Our Democratic Republic

Recently, I have noticed a disturbing development in one of our two political parties. Conservatives, usually represented by the Republican Party, seem to be losing their faith. That is, they are losing their faith in democracy. If true, this would be quite a fall from grace for a party whose first President defined democracy as a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Numerous signs attest to this drift away from democracy, but especially alarming are the attempts by those states run by Republican majorities to limit access to the vote. Examples of these include new voter ID laws, fewer days allotted to voting, reduction in the number of polling places, and placement of polling places in inconvenient locations. In a few cases, Republican politicians have committed “gaffs” by boasting that their new voting restrictions would help them win elections. But most Republicans maintain discipline and stick to the party line that they are only trying to protect the vote. Sure.

But sometimes conservative writers, including the writer of a letter to this paper on November 28 (“Delayed Response”), state quite plainly that the United States was not intended to be a democracy. She said that we are instead a “Constitutional Republic.”

But why can’t a nation be both a republic and a democracy? And what would she substitute for rule by the people? Plutocracy? Aristocracy? Theocracy? Over the centuries, all these forms of government have been tried and found to result in bloodshed and tyranny.

I can understand why many conservatives are nervous about democracy. Things are changing rapidly in our country. Changing especially rapidly is the demographic make-up of what our Constitution calls “We the People.” Conservatives do not like change and are programmed to resist it, especially changes in our definition of who is a citizen (Thus, the resistance to immigration reform). Many conservatives try to divine the “original intent” of the 18th century gentlemen who wrote the Constitution. But this is a mistake. Remember, those gentlemen would not allow black Americans to vote, nor women of any color, or even most white men.

But I do not intend to denigrate our founding fathers. Although they were the products of their era and shared the prejudices of their time, they boldly forged a document that was radically new and progressive. And they were humble enough to know that they could not create a law that would be perfect for all time. So they made our Constitution adaptable. Through the amendment process, the People have extended the right to vote to more and more citizens. Over the years, the People have crafted a more perfect democracy than that which was handed to them in 1789.

So we do live in a democratic republic. In spite of the fearful and foggy thinking of conservative writers, I am convinced that the People are not confused by this idea. Our nation is both a democracy and a republic.

Gene Baldwin


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