Perot’s Tele-Deomocracy

The subject of all the Washington talk shows nowadays is Ross Perot's brushfire campaign for the presidency. And no wonder. Perot seems to be riding the wave of a political revolution. As I said yesterday, a revolution can be a good thing. It reminds political leaders where their power comes from--and how quickly it can be taken away again. But every revolution sweeps away one system to replace it with another. And that's where the disturbing side of the Perot phenomenon comes in. Because Perot's suggestions for a new system for running the American government are a far cry from the Founders' original vision. On a range of complex issues from health care to education, Perot has a simple solution: Let the people decide. He vows to hold electronic town meetings through the TV set, where everyone's vote is as close as their remote control device. Perot says, "With interactive television every other week, we could take one major issue to the American people [at a time], ... have them respond, and show by congressional district what the people want." On the surface the idea sounds so ... well, so American. But in fact it's completely contrary to our American roots. Our form of government is not a pure democracy--not a matter of simply counting noses. It is a republic. Our Founding Fathers thought the distinction was critical. They regarded pure democracy as a sure route to the tyranny of the masses--the masses who are easily swayed by fads and fashions, by demagogues spouting propaganda. That's why John Adams wrote that unbridled democracy would lead to "everlasting fluctuations, revolts, and horrors," finally requiring police action to impose order. The tyranny of the masses is exactly what the Constitution was designed to protect against. Only one part of the government is intended to be directly representative: the House of Representatives, tied closely to the people by two-year terms. The Senate, with its six-year terms, is meant to be more protected from the fluctuating moods of the masses, so that senators can vote on the basis of principle, not popularity. The Supreme Court, with its life terms, is intended to be immune to what anyone thinks, dealing purely with constitutional questions. That's how a republic works. Now consider Perot's electronic democracy, where this entire careful system is bypassed. Laws would be made the same way television ratings are determined. The nation would be run like one vast radio talk show, with Perot as the host. This kind of direct democracy is precisely what the Founder feared most. The real problem facing our nation today is not a lack of democracy, it's a government that constantly grows bigger and costlier--with a deficit like a black hole. And at the root of that is public demand for more and more government programs. The danger with Perot's system is that it would only allow that public demand to be voiced more loudly than ever. Politics would be run completely by opinion polls. What we really need is not more democracy but more of a republic's restraints. The public needs to rethink its demands. Are government programs are really the answer to every social ill? Instead of waiting for Perot, maybe we should be asking ourselves that question--right now.


Chuck Colson


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