Two Cheers for Democracy | Benjamin Wiker | CWR
Patriotic, modest, and tempered praise for our present form of government
Happy 237th birthday, America! Two cheers for democracy!
Why only two? Aren’t we supposed to cheer wildly for democracy as unambiguously good? Don’t we have a moral obligation to hold up democracy as the best—indeed, the only legitimate—form of government? Isn’t it the only form of government that expresses the fundamental moral and theological truth that all human beings are equal, have equal dignity, are equally children of God, have equal rights, and all of the other equal things anyone can think of?
Well, certainly if I were running for political office, I would have to cheer for democracy with unbridled exuberance. I would have to say something like, “Three cheers for democracy?!—no, make that a hundred!”
And if the other candidate suggested that two cheers might be more modestly appropriate, then I’d win hands down. “Two cheers, you say? This man is a totalitarian, a bigot, an enemy of the common man. I think we see who is for the people, and who is against.”
Then I’d be cheered wildly, and get elected in a landslide.
But I’m not running for office, so it’s a lot easier to speak the truth.
If we recognize the humor in that last comment (even if only as sarcasm, the lowest end of the humor spectrum), then we realize, in part, why we might consider giving only two cheers for democracy.
We realize that, all too often, trying to get elected means bending one’s message to the popular ear, trying to make oneself salable, making use of the exact same techniques as ad agencies use to sell Coke and deodorant, manipulating the masses through slick ads, mud-slinging ads, mawkishly patriotic ads, disingenuous ads.
Getting elected means telling people what they want to hear, rather than telling them the truth about the actual political situation. So that those who flatter and fawn, who look the best, speak the best, are able to rouse the most passion, are the ones who get elected—rather than those who might actually be able to do the best job.
What if the actual best person to be our president were a short, shy, dumpy, bald guy with a biggish nose and crooked teeth, who spoke with a squeaky stutter? Would he get elected?