Considering DC and Democracy

While in Washington, DC, visiting my son, we did take a tour of the Capitol Building led by an intern from my Ohio congressman, Mike Turner’s office.   As part of that tour, we watched a 13 minute documentary about congress and its role in the American government system.  It seemed to me that emphasized in the documentary is the fact that the house and senate are that part of the American government (of, by and for the people) most closely attuned to the American democratic political tradition.  They most closely represent the diversity of opinions throughout America.  They are that part of government in which debate on and discussion of issues is done within their assemblies and is part of what they are supposed to do.  It is the designed process by which government of, by and for the people comes to its decisions.      (My photos of DC are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/frted/collections/72157625229327976/).

Historically, its roots are in those original debates which the leaders of the thirteen colonies engaged as they struggled with their relationship to the crown in England.  And anyone who has read American history knows those debates were rancorous and passionate.

In a democracy, such rancorous debate is the very means by which decisions are expressed, considered, dissected and decided upon.  (And I will admit by nature I am not always personally comfortable with such passionate and adversarial disagreement.  I hope for and prefer more agreement and greater harmony and tranquility).

John Adams

Certainly even in the days of the second president of the United States, John Adams, there already existed partisan debate and political trickery and dirty works.  Pseudonymous postings in papers that came into existence solely to promote a partisan point of view were common by 1800.  Vice-President Thomas Jefferson worked to politically undermine his President, John Adams.  Though they were powerful co-conspirators in the American Revolution, they became bitter political enemies in the partisan debates in the beginning of the Republic. 

James Madison too engaged in similar underhanded behavior against a government headed by his one time revolutionary compatriots.  He too was not afraid to engage in underhanded dealings to subvert those he disagreed with – not just their ideas, but those he considered political rivals.

It does seem to me, however, that in our current political polarizing partisanship, that some push for ending serious debate.  Some want one party rule.  Some want rivals and opposition silenced. 

Yet the political health of a democracy, like the strength of a species for surviving in a hostile environment, lies in its diversity and variations.  For democracy if anything is based in the consideration of and conflict between ideas; this is also its strength.   Ideas are improved on the anvil of debate, or, to change metaphors, in that heated cauldron which produces stronger alloys and new combinations of polymers with vital adaptability to the changing needs of people. 

Vote.  Pay attention to the issues at hand.  Learn about the debate, not just about what agrees with your opinions.  For a one party system is the basis of every dictatorship and all despotic rule.