The Civic Sacrament

Today is election day.  Mostly up for grabs are local and state races.  Voting has been called a “civic sacrament.”  The analogy is an imperfect one, and it applies only to democratic systems.  Some say that voting “doesn’t do any good,” which even if it were true is not the point.  We have a vocation of citizenship.  For those of us blessed enough to have been called to citizenship in a country in which we govern ourselves by choosing our own leaders, voting is one of the duties of our vocation.

What to do about gerrymandered elections?

An issue for election day:  One of the problems in our political system today is that Congressional districts have been drawn up to ensure that each one is a “safe seat” for the incumbent and a particular political party.  That means that voters almost never have competitive elections with genuine choices–unless, that is, the incumbent has a primary rival from the same party.  This makes for ideological polarization, say many observers, as well as thwarting the basic processes of democracy. [Read more...]

The Bible and Liberty

In the course of recounting an online argument, novelist Lars Walker gives an excellent account of how the Bible gave ordinary men and women the conceptual ability to question their rulers, thus, in his words, turning them “from subjects to citizens.” [Read more...]

Beware of Greeks fearing gifts

The Greeks founded Europe, and now they may end it.  And the vehicle for both is the same:  Democracy.

The European powers carefully crafted a deal to bail out Greece, forgiving half of their debt at the cost of significant reforms and austerity measures.  With this agreement, the world’s stock markets soared.  But then the Greek government, despite its earlier agreement, suddenly decided to put the accord to the vote of the people.  Since the population seems opposed to  austerity, the prospect of a referendum has cast the agreement into doubt, sending the world’s stock markets into another dive and shaking the economic foundations of the Eurozone.

World leaders convening at this resort [Cannes] for a long-planned summit find themselves confronting a suddenly acute crisis over Greece and signs of an economic slowdown throughout Europe that may narrow their room for action.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou left a cabinet meeting in Athens early Wednesday with his government intact — for now — and backing his plan to hold a national referendum on the country’s latest international rescue program.

World leaders will gather in Cannes, France, on Nov. 3 and Nov. 4 to discuss Europe’s debt crisis and other economic issues. Thousands of protesters are gathering in France to urge the G-20 leaders to focus on the poor.

But his call for a popular vote on Tuesday has jeopardized the rescue plan and upended the agenda for Group of 20 leaders. Papandreou has been called to a meeting here Wednesday night to explain himself.

This was to have been a summit where the G-20 — the forum where industrialized nations and the leading developing economies compare notes on the world economy — puts its stamp on a plan that convincingly appeared to settle Europe’s lingering financial crisis.

Instead, with Cannes under a security lockdown that has made its streets into a virtual ghost town, the group will be looking for ways to avoid even greater problems. The 17-nation euro region is trying desperately to navigate between the budget-cutting and reform needed to bring down high levels of government debt, and the tepid economic growth that is sapping incomes, causing chronically high unemployment and straining political systems.

via World leaders to confer with Greece over referendum call – The Washington Post.

Do you think the Greek government was right to put the question of accepting the economic package to a popular referendum?  Does the world’s economic problems bring us to the limits of Democracy, the possibility that people will not vote to suffer, even when the alternative may be suffering on a far greater scale?  Can you see something like that happening here, with voters rejecting efforts to cut back federal spending AND repudiating new taxes AND demanding ever more entitlements, to the point of national bankruptcy?

UPDATE:  The Greek government has now scrapped the referendum.

Democracy rules, except when my guy doesn’t win

Nigeria elected a president, the incumbent, who received twice the votes of the other candidate.  But the president is a Christian, so Nigerian Muslims are rioting, setting fires, and protesting the election:

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has won a presidential election with results being reported in all 36 states, as riots broke out in the mainly Muslim north to protest the outcome.

Election officials announced Monday that Mr. Jonathan received million 22,495,187 votes in Saturday’s polls, nearly twice the number of his main challenger, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, who garnered 12,214,853.

