“Democracy is messy.”
I didn’t originate that. My old boss Don Rumsfeld did when the U.S. was first trying to put Iraq back together again, but it applies to democracy in general. And that is because democracy is a process, not an end. We cannot look forward to a “thousand-year Reich,” a “withering away of the state” or any other future state of nirvana.
We just have a set of principles sent down to us by the Founding Fathers in the form of:
• The Declaration of Independence.
• The Constitution, which lays out the six bases upon which “We the People” joined together (the Preamble).
• The process and form it would take (the body).
• A series of hedges around which we will not allow government or the people to cross (the Bill of Rights and the remaining amendments).
That and the Federalist Papers are all they gave us. If Ronald Reagan had been at the Constitutional Convention, he probably would have called the Constitution a document that was based on “trust but verify.”
It was fragile from the beginning.
At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was queried as he left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation: “What have we got: a republic or a monarchy?”
Mr. Franklin is said to have responded: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
It is all we have. No more. It is based on trust in and by the people for defined periods of time limited by those messy periodic reviews called campaigns and elections.
Winston Churchill once remarked, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” He is also said to have mused, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
And then there was President Harding’s frustration with it all.