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Saving The People From Themselves, Yes on Prop. 11

by Mytheos Holt, published


"Democracy" has become a fetish in American political discourse. People complain constantly that particular Presidents/legislators/judges/dog catchers follow policies which are unfriendly to "democracy" and expect that to constitute a refutation of the policies proposed by those individuals.

Anarchist groups and Neoconservatives both lay claim to an absolute monopoly on the term and often will try to prove their point through the most undignified, polemical accusations about the intentions of rivals. And here in California, the one objection which frequently comes up in the debate over Proposition 11 seems to be that it will damage "democracy."

It is regrettable that nobody remembers the death of Socrates, for if they could, it would certainly help to combat this irrational focus on maintaining a purity of "democracy." The American system has never been a pure democracy; in fact, the founders did their absolute best to keep democracy restrained as much as possible. While a despotism of one is doubtlessly unpleasant, the despotism of the mob has the potential to be just as bad, and there is ample reason to stop the people of a State from voting themselves into misery by putting checks on their agency. Proposition 11 does this in the best possible way.

Proposition 11 sets up a 14 person commission to draw district lines, instead of allowing the elected legislators to do it themselves. Given that any rational legislator would choose to maximize their own power (and thus their own job security), the status quo should be obviously unacceptable, since it leads to clumsy district drawing based more on political musical chairs than on actual shared interests within a community. Proposition 11's commission, being composed of seven Democrats and seven Republicans, and no lobbyists or big donors, would retain the sort of partisan balance which theoretically should exist in the legislature now. This balance would allow both parties on the commission to check each other and thus create genuinely balanced districts, rather than skewed districts based on whatever party happens to be in power at the time.

This sort of check on the ability of parties to perpetuate their own power is desperately needed. However, because of the national obsession with "democracy", this need has been obfuscated by talk about the legislative majority's inalienable right to draw district lines just because it is the majority. This ignores the liberal (small 'l') tradition in America, which specifically protects against abuse of power by the majority, and besides, at the point where a policy leads to the distortion of democracy by manipulating the sample of voters, it is arguably nothing but a parody of democracy. This parody should be laughed off and Proposition 11 should be voted into law.

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