States Visited

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Friday, July 11, 2008

It never ceases to amaze me when politicians, journalists and the like, refer to this country as a democracy. The word democracy does not appear in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights. In fact, several of the Founding Fathers wrote extensively against that form of government. We are not, and were never intended to be a democracy. We are (were) a Constitutional Federal Republic and that is VERY different.

So, if we aren't a democracy, when and why did everyone start calling it one?

I am still doing some digging into this (with some help – thanks Bro), but it appears that the first reference to the U.S. as a democracy in a major speech was by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. He was an early "Progressive" that called for universal healthcare and national health insurance. The first President to repeatedly refer to the U.S. as a democracy was Woodrow Wilson, who was in office from 1913-1921. He is considered one of the smartest (I believe he is still the only President to earn a PhD) and most Progressive Presidents in our history.

There is something particularly interesting about this era. Here is a quote from a book that was written during that time:

"Democracy means equality. The great significance of the proletariat's [worker's] struggle for equality and of equality as a slogan will be clear if we correctly interpret it as meaning the abolition of classes. But democracy means only formal equality. And as soon as equality is achieved for all members of society in relation to ownership of the means of production, that is, equality of labor and wages, humanity will inevitably be confronted with the question of advancing farther, from formal equality to actual equality, i.e., to the operation of the rule "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs". By what stages, by means of what practical measures humanity will proceed to this supreme aim we do not and cannot know. But it is important to realize how infinitely mendacious is the ordinary bourgeois [business owner, capitalists] conception of socialism as something lifeless, rigid, fixed once and for all, whereas in reality only socialism will be the beginning of a rapid, genuine, truly mass forward movement, embracing first the majority and then the whole of the population, in all spheres of public and private life."

"Democracy is of enormous importance to the working class in its struggle against the capitalists for its emancipation. But democracy is by no means a boundary not to be overstepped; it is only one of the stages on the road from feudalism to capitalism, and from capitalism to communism."

The paragraphs above are from an analysis of the writings of Karl Marx written by Vladimir Lenin in 1917.

In discussing this with my brother he reminded me that this was also about the same time that the U.S. essentially became more of a democracy and less of a republic with the passage of the 17th amendment in 1913 changing how Senators are elected. This was also the same year that the 16th Amendment was passed giving Congress the power to levy a tax on incomes. (In case you might have forgotten, a heavy, progressive income tax is number two on Marx's list of steps toward Communism.)

I am not, in any way, asserting that Teddy Roosevelt, who is on Mt. Rushmore for goodness sake, and Woodrow Wilson were Communists. However, it just seems too coincidental that all of these writings and changes occurred within a few years of each other for them to be completely unrelated. My best guess is that the idea of Socialism/Communism was new to the world and sounded really good and some of the ideas were woven into the American political fabric. On paper many of the ideas do sound good. They were revolutionary and offered the promise of equality for everyone through an entirely new way to think about governance. It is easy to see how a well-meaning person could take those ideas to heart with the full belief that he or she was doing something in their, and the country's, best interest. So, we must forgive our forebears for those early missteps. It is only with the hindsight provided by almost one hundred years of abysmal failure that we can sit in judgment on Communism.

What is harder to understand, and even harder to forgive, is why, after so many failures, so many politicians still use those ideas as a means to rise to and accumulate power and why the people continue to use those ideas as validation for their wishes to take from those who have more.

I realize there is a lot of 'seriousness' in my blog, but there are times when we all need a break from the reality of our daily lives. I sincerely hope that anyone that reads the things I write doesn't come away with the notion that this is all I do – sit around and think about complicated (some would say boring) things. I engage in about as much escapism as anyone, but I also understand that freedom is not free and if people spent just a fraction of the time they spend escaping trying to understand the things going on around them, this country would be a much better place. That is why I write (well, it also helps me organize my thoughts and exposes me to new perspectives) – to maybe, maybe throw something out there that catches someone's attention and gets them thinking. I don't even care if they agree with me, I just want those thoughts to be there. The grand experiment in self-governance crafted by our Founding Fathers is still an infant when viewed through the lens of human existence and, like an infant, it requires due diligence to ensure its continued success. Ronald Reagan's words of more than forty years ago are as true today as they were then -

"If we lose freedom here, there's no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth. And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man. This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves."

"You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well I'd like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There's only an up or down: [up] man's…old-aged dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course."

And, with that, I am heading into the weekend to forget about work and politics for a while; to spend time with Melissa; to play golf; to see friends; to laugh. I am going to enjoy my freedoms and exercise my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness while I still have them. And I am going to celebrate them with a nice glass of wine as the sun sets over the Pennsylvania farmlands.

In Vino Veritas.

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