The official Bush Administration line in foreign policy is the promotion of democracy. Yet the Republicans have launched a full-scale assault upon democracy at home. Setting aside (for the moment) the simple fact that this assault is about grabbing and using power, it also reflects an impoverished view of democracy, basically one that limits democracy to free elections. In this view, the people ratify a set of leaders—a government—in an election, and, in so doing, gives those leaders a blank check. If the government uses the power given to it unwisely, the people can vote it out next time around. Power rests solely in the hands of the people and in its delegated agent, the government.This understanding of democracy tends toward the plebiscite—and toward the establishment of a strong leader, usually one who promises to sweep aside the complexities, compromises, frustrations, and inefficiencies introduced by parliamentary janglings and an independent judiciary. From Napoleon III and Bismarck in the 19th century to the Governator in the late 20th century, the plebiscite has almost always favored right wing leaders impatient with legal and institutional impediments to forceful action. In other words, the plebiscite is perfect for establishing the tyranny of the majority that Tocqueville and Mill feared.
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