How Democracy Works


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

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Ron Jacobs
The Murderer as American Hero
Alex Nunns
“A Movement Looking for a Home”: the Meaning of Jeremy Corbyn
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Xanthe Hall
Nuclear Madness: NATO’s WMD ‘Sharing’ Must End
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Uri Avnery
Abbas: the Leader Without Glory
Halima Hatimy
#BlackLivesMatter: Black Liberation or Black Liberal Distraction?
Michael Brenner
Kissinger Revisited
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Jason Cone
Even Wars Have Rules: a Fact Sheet on the Bombing of Kunduz Hospital
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Marc Norton
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
David Rosen
If Donald Dump Was President
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Ronald Bleier
Am I Drinking Enough Water? Sneezing’s A Clue
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?
Ben Debney
Guns, Trump and Mental Illness