During a radio talk show the other morning, in an effort to reveal a very limited understanding among certain high school students about our local system of government, a caller recounted a recent experience. Apparently upon asking two students what the Democratic Party is, he received but two questioning stares. In his effort to enlighten the two young men, the caller informed them that it was: “…the party that runs these islands.”
Without debating the merits or accuracy of this callers’ point of view, at the very least some thought needs to be given to such an assertion. In a reputedly democratic system of government, should any party even consider such a goal as the establishment of its hegemony over other political entities? As we approach the selection of delegates and the consequent start of the 5th Constitutional Convention, it would not only be timely but relevant to ask ourselves: Does the implied creation of a ‘political machine’ maintain or further the ends that need to be articulated in a constitution founded on democratic principles?
Any review of the democratic experience of the last 230 years needs to focus on the issue of fairness. If a system is designed around the concept of majority rule, does it in fact offer the probability of representation of choice to all? If majority’s elect all representatives, decide all issues, formulate all policy and control the process of government that decides what is and is not addressed, is this truly democratic? At this juncture, as we set about the process of devising our own constitution, could a fairer system be employed? Instead of a continuation of a winner-take-all format, would a system based on proportionality offer an enhancement of democratic principles? Consideration of a continually declining voter turnout needs to be factored into such deliberations. It was Alexis de Tocqueville who noted over 175 years ago that the only cure for the ills of democracy, was more democracy.
From the outset it must be recognized that an effort deemed “democratic” does not serve as a guarantor that the output of the convention will infuse the document with governing principles that will ultimately accomplish its’ stated goals. The compromises that established the first American Constitution eventually doomed that structure described in the Articles of Confederation. The discussions and debates that will constitute the workings of the convention delegates, whether in the entire assembled body or the various sub-committees charged with certain aspects of the effort, will be limited by their individual abilities and no doubt controlled by the adopted structure and rules that will govern their proceedings. Perhaps more significantly, their individual efforts will be a reflection of those opinions, attitudes and agenda’s, whether altruistic or selfish, that their personalities contain.
That all citizens should participate equally, and in so doing establish their voices as ‘the real force that runs these islands’, is fundamental to a functioning democracy. Membership in a dominant party, or any party for that matter, that establishes hierarchy’s and pecking order’s that prioritize issues of self-interest over those of the ‘public good’ are anathema to democracy’s and toxic to any virtuous semblance of justice.
The preservation of minority interest groups (defined here not by race, but as any group not in the majority) as viable forces in formulating policies and promoting each entity’s shared goals is critical to the long term viability of the democratic process. Interest group representation needs to be examined carefully during any discussions of districting as a means of establishing a more responsive constituency based representation. In support of such an effort the option of a cumulative vote system whereby all voters in each district can utilize their allotted votes as multiple votes for one or less than the number of representatives to be selected, should be available.
If, during the Constitutional Convention the untimely demise of any now universally acknowledged principles of good government were to occur due to oversight, error or intent, then it would be at the very hands of those who professed to champion their cause. Given recent attention to such issues as special ‘native’ rights and repeated assertions that only a changed status for the Territory would provide the flexibility to formulate an appropriate document, it appears that this veil of words is far too shear not to discern an intrigue reminiscent of some Shakespearean scene with ‘equal rights’ playing the part of the intended victim.
After all that can possibly be said or written, isn’t it clear that in any analysis, let alone some supposed final one, a constitution doesn’t guarantee liberty, but can, at best, only provide a framework that makes it possible?
The ultimate guarantors of all rights, freedoms and standards of justice are none other than that same informed citizenry, who after careful consideration, entered into the agreement that binds them to their common purpose.
Hugo A. Roller
A Concerned Citizen and Farmer
On St. John