Democracy. It is that for which we, the United States have striven for the last couple hundred years. We revere the word “democracy” as a symbol of our greatness as a nation. But is it possible that these highly regarded democratic values are bringing about our destruction?
Page 34 in our textbook tells us that the founders “worried that too much participation by the people could only have a bad outcome,” believing that “public affairs ought to be left to” “individuals with wisdom” “from the ‘better parts of society.’” While reading, I scoffed at this remark, thinking the founders to be self-important, power hungry elitists. They can’t possibly know what is best for the people, I thought. Only the people know what is best for the people. Well in light of recent events, I have altered my sentiments on this matter.
Check out this article and video clips. I bet it’ll make you cringe. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/10/mitt-romney-climate-change-meet-the-press_n_1870727.html?utm_hp_ref=elections-2012
Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney made a series of statements to the public that mocked President Obama’s attempts to control climate change. “I’m not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet,” he said “the reason I’m in this race is to help people.”
Ummmmmm….Romney? Climate change is currently the cause of draught, ozone depletion, flooding, loss of biodiversity, stresses to food-producing systems, the spread of infectious diseases….I could go on and on. The WHO gives the conservative estimate that 160,000 deaths are attributable to climate change thus far. By slowing climate change, you WOULD be helping people. So what you really mean is that your goal in this race is to tell people what they want to hear and help them in the ways that they want to be helped. Essentially, you are allowing majority opinion, no matter how flawed, to rule. In this instance, environmentalists are a minority whose views are being marginalized in order to favor majority opinion. It seems that this is what the founders were afraid of.
I doubt that Romney actually discounts climate change altogether. But as long as the people are voting, he will tell them what they want to hear. The problem is that people, in general, are self-interested. They know which problems they immediately face and they will support whatever candidate promises to work in their favor. In this sense, our representative democracy results in support only for candidates who deal with issues that are glaring the American public in the face in their everyday lives. So in this sense, I agree with the founders. The public business should be the “province of individuals with wisdom.” In cases like that of climate change, the public should not be the voice of action. Experts—those who comprehensively understand the particular problem with which we are faced—should have the ability to direct public action on that issue. It should not be that the ideals of democracy allow for the public to put climate change on the backburner of this nation’s agenda.
As Romney knows, staving off climate change is inconvenient. And the American people just aren’t going to want to get it done. So is there a way to allow for certain decisions (decisions that will benefit the public in the long run, despite their current apathy about or dismissal of the issue) to be made without the consent of the public? Although this may be undemocratic, I’d say it’s better in the long run than ubiquitous drought, hunger, disease and natural disasters.