March 14, 2011

It really is possible to be polite

Local rags are all going online... something for which I am a bit sad. I hate to see the print paper going down the tubes, but it appears to be in the cards so who am I to lament their fate?

One part of the online paper that can be good or bad is the reader comment function. Unlike letters to the editor, these are pretty much real time and uncensored. The result is interesting. Most of these forums (some call them blogs) are populated by groups of resident partisans practicing coordinated attacks on any who would dare voice a contrary opinion.

This, to me, is a challenge. I find it intriguing to try to stay on a polite level of debate while the resident blowhards sling ad hominem, just to see if they will get the hint, set hyperbole aside, and actually try to rationally debate the topic. In a recent exchange I was rewarded with a reasoned retort to my contention that our form of government is a democratic republic.

The question was…

But arn't we a "representative republic," and not a "democratic republic?" For short, we're not a democracy, but a republic.

…and my response was…

An interesting question, and the answer is perhaps a bit confusing. We are both a democracy and a republic, which is why I choose to use the term democratic republic..

If you reference the dictionaries you can find slightly different definitions of democracy and republic, but those references tend to agree that democracy is government of and by the people, exercised either directly or by way of elected representatives.

Republic has dual forms and therefore has two definitions. By one definition it is a form of government in which the highest political office is elected and there is no monarch. The alternate definition is a government where both the highest political office and a body of elected representatives are responsible to the people.

Webster's defines republic as "a form of government in which the sovereign power is widely vested in the people either directly or through elected representatives." That definition, broadly used, would fit Castro’s Cuba, Ahmadinejad’s Iran, or Gbagbo’s Côte d'Ivoire.

The USA is a better fit with the other definition, which combined with the definition of democracy, creates a representative (republican) democracy. Considering the definitions of democracy and the second definition of republic, power is vested in the people.

The word "democracy" is not found in our Constitution, but the first words of that document contain the very democratic statement, "We the people. The word "republic" is sort of mentioned in Article IV, Section 4, where our founders declared that "The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government."

I can understand the right wing insistence that we are a republic rather than a democracy. Over time our country has grown weaker on the democracy end of things, with a greater consolidation of central government power… creating a more republican form of government.

But the word "majority" is found several places in our Constitution, and We the people wield the ultimate power of the vote. Thus, in my mind, we are a democratic republic.