Sunday, January 24, 2010

Idealism Is Not a Four-Letter Word

A good friend recently observed, "Democracy is about majority rule, and Obama wants consensus." I actually agree with my friend's broader argument that Obama needs to assert authority and take the reins if he is to succesfully move his agenda forward, especially health care reform. However, I fundamentally disagree that democrary is about majority rule.

I think that it is a valid assessment of what Democracy has become, but the truth of what Democracy is intended to do is to make certain that the rights of the few aren't trampled by the many. That was the intent of the founding fathers in their drafting of the consititution.

This isn't just supposition on my part; it's based on the writings of Jefferson, Franklin, and others on the principles and purposes of government. The founding fathers were well read men, familiar with the theories and principals of government. They certainly had their flaws, but they did not lightly undertake creating a new nation. It's not the majority that needs protecting; by sheer numbers they have power to do as they please. The constitution protects the few, those whose voices who would otherwise be drowned out. Democracy is not majority rule, real democracy is about consensus.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
The rights spoken of are individual rights and the very purpose of government is to protect those rights, not to ensure that the majority has its rights enforced at the expense of the minority. The tragedy is that too many elected officials have forgotten that and so have the people. Majority rule is simply a variation on "might makes right" which is the very ideology rejected by the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.

The right often references "majority rule." I see it in the comments left after news stories and blog posts. They declare that Obama is ruining this country and trying to take away the rights of the majority and give them to illegal aliens and minorities. If the concept of majority rule were allowed to fully play out, personal liberties and freedoms would wax and wane dependent upon who was in power. I hate to think what would have become of the civil rights movement under a philosophy of majority rule. Indeed, most progressive change takes place in spite of majority rule, implemented and pushed forward by laws designed to protect the rights of groups that are marginalized by the majority. Government cannot be run on a principal of majority rule; if it were, someone would always be being shafted.

Is this an idealistic view of democracy? Of course it is, but re-read the Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. All of these writings, which form the foundation of our government, are filled with idealism. To be idealistic isn't to be naive, it is to believe that striving to be better than we are is what makes us human; idealism is the very core of the best of humanity.

I was drawn to Obama's candidacy because of his idealism, his belief that we all could be better than we are. Has his idealism made him vulnerable? I think the answer is yes, but I also think that he's learning how to balance his idealism in an arena that does not value idealism or its mate, integrity.

Idealism is not about being a starry-eyed dreamer, it's about adhering to your principals; it's about believing that how you accomplish your goals is just as important as accomplishing them.

Btw, Jack, I read your comment and I will get around to answering your intriguing question.


Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Thank you for reminding us that the minorities are the ones that are really supposed to be protected in our constitution.

Nance said...

Thank you for reminding us of our ideals and integrity; in our frustration, some of us have lately been considering entering what might be only a slugfest...and might turn into merely stooping. AND, I read Jack's comment, too; can't wait to read your response. Have we, in our careful nicety, been considering the Republican Party "too big to fail"?

Lisa :-] said...


I, too, was (am) attracted by Mr. Obama's idealism. Especially considering the eight dismal years through which we had slogged prior to his election. Unfortunately, our country, our society is no longer interested in "striving to be better than what we are." Certainly the current minority party is not. They are all about, "I, Me, Mine..."

The Republicans do not give a damn about the welfare of humanity. They gain popularity by advertising that folks have every right to hate, to fear, to mock, to marginalize people who are not exactly like them. And then make it very clear that they are the party who will protect those rights.

I would dearly love for Mr. Obama to be able to accomplish change things. To make our government function the way it could. But the Republicans have banded together and formed a solid block against anything, ANYTHING he tries to do. At this point, I think the best thing he can do is use his majority to make positive changes, with or without the cooperation of the minority party.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Hey there, Sheria. Nice post. I am getting tired of everybody voicing disappointment in Obama because his "change" isn't coming fast enough. Both he and Biden warned that this whole process was not going to be quick. I wish people would get off of it.

Love you.

Mark said...

Considering the rights of women--the majority--were minimally recognized in the Constitution, and black people were considered 3/5th of a human being, I find any argument that elevates the intent of our founding fathers unconvincing at best. They were interesting in the rights of property-owning white men, period.

"Majority rule" does not mean "Majority tramples." But constructive change needs to happen with life-and-death urgency now. The fate of the world is literally at stake. No omelette will be made without broken eggs, and Obama has been trying to convince the eggs to break themselves.

Filibuster and obstructionism claiming to be "bipartisan consensus" is guaranteeing one thing--no real change at all. None of the changes proposed by Obama would trample ANY of the rights of Republicans, but the present system is guaranteeing minority rule--the antithesis of democracy.

Obama needs to lead, lead aggressively, and not be afraid to bloody some noses. Enough confrontation-phobia. Idealism is useless untempered by realism.

Anonymous said...

Someone once told me that "knowing what we know now" Dr. King would be President(if he were here with us now) rather than murdered in the street. I disagree.

I think idealism gets run over almost every time. I do believe majority(98% of the time) gets their own damn way.

aims said...

Hi Sheria! I have so many various beliefs about politics, both democrats and republicans are annoyed with me most of the time. I loved this post -- very thought provoking. I’d hate to think of how things would be for my son if someone had not gone to battle for his rights. This is where I lean to the left - Equal rights. Illegal immigration is an example of when I lean to the right (but, really, I‘ve only seen both sides dance around the issue, doing nothing) - A line has to be drawn somewhere. Illegal immigration is a serious issue for me because companies who hire undocumented workers have taken over and swallowed up the construction business, which has devastated our small business - especially now with the economy being the way it is. Yet, at the same time, I don’t want anyone to go hungry or in need of medical care, regardless of their immigration status. It isn’t entirely their fault; Greedy companies are hiring them and paying them starvation wages so they can keep more profit for themselves. That’s where I lean back toward the left. I abhor selfishness and greed. See why both sides hate to talk to me? I’m divided within myself on so many important issues. But at the same time, I listen to and consider all sides. Many times I skip the vote all together because I strongly disagree with both sides. That is why I usually evade the subject all together.
Aside from the heavy stuff: I love your play list! I don’t remember you having that last time I visited. I’ve been away from blog-land for a while, and I’m trying to catch up. I hope you’re doing well. Hugs to you, my dear friend! ~ I apologize for the long comment.