Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A Democracy for the Twenty-First Century

Post by Yale ACS Students - New Politics Group

“I represent the democratic wing of the Democratic party!” Senator Paul Wellstone's slogan, taken up last year by Governor Howard Dean, begs the question of what it means to be democratic in the 21st century. This, to us, is the central concern of the “New Politics” strand of the Constitution in 2020 conference. Today, the three branches of the federal government, each in conservative hands, represent only 51% of the voting population according to results from the Presidential election. The people have spoken, one side has won a majority. Is this democracy? If it is, why is it so distressing to so many democrats?

If we aspire to be not just progressives, but also democrats, we must both identify and achieve what it means to create a functioning democracy.

Constitutional scholars Bruce Ackerman and Jed Rubenfeld have argued that in America, democracy should not just be the present will of the majority that constitutes “normal politics,” but a more deeply and broadly held commitment of the people over time. Is it necessary to define the precise meaning of democracy to create a democratic Constitution?

Either way, the Constitution in 2020 should create the conditions for democracy to flourish. These conditions include, fundamentally, a population that is thoroughly informed, meaningfully involved in the political process, and accurately represented. The vast democracy of the United States -- so different from the face-to-face model of ancient Athens -- relies on two crucial mechanisms: (1) voting and representation and (2) communication. The Constitution in 2020 must address both:

(1) VOTING and REPRESENTATION -- How should people be represented under the Constitution in 2020? Are current state-centered representational regimes in the Senate and Electoral College consistent with democracy? Does the two-party system promote democracy? How should voting districts be drawn to prevent entrenchment and protect the one person, one vote principle? Are today’s voting mechanisms sufficient to protect fairness and accuracy?

(2) COMMUNICATION -- The media, old and new, will play an increasingly dominant role in defining American democracy. Should new forms of media be used to promote more direct democracy, with Ross Perot-style electronic town halls? Should political candidates or interest groups rely more or less heavily on paid media advertising to communicate ideas with the people? Should the Constitution say anything about the concentration of media and political media?

These questions should not be answered in response to the current majority, but rather behind a veil of partisan ignorance. Our answers to the fundamental questions of democracy should be no different if the current position of the parties were flipped. In 2020, they may be.

-- Yale ACS Students - New Politics Group