Officials say Mr. Jonathan has met the requirements to avoid a run-off vote. A candidates must win a simple majority and at least a quarter of the vote in 24 states.

Earlier Monday, news of Mr. Jonathan’s likely win sparked riots across Nigeria’s northern region.

Opposition supporters claimed the vote had been rigged and torched homes, burned tires and hurled rocks at police to protest the results.

Many in the Muslim-majority north backed Mr. Buhari, a Muslim. President Jonathan, a Christian, dominated the mostly Christian south.

Riots Break Out in Northern Nigeria As President Declared Winner | Africa | English.

There has been a debate about whether Islam is compatible with democracy and political freedom.   It appears that some Muslims are willing to use democracy and to demand political freedom when it advances their agenda.   That is, they use it instrumentally, as a means to their end.  But if the end is not what they want, they reject the process.

HT:  Carl Vehse

Michigan considering suspension of democracy

Thanks to Kirk Anderson for putting me on to what is happening in Michigan, which is considering passing a bill that would allow the Governor’s office to replace elected local officials.

Kirk explains:  “There’s a bill working its way through the Michigan legislature that would give the governor authority to place “emergency managers” in financially troubled localities to help get their governments back on the fiscal track.  The thing is, these managers have the power to remove elected officials like country administrators and school board members, fire employees, cut benefits, slash services, merge districts, etc etc.  I think it might be an interesting discussion since it pits financial responsibility vs. local governance, both conservative principles.”  From the linked article:

A day after facing hundreds of rowdy, pro-union protesters that filled the state Capitol, the Senate voted on Wednesday to grant broad new powers to emergency managers who oversee financially struggling cities and schools, including the authority to void union contracts and remove elected officials.

The controversial bills are expected to head to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk for signature shortly, after the House and Senate, both controlled by Republicans, work out some language differences.

The Senate passed the main bill in the package by a 26-12 party-line vote, drawing an immediate rebuke from union leaders across the state, who called it an assault on collective bargaining rights. In the Macomb County delegation, Republican Sens. Jack Brandenburg of Harrison Township and Tory Rocca of Sterling Heights supported the measure, while Democratic Sen. Steve Bieda of Warren was opposed.

Brandenburg said several urban areas of the state, especially Detroit, are in “bad shape” and will need a state-appointed emergency financial manager, or EMF, who can impose strong medicine.

“He has to have the backbone, he has to have the power, to null and void a contract,” Brandenburg said.

The senator also rejected claims by Democrats that the bill will destroy Michigan’s long history of local control by allowing the EMF to remove top administrators and elected officials, put millage increases on the ballot, lay off employees, slash services, and merge the city or school district with a neighboring government entity. Brandenburg said the EMFs will be deployed in communities that need “financial martial law.”

“Local control? I’ll tell you what, I think that in a lot of these places there is no control,” he said.

via Michigan Senate passes emergency manager bills – dailytribune.com.

The unions are worried about losing collective bargaining rights?  What about citizens being worried about losing their voting rights?

I read this on the Ides of March, the day the Roman Republic–a free, constitutional, representative government that lasted 500 years–made its last futile effort to stay alive, slipping instead into an authoritarian absolutist  Empire.

The thing is, the jettisoning of the republic was for good reason. It had become corrupt, incompetent, and ineffective in dealing with the problems of Rome, including its financial problems.  Julius Caesar made himself into a dictator to address those problems.  He was very effective.  The people loved him for it.  And so were willing to give up all of their political freedoms.

Is this where we are headed?  Does political freedom just not work anymore, being unwilling to make hard and painful decisions?

Am I missing something?  Can anyone–preferably including people from Michigan–justify this on other than purely pragmatic grounds?

I am completely sympathetic to the comment on local control that in these cases of runaway spending “there is no local control.”  Can’t citizens be motivated to govern themselves, or is representative democracy hopeless and we had better find ourselves a Caesar who can get things done?


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