SCHOLL: Fixing our democracy

June 14, 2013 

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government -- except all the others that have been tried.”

-- Sir Winston Churchill

People zero in on the word “except” like shouting U-S-A at the Olympics. They pride themselves on being the freest and most democratic country the world has ever seen. All others pale in the shadow of America. Churchill was reminding us we shouldn’t rest on our laurels; “worst” reminds us we still have a lot of work to do.

There is no such thing as a “perfect democracy,” that’s why there are many types of democracies. There is the “direct democracy” which means everyone votes on everything. That is not very feasible. Switzerland’s democracy allows citizens to vote on all policies, but do they understand all the implications of each policy?

“Representative democracy” means we send people who are elected to vote for us. But what happens if our representative does not vote the same as what his people want? Ninety percent of Americans want background checks on the sale of guns; too many of our representatives voted against it; is democracy at work here?

And the Electoral College recently made George W. Bush president when Al Gore got most of the popular vote. Even when we blend different democracies into one, we fail to get it perfect. Our democracy does not deserve the almost “holy” regard it is sometimes given. Sometimes a majority of representatives and even citizens can defeat the purpose of a democracy.

The Constitution was written in such a way to protect people from this failing of democracy. The first 10 amendments of the Constitution describe rights people have no matter how many people are against it. This “Bill of Rights” protects the minority from the tyranny of a majority. It didn’t protect slaves for a long time. So what do we do with this “worst” form of government?

We fix it. We make it better. Continually; it’s a never ending process. If need be, we amend the Constitution to make our democracy better. Unfortunately, our representatives (as well as the media sometimes) don’t look for the fix; they look for someone to blame. They find villains and invite the condemnation of the public. It’s amazing how many times these villains happen to be in the opposite party. The Message: no one should ever vote for villains again.

Sometimes, there is blame to be found. The patriot, however, is more concerned with finding the fix. What makes our democracy better, freer and stronger? Did someone leak a lot of classified information to a British newspaper? Was it proper; did it identify secret governmental overreach? Did the government infringe on citizens’ rights to privacy to prevent a greater evil such as a terrorist attack? What exactly happened? What will happen next time if we give it a pass this time? Was he equal to a traitor? Talk over the issues and decide what fix, if any, is needed.

What happens when and if the IRS abused its power? We don’t even know all the facts and villains are named. Blame when blame is clear, but how do we fix the IRS to create a more perfect union? Sometimes blame and fixes are sought at the same time, but is that the best way to do it. And really, what is given the priority most times?

A democracy is best protected by shining lights on the activities of our government, and by citizen oversight which carries no political agenda. But where is the line? When does the light give our dangerous enemies too much information. Let’s decide, and redecide, and redecide, to make a poor government better. If we do ultimately, I suppose the message here is let’s redecide more quickly. The absence of political agendas will allow this to happen.

Have I said anything profound? Hardly. But even these simple thoughts are forgotten/ignored by today’s political leaders, and by citizens who are misled by spins of those with political aspirations for re-election. What we need is a process, a philosophy, an attitude which values improving our country over political advantage. But we already have such things; look at the Constitution, for starters. How do you fix an attitude? Maybe this fix is up to the citizens.

Tom Scholl is a resident of Macon. His email address is

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