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DEMOCRACY: Re; Democratic Process

Cameron Sawyer resumes his defense of the presidential system: "In what way is the presidency "imperial", exactly? The president has an excellent bully pulpit, but he cannot pass laws, and he cannot spend money. Quite unlike the ruling party in a parliamentary system. To become the ruling party in a parliamentary system, you only need one election. In our system, in order to actually do anything, you have to have quite a lot of support from a lot of different corners, consolidated in the course of a number of elections, presidential plus senate plus house. And then to use that support, you have to mobilize senators and congressmen who are really not under your control (not to say influence, but still). It is exactly calculated to hinder the exercise of power. The deck is stacked against the exercise of power. The Founders rightly feared the exercise of power by the majority in a democracy to the detriment of others in society -- the "tyranny of the majority" as the then-current phrase was.

Look at the period of economic reform in the '30's and '50's for example. Franklin Roosevelt wanted to make a serious change in our economic and political system, implementing a form of democratic socialism. Despite strong public support, he couldn't quite do it, because he was hindered first by the Supreme Court (which he famously tried to stack), and then by Congress. Fashions changed, and we never got any utopian economic system. In Britain, the same ideas, and even more radical ideas, were implemented with relative ease, and rather thoroughly, with the result of social and economic near-collapse, and Britain's place today behind Ireland and Italy in GNP per capita, despite several rounds of reform and renewal".

It was not I who invented the term "imperial presidency". Nor did I begin the widespread belief that the US is really run by the President and the Pentagon. The Iraq war is cited as proof of this. I see a worldwide problem: the cohabitation of a disciplined military establishment and a squabbling legislature. In such a competition the military have a built-in advantage. In democratic theory, the military is subordinate to the legislature, but it is not always so, far from it. So we face a global problem: is the world progressing toward a network of democracies, or are we returning to the old world of competing military machines? Will the proliferation of ever more advanced military equipment in the hands of people professionally eager to try it out lead to perpetual confrontation or will WMD scare the world into peace?

Ronald Hilton - 09.07.03