. Republics.
Yes, we’re a constitutional, federal republic. It’s true, but it’s also trivia. The fact doesn’t separate us from our enemies or identify us with our friends. So’s Iran. So’s China. You know who isn’t a republic? The United Kingdom, our staunchest ally. You know who’s a republic but doesn’t have a constitution? Israel, our second-staunchest (happy new year, folks).
The only reason I can see that anyone would waste the time trying to spin this is that “republic” sounds like “Republican” and “democracy” sounds like “Democrat”. And some Republicans will stop at nothing to find a new way to demonize Democrats, even attempting to turn “democracy” into a dirty word.
Because democracy is not the rule of law. Because majority rule does not represent the true intentions of the Founding Fathers.
At least, not until the Republicans have the majority.