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KEENE: Democrats slowly abandon democracy

We’re a people too stupid to govern ourselves without liberal leadership

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Recent pronouncements from the fever swamps of the left are enough to convince one that even the paranoid have enemies.

In recent years, some have given voice to a growing fear among conservatives that the American left is more committed to achieving its policy goals than to working within the confines of the U.S. democratic system. This fear has always been dismissed by just about everyone else as paranoid because in a free, democratic society the ends never justify the means.

Since the founding, this political consensus has underpinned the stability and political success of the American experiment. Democrats and Republicans may disagree, but, with one tragic exception, neither has been willing to suspend the Constitution, take up arms or call for a revolution because the other prevailed at the ballot box.

But that consensus seems to be fraying. As the polls have turned against them, many Democratic liberals are beginning to doubt the wisdom not only of allowing people to make their own decisions, but of letting voters have anything approaching a free hand in electing those who will lead them. Most people, after all, can't be expected to know what or who is good for them. They make mistakes, and mistakes are not easily tolerated by an elite convinced that it knows best.

Oh, elections are good enough when they turn out right, but that isn't always the case. Thus, three years ago, when the electorate was getting downright tired of an incumbent president who seemed to be messing things up, Democrats characterized themselves as, well, democrats. They couldn't wait for the elections of 2006 and 2008 because they knew they were on a roll. Their presidential candidate was talented, articulate and an ideologue of the first rank. It seemed that the millennium was at hand with a committed liberal in the White House and soul mates at the helm of both the House and Senate.

Those first days after the 2008 elections were heady. James Carville for one declared in essence that we had reached the end of political history and that folks had better get used to the fact not only that happy days were here again, but that the evil Republicans had been vanquished and might not be seen knocking at the gate again for at least a generation. But things haven't turned out the way the liberals assumed they would.

After a few initial successes in Congress, the ideological overreach and arrogance of the rookie president and his allies on the Hill spawned the tea party and cost the president's party the House. Now he faces what everyone acknowledges will be a tough re-election campaign that could, even if the president prevails, leave the Republicans in control of both houses. It seems that it has taken not a generation, but a mere three years for the Republicans to be not just knocking at the gate, but threatening to knock it down.

The result has been a retreat from the rhetorical belief in democracy that has characterized both parties in the past. It has popped up just about everywhere on the left. President Obama himself has moaned about the difficulty of working within the confines of the constitutional system and particularly being forced to work with Congress. He has said, in fact, that it is "tempting" to simply go it alone. A Democratic governor has gone further, suggesting that it might be a good idea simply to suspend the next congressional election for a couple of years so the president and his party can focus on solving the problems facing the nation rather than having to worry about winning elections.

The governor, Bev. Perdue of North Carolina, said very specifically, "I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years" and added, "I really hope someone can agree with me on that." Without specifically agreeing that suspending the next election is viable, a lot of Mr. Obama's "progressive" followers are of a mind with Ms. Perdue. Peter Orszag, Mr. Obama's former head of the Office of Management and Budget, for example, has criticized what he calls the "Civics 101 fairy tale about pure representative democracy" and said he thinks something should be done to develop a "new set of rules that would make legislative inertia less detrimental to our nation's long-term health."

Other progressives are suggesting that we do away with the Electoral College, and just last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid exercised what became known when it was threatened a couple of years back as the "nuclear option" because resorting to it will change the way the Senate does business in the future, strip the minority of its rights and allow the ruling party to run roughshod over its critics. The GOP backed off, but Mr. Reid went right ahead with little regard for history, the rights of the minority or concerns about the future.

This week, the president and his allies are openly praising the so-called "Occupy Wall Street" movement and the minimobs it has spawned across the country demanding a political revolution and an end to democracy as we know it. These are not like the tea partyers, who revere the founders and the Constitution, but the ideological offspring of Robespierre, Marx and Lenin who know exactly what they'd like to do to those who stand up to them. These Obama allies view Cuba and Venezuela as examples of nations that are well-run.

The first president to openly attack the Constitution was progressive hero Woodrow Wilson. Today's Democrats are proving by word and deed that they are indeed the inheritors of Wilson's "progressive" disdain for democracy and individual rights. They are, in fact, the kind of people who should worry even the least paranoid among us.

David A. Keene, former chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU), is a member of the board of the ACU, the National Rifle Association, the Constitution Project and the Center for the National Interest.

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