Virtual Voices

Republicanism at work

Campaign 2010

The people are angry. Congress has an approval rating of 21 percent. The president's approval rating has fallen to 45 percent, down from over 60 percent right before Congress passed his infamous stimulus package. In just three weeks, the people will have their turn to speak, and will do so sovereignly. Heads will roll. Political careers will end, some of them distinguished, and others will begin. And media people will prattle about "democracy at work." It isn't.

When that Election Day comes, remember that what you will be seeing is not democracy, but republicanism doing what it was designed to do.

With the people as angry as they are with the political class, it would be reasonable to expect a complete change in government. In 1993, Canadian voters were so upset with the Progressive Conservative Party, one of the country's two major parties, that they reduced the Tory's 169-seat majority in Parliament to a mere two seats, with even the prime minister herself failing to win reelection in her district. That is what voter anger can do in a democracy. But you will not see that in November.

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We could well see a turnover in the U.S. House of Representatives. Control will likely shift from the Democrats, who now enjoy a comfortable majority, to the Republicans. The House is the more democratic of the two legislative bodies, and it would undergo even greater change if our gerrymandered districts weren't rigged to favor incumbents.

The Senate might also flip dramatically if it were not for an anti-democratic feature of that body that was designed to put the brakes on popular passions. Senators serve six-year terms, and only one third of them are up for reelection every two years. So at any given election, most of the upper house of the legislature is insulated from the tide of popular enthusiasm, be it anger or adoration.

Of course, the president himself is in no personal trouble since he does not have to face the people again until 2012 when the mood may have changed. A more strictly democratic constitution would have held the president more closely to the popular will with the same two-year term Congressmen have.

But it was the intentional design of our Founders to protect our political life from the instability of democracy and its potential for tyranny, or what Alexis de Tocqueville called "democratic despotism." Our constitution attempts, quite successfully I think, to institutionalize the people's better judgment while at the same time giving vent to their passing opinions and passions.

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, the world will see powerful men and women toppled from their high places, but they will see this happen in the context of the stability and continuity of a great power. They will see what is all too rare in this world: republicanism at work.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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