Posted by: N.S. Palmer | October 21, 2010

Democracy is a Crock

By N.S. Palmer

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it — good and hard.”
H.L. Mencken

America’s current election campaigns by the two major political parties remind us yet again of the stupidity, foolishness, and gullibility of the electorate.

In California, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate is  Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of computer maker Hewlett-Packard. So far, she has not promised in her campaign to do for California what she did for Hewlett-Packard: throw people out of work, run the state into the ground financially, and walk away with a Golden Parachute severance package.

In Nevada, Lunatic Republican Sharron Angle, who can’t tell the difference between the border of Mexico and the border of Canada, is running for the Senate seat held by Gutless Democrat Harry Reid, who can’t tell the difference between caving in to Republicans on every issue and fulfilling Democratic campaign promises.

In Delaware, anti-masturbation scold Christine O’Donnell is running as the Republican Senate candidate on the platform that she is just as ignorant as the most ignorant people still capable of signing their names on a voting register. One wonders if she really cares about winning, or if she just wants to raise some cash and get people to pay attention to her.

What gets lost in all the hoopla, gets lost on purpose. If you bog everyone down in nonsense about who’s a witch and who supports death panels, they don’t have time to discuss substantive issues. Like unemployment. And ruinously expensive, unjustified wars. And an increasingly  oppressive police state. And the fact that government should promote the greatest good for the greatest number, not just enact policies to benefit Wall Street, giant corporations, and the super-rich.

The truth is that democracy is a sacred cow but it really doesn’t matter that much. It’s just a means to a goal. The goal is to promote a just, free, humane, and prosperous society.

Whether the government is chosen by voting, by hereditary titles, or by a lottery isn’t important. If it does the right things, then it’s a good government. If it does the wrong things, then it doesn’t matter how many votes it gets: it’s a bad government.

We have a middling government that’s trending toward bad. Voting doesn’t seem to help much. I wonder what will.

Copyright 2010 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL ( are included.


  1. Scott, I was really impressed by what you said in that third-to-last paragraph when you summed up the place of democracy. It blew away some fog in my mind I didn’t even know was there. But you’re right, democracy’s supposed to be about giving the people a chance to formulate a government that looks after their needs. Somehow most of us have gotten away from that to popularity contests, witch hunts, and pissing matches using canned ideological missiles. What a farce. And you’re right, the principal beneficiaries are large corporations and the people who run them.

    I’m not sure what can be done about this.

    • Hi, LP —

      Thanks! I wish that one of us knew something to do about it, but perhaps it’s just the inexorable working of history. 🙂

      There are, of course, good arguments for democracy, but they apply to smaller political units than a large country like the United States or Canada. Some political scientists think it works best with populations of 500,000 people or fewer. If your small town is a democracy, you can talk to the mayor or your city councilman at the barber shop and have some chance of making a difference. But you can’t even get your Congressman, Senator, or President on the phone unless you’re bearing a political contribution of at least $10,000. That’s why corporate interests and the super-rich get heard and get their way, while the rest of us don’t.

  2. I have grown very discouraged in the past 10 years or so about the form of government we have earned for ourselves. So discouraged that it is really painful for me to discuss it at any length. But in short, the goddamned nonsense that spews forth from politicians — the incessant demonizing of the other side, the fake indignation and outrage they spew over incendiary issues that ultimately don’t matter to the governing of this nation, the boiling of every issue down to good and evil — I am sick of the kool-aid that is constantly offered to us.

    I choose no longer to drink it. I choose instead to just go about my life and hope that this all sorts itself out somehow.

    • Jim,

      You’re wise. It would make more sense to concern ourselves about political decisions if we had some reasonable chance of affecting their outcome. But I guess that I’ve cared about them for so long that it’s hard to turn my back on them.

      These issues really do matter: it’s the lives and well-being of real people that are at stake. Unfortunately, those lives and well-being count for very little in the halls of power.

      • I don’t know about the particulars of other countries but it seems to me that the previous presidential election was the last chance, for a long time, to really impress younger people in the US that their vote counted. But that was contingent on President Obama showing up, and somehow, he never did. I think that’s that, and voter turn out is simply going to shrink until… I don’t know what. I think this is generally the case in most lands. Maybe we all need to make voting as mandatory as jury duty, like the Australians do. It’s not a solution but at least people might get informed if they KNOW they have to do something anyway.

      • That these issues really do matter is what makes this so painful for me. I hate burying my head in the sand, but you’re right, there’s nothing I can do about these problems.

  3. Yeah, democracy sucks. We just had municipal elections province-wide on Monday. I didn’t get the mayor I wanted (or the ward councilor I wanted, for that matter). Instead, almost half the city voted from some right-wing wonk who’s all about cuts, cuts, cuts and even tearing up the streetcar lines. Just what a city needs; a transit-hating isolationist. What a schmuck. In fact, what a 1.25-million-schmucks, or thereabouts.

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