That government of the people,
by the people and for the people
shall not perish from the earth. Lincoln, Abraham Gettysburg Address (1863)
Democracy sounds good in theory, then the day comes for every citizen when he or she has to make a trip to the D.M.V. ………
Democracy in action, especially when the action is taking place right in front of you, is not pretty. I don’t disagree with Churchill ,who said that, and I paraphrase, “Democracy is a very bad form of government, but all the others are worse.” It is important to note, however, that I don’t disagree with either sentiment in his statement.
The evolution of forms of our earthly governments are merely representative of the evolution of the thinking of the human species. The long term trend of government is away from authority and toward the autonomy of the individual. Yet, paradoxically, it is away from individual consequences, and toward collective responsibility for the good of each citizen (or in the thoughts of some, each ”person”, whether citizen or not). This leads to inevitable conflict from the two sides of the equation, each tugging at the other for temporary supremacy in the body politic. The upshot of this is that the trains don’t run on time. Or, as in Austin, never open at all and bankrupt the public transit system.
When people say government is too large, they are really saying that a lot of people in the world are incompetent, and so the more people involved in the government, the more incompetent( and expensive, and destructive) that government is. That does not necessarily follow as a syllogism, but I have found it to be true none the less. It is also the collective wisdom of the world that the fewest possible people in government (one) is the most dangerous government of all. “Absolute power,,.” and all that crap we were taught in high school. That has certainly turned out to be true. So what is one to do ? Some argue for a capitalist based anarchy. Some believe in the Easter Bunny too, but we don’t base our society on fairy tales of either sort. If you take the American system as representative, about half of the people drop out of the political process for one reason or another. When I was in college, I was taught that that was caused by a lack of a feeling of efficacy on the part of the individual voter. I have come to believe that this lack of efficacy is, at best, a secondary reason as to why people do not participate in the system.
What has really brought us to the “tomb of the unregistered voter” ? I think that it is something my old friend Gary Marfin used to call “ Civic Confusion”. Civic Confusion, according to Marfin the elder, is exemplified by the loud, incessant and unnecessary honking of the horns of automobiles in crowded city centers (at the time, he was speaking of Matamoras). It is confusing, even dizzying. Your best option is to retreat, run away from it, even hide. This, in a nutshell , what democracy is today. It is hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to scream at a group of individuals (most of whom live in Florida or Ohio) in an attempt to persuade them that one philosophy or another will make a difference in their lives. The din is so much that it makes it impossible to think. Tell me what you like and dislike about the Health Care bill. You probably did not know that there are at least four such bills currently being debated. If you are a conservative, the thing you think you most dislike is probably not even in the bill. If you are a liberal, the thing you think you most like is probably not even in the bill. We are all arguing over nothing because we can never get clear of all the shouting. We can’t think because we don’t understand the subject enough to think about it and neither do most of the political hacks in Washington or Austin. That does not keep them from screaming at each other, screaming at us, and urging us to scream at each other (I think “ice cream” used to follow that sentence).
And that my friends, is the underlying reason of why when you go to the D.M.V., you lose faith in your government. All we can do is muddle through.