Digital direct democracy crushes representative democracy

Ezra Klein’s “13 Reasons Washington Fails” is worth a read – and I say that as someone who certainly does not agree with all of her conclusions.

It brings together the usual suspects: the end of assignments, the Hastert rule not really being a rule, obstructions causing traffic jams, etc. Klein also jumps on conventional wisdom about the evils of gerrymandering (which largely ignores the fact that people are self-segregating along political lines.)

But that’s not my main beef. Instead, my main criticism is that Klein left out many other key factors.

Let me suggest just one: the rise of direct democracy.

Complaining about too much democracy sounds crazy – almost as crazy as complaining about too much transparency (which Klein, in fact, Is). But the surplus of democracy is actually a real problem, even if it sounds absurd.

Previously, we elected representatives who served primarily as trustees for a fixed period. Of course, they got mail and phone calls from voters and lobbyists visiting them. And of course, sometimes they might see poll numbers or a tough letter to the editor. And yes, on the big votes, party leaders and bosses (now mostly helpless) were twisting their arms. But base members were generally able to vote according to their conscience, knowing that they wouldn’t be called to the table until election day, which – depending on the position held – was two to six years later.

This does not mean that they were not responsible. It’s just that they would be held accountable at the appointed time. But until then, they could largely act without fear or consideration of instantaneous public opinion or too much immediate retaliation. They were free to take a relatively long view of politics, sometimes to take unpopular positions.

Voters would have time to judge their entire mandate, and also to calm down.

It was by design. The founders, of course, feared direct democracy and instead created a republic. The idea was to avoid a form of government that could get carried away by the emotions of the day and reverse the checks and balances. They wanted to avoid the domination of the crowd and the tyranny of the majority. But it feels like their concerns might come up as we speak.

We do not have direct democracy. Citizens do not (yet) connect to the Internet and vote directly on things. Some states have progressive-era reforms like election initiatives, referendums, and recalls (which are the root of a lot of dysfunction in places like California), but that’s not what I’m talking about.

We still have elected officials, and they still have to come back at the appointed time. But the amount of information and input they receive from voters and interest groups and basically anyone anywhere in the world who has an opinion on something makes it nearly impossible for them to ignore them. stimuli. Today’s politicians must feel more American Idol competitors who survive by constantly seeking our approval than statesmen who have the power to take tough positions.

With Twitter, emails, constant polls, and 24-hour cable news, our leaders must always be at the mercy of their constituents and experts, and that’s not as healthy as it sounds. Not everyone may have the right to vote on everything, but they have a giant megaphone to weigh in. And this digital version of direct democracy is undermining our representative democracy.

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