- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 25, 2004

The current political campaign leading to the presidential election has all the earmarks of the gradual devolution of our democracy — the steady trek downward from the “shining city on a hill” to the swamps below.

From the beginning, the twin foci of the campaign have been the Iraq war and what are termed the main “social issues:” health care, education and jobs. Certain “wedge” issues like same-sex “marriage,” late-term abortion, etc., are scrupulously avoided on the stump by both parties, whose positions voters generally understand.

Missing, as usual, is a primary discussion of what government should or should not do for the country, as reflected in the candidates’ political “promises.” Instead, the politicos assume the government should be all things to all people, or at least, to the interest groups that help elect them.

Thus we hear from both parties that people have a “right” to this or that benefit — to health care, to education, to a good job, to more retirement income, etc. It doesn’t register to many people these days that our republic was not founded on providing these things to the citizens.

By encouraging voters to think their desires are really rights, careerist politicians for years have been able to infantilize large groups of people into believing government largess is desirable — the more the better.

If the economy is lackluster, government tax policies will stimulate growth; if unemployment is too high, the government will “create” good jobs for workers. If people can’t afford prescription drugs, the government will subsidize them. If schools are bad, then government will “invest” more money in them. And on and on.

In fact, government is actually quite poor at doing all this, with mountains of evidence showing it usually worsens these situations or at best, only temporarily alleviates conditions, with negative repercussions put off for future years.

Medicare and Social Security, to name only two such schemes, are already headed for a train wreck in the next decade unless drastically reformed. Yet the constant media-driven clamor for government to solve some new “crisis” continues unabated.

When political leaders fail to demonstrate leadership, and simply pander to interest groups to stay in office, the whole tenor of government changes. To repay their supporters, legislators increase the public debt with huge new spending, encouraging more fragmented groups to demand new rights and benefits and fueling a never-ending spiral of out-of-control entitlements.

John Kerry epitomizes this when he shortsightedly boasts he will quickly extricate U.S. from Iraq so more money can be spent on all his domestic spending enthusiasms. As when the U.S. turned tail in Vietnam, this would be an unmitigated U.S. foreign-policy disaster for years to come, not to mention very possibly stimulating more terrorist operations on our own soil.

Rather than examine where these policies will lead us, the national media seem content to merely amplify shouting matches between the candidates and their supporters. Day after day, political hacks and character assassins are tapped by networks to spew bile against the opposing candidate or party. In a new low, CBS News mounted a partisan hatchet job on President Bush, only to have it blow up in its own face.

Could it be the apogee of democratic government is already behind us, when previous American generations were more self-reliant, better educated and more informed on serious issues?

Certain writers have postulated that democracy’s historical trajectory has been a retreat from self-government to a state of dependency — where complacent majorities demand ever more nonenumerated rights and services, essentially bankrupting the central government.

The power and immediacy of the media and an unctuous, opportunistic political class have proven very skillful in manipulating large numbers of the electorate to further the politics of self-gratification.

Our Founding Fathers knew appealing to mass desires was not always in the best interest of the country as a whole. That’s why they instituted a republican form of government with elected representatives, not a plebiscitary democracy.

Since they lived well before the 19th-century socialist juggernaut began rolling, it probably never occurred to them the American public would allow itself to be bribed.

BARRETT KALELLIS

Mr. Kalellis is a Michigan-based columnist and writer whose articles appear regularly in various local and national print and on-line publications. He can be reached at kalellis@hot mail.com.

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