How Democracy Works

by NOEL IGNATIEV

According to the New York Times of April 5, President Obama is about to present his budget proposal, which includes cuts in social security and medicare as part of an effort to reach a compromise with the Republicans. The story is followed by comments from readers, nearly all expressing anger and outrage at what they call Obama’s betrayal, many saying they wished they had not voted for him.

I am not a regular reader of the Times comments sections, but I do not recall ever seeing such unanimity on any issue. Here is the link:  (My own comment: “The usual courtship ritual: the Republicans make outrageous proposals, the Democratic president virtuously refuses before coyly surrendering.”)

This small episode refutes the contention that, notwithstanding various imperfections, public opinion expressed through the electoral system influences the actions of public officials, because they want to stay in office. In fact, public opinion will make no difference in this case, just as it made no difference in 2008 when departing President Bush, with Obama’s agreement, gave away trillions to banks and insurance companies in spite of overwhelming opposition from the “public.” At that time one congressman reported that his mail was running nine-to-one against the giveaway, and urged Congress to hurry up and get it done before his constituents marched on Washington and burned it down.

As a student of history I am not surprised by political officials lying and manipulating public opinion to get people to go along with what the rulers want (example: Saddam Hussein’s non-existent “weapons of mass destruction”), but I admit to some awe at how brazenly they do things that run openly counter to the declared wishes of those they designate as their constituents, and get away with it. The key can be found in the Federalist Paper No. 10, in which James Madison explained why a republican form of government is useful in preventing the “interested and overbearing majority” from imposing “abolition of debts, an equal division of property, or any other improper or wicked project.”

As C.L.R. James said, the capitalists will only be defeated when they are running for their lives.

Noel Ignatiev is the author of How the Irish Became White (Routledge, 1995), and co-editor, with John Garvey, of the anthology Race Traitor (Routledge, 1996). He can be reached at noelignatiev@gmail.com. He blogs at http://www.pmpress.org/content/article.php/NoelIgnatiev

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 29, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Politics of Betrayal: Obama Backstabs Kurds to Appease Turkey
Joshua Frank
The Wheels Fell Off the Bernie Sanders Bandwagon
Conn Hallinan
Ukraine: Close to the Edge
Stephen Lendman
What Happened to Ralkina Jones? Another Jail Cell Death
Rob Wallace
Neoliberal Ebola: the Agroeconomic Origins of the Ebola Outbreak
Dmitry Rodionov
The ‘Ichkerization’ Crime Wave in Ukraine
Joyce Nelson
Scott Walker & Stephen Harper: a New Bromance
Bill Blunden
The Red Herring of Digital Backdoors and Key Escrow Encryption
Thomas Mountain
The Sheepdog Politics of Barack Obama
Farzana Versey
A President and a Yogi: Abdul Kalam’s Symbolism
Norman Pollack
America’s Decline: Internal Structural-Cultural Subversion
Foday Darboe
How Obama Failed Africa
Cesar Chelala
Russia’s Insidious Epidemic
Tom H. Hastings
Defending Democracy
David Macaray
Why Union Contracts are Good for the Country
Virginia Arthur
The High and Dry Sierras
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, the Season Finale, Mekonception in Redhook
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Jesse Jackson
Sandra Bland’s Only Crime Was Driving While Black
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance
Howard Lisnoff
Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma’s Profiteers: You Want Us to Pay What for These Meds?
Joshua Sperber
What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism
John Halle
On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears
Stephen Lendman
Cleveland Police Attack Black Activists
Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Politics of Coercion in Greece
Patrick Cockburn
Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS
Ralph Nader
Sending a ‘Citizens Summons’ to Members of Congress
Clancy Sigal
Scratch That Itch: Hillary and The Donald
Colin Todhunter
Working Class War Fodder
Gareth Porter
Obama’s Version of Iran Nuke Deal: a Second False Narrative