Dumb and Dumber

The more things change...Winston Churchill said it best, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." Today with all this talk of recalls and the confusion that is our government, it seems nothing really changes. So long as single issues and low turnout control our elections, tea party ideologues and the unlearned are a given. Alexis de Tocqueville may still be the best commentator on America.

"I have already observed that the American statesmen of the present day are very inferior to those who stood at the head of affairs fifty years ago. This is as much a consequence of the circumstances as of the laws of the country....

...On entering the House of Representatives at Washington, one is struck by the vulgar demeanor of that great assembly. Often there is not a distinguished man in the whole number. Its members are almost all obscure individuals, whose names bring no associations to mind. They are mostly village lawyers, men in trade, or even persons belonging to the lower classes of society. In a country in which education is very general, it is said that the representatives of the people do not always know how to write correctly.

At a few yards' distance is the door of the Senate, which contains within a small space a large proportion of the celebrated men of America. Scarcely an individual is to be seen in it who has not had an active and illustrious career: the Senate is composed of eloquent advocates, distinguished generals, wise magistrates, and statesmen of note, whose arguments would do honor to the most remarkable parliamentary debates of Europe.

How comes this strange contrast, and why are the ablest citizens found in one assembly rather than in the other? Why is the former body remarkable for its vulgar elements, while the latter seems to enjoy a monopoly of intelligence and talent?

....The only reason which appears to me adequately to account for it is that the House of Representatives is elected by the people directly, while the Senate is elected by elected bodies...." Rest here.

Text here.

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Note: I originally read this excerpted in an essay by Dwight MacDonald 'Updating the Constitution.'

"A final word on politics. As in economics nothing is certain save the certainty that there will be firm prediction by those who do not know. It is possible that in some election, near or far, a presidential candidate will emerge in the United States determined to draw into the campaign those not now impelled to vote. Conceivably those so attracted - those who are not threatened by higher taxes and who are encouraged by the vision of a new governing community committed to the rescue of the cities and the impacted underclass - could outnumber those lost because of the resulting invasion of contentment. If this happens the effort would succeed." John Kenneth Galbraith 'The Culture of Contentment'


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