Fact:

Many Americans (not all) seem to think that the USA is a Democracy. It isn't; it is a Republic.

It may seem like I am being pedantic here, but there is a real difference between the two forms of government.

A republic is the rule of the people by an elected body of officials (and an elected head of state). Once they have been elected you, the people, have no real control over them. They can do whatever they want so long as they don't break the law. They don't have to keep campaign promises (although it helps if they want to get reelected)

A democracy is the rule of the people by the people. That means anyone can vote on anything (or, indeed, Everything). All votes are open to the public; if you disagree with foreign policy then you can vote to change it, etc.

The distinction between the two is hardly subtle.

Opinion:

On the other hand, the USA is (to the best of my knowledge) as close to being a democracy as any other country on this planet. Indeed, even the ancient Athenians (from whom we get the idea of democracy) didn't have a true democracy - only the wealthy could vote, not the slaves, people who had moved to Athens, or the working class.

Or course, for a long time it was not practical to create a true democracy: in a country of even 1 million people it would have taken far too long to get anything done. Now, however, the technology exists to allow millions of people to vote on laws and issues relevant to them. For that matter, a (heavily) modified version of Everything would allow people to put forwards bills and others to vote on them.

Then again, just because we have the technology doesn't mean we should use it. One great demagogue could persuade people to pass harmful laws, and could even gain substantial power over the people in this way (see accounts from Athens around 400BC where the voters were persuaded to vote to sack a city state because it was considering opposing the Delian League - which Athens ruled over). Indeed, even now a true democracy would probably be too slow acting to work.

Interestingly enough, advid is correct for even more reasons than he states.

A man named Michels created something known as the Iron Law of Oligarchy while observing the SPD(Social Democrats, Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) of Germany. Michels observed that there is an inherent flaw in the idea of mass-democracy that leads to the constant contradiction or paradox if you will:

Why does the equality party, the party of the people, act bureaucratically in its internal behaviors?

In other words, in a democracy every member of the governed should have equal say in the policy of the state. While the United States creates a very close (and as some would argue, the closest possible) proximity to a democracy, it still creates political ruling classes.

This contradiction was at the heart of early Green Party policy in Germany, but as the Greens soon found out: nothing gets done in a true democracy.
The same rule holds true in any human society. The organization efforts needed to get 250 million people to all behave in a certain manner would take years, just look at our Census. advid is very correct in saying that the United States is no democracy, and all American citizens should be very grateful for that fact.

Technically, it's a Constitutional Republic (I'm pretty sure that's the right term...) This year's presidential election has made me see more clearly just how little control the citizens actually have.

In a direct democracy, the people are in direct control of the government. Athens, in ancient Greece was a direct democracy. The citizens (the adult men, back then) voted on just about everything. Naturally, the politics of the United States are too complicated to have a vote by the general population on every single issue, so we have Congress. We elect people to speak for us. (in theory)

In presidential elections, there is a different system, known as the Electoral College. The winner of a presidential election is not the candidate who gets the most votes, but the one who gets the most electoral votes. Each state has a certain number of electoral votes, and the candidate who gets the most votes in a state (even if they only win by one vote) gets all the electoral votes for that state. This system has two major effects: It makes it possible for a person to have more votes and still lose an election, and it also creates a disadvantage for third-party candidates. For example, in the 1996 election, although Ross Perot received several million votes, he got no electoral votes, because he did not defeat either of the "main party candidates" in any state.

This was one of the main things that disturbed me about this year's election. The two main parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, completely own the election. In the current system, the other parties have virually no chance to win. The main parties also own the debates. This year, Al Gore and George W. Bush were the only candidates to be included in debates. A vote for a third party candidate in this year's election was not only wasted, but doesn't count against the main candidate that you don't want to win. For example, to the Gore supporters, a vote for Ralph Nader as actually a vote for Bush, since it doesn't counter the vote of someone who actually voted for Bush.

Also, in a democracy, the laws that are passed must be obeyed. In a republic, such as ours, the law is interpreted by the third branch, the Judicial System. Thus, even if an oppressive government passes a law, if the people find that the law is unjust, they may claim the indicted is innocent.

That is why older laws (the goofy ones like in there shall be no more cakes and ale?) sometimes aren't take off the books, they are merely ignored. No jury in the country would convict you for looking at a moose out of a airplane window flying over Alaska, even though (at least, last time I checked) it is a punishable offense.

Over the course of human evolution, social groups have tended to follow the aboriginal model. These are very small groups, by modern standards. Your circle of friends might be a few hundred people. Would you call it a tribe? It doesn't matter what you call it, really. Humanity was made up of small bands of people, roving over the countryside, hunting, gathering, and goofing off.

The development of agriculture changed everything. Basically, it caused a population explosion.

Anyone who has ever been scuba diving can tell you that it works, pretty much, by accident. It so happens that you can counteract the ambient pressure at hundreds of feet of depth underwater simply by pumping more air into your lungs - to match that pressure. There is no reason for this to work; people were not designed to do it. Your tissues need not survive the compression; Your lungs aren't obligated by design to continue to function. It just so happens that it does.

Most of the time. Of course, ascend or descend too quickly, or take a plane flight too shortly after you've been diving, and you'll discover that almost all of these accidental experiments have side-effects.

The agriculturally-driven population explosion is equally bizarre and it's just as big of an accident that modern society happens to work. People are not designed to function in groups nearly as large as they are - have you been in a big city, or watched the news lately? We are many orders of magnitude beyond our design limitations! We're not meant to cope with a malthusian population problem... not constructed to organize ourselves on this scale at all.

And that's it, really. People don't scale. There's no reason we should, either. We don't have any kind of divine right for a country of 500 million people (or a planet of 5 billion plus) to "work." In fact, I would expect that it's impossible. Or, if we figure something out, it will be even greater luck.

Democracy is a wonderful invention, and really, really powerful. That doesn't mean it's the secret to enabling the endless, boundless, brainless growth of humanity, if only we can get it "right"...

This Node Is Wrong. A republic is an indirect democracy, also known as a representative democracy. My proof:

Exibit A: Dictionary definition of democracy from Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged: ". . .(2) : a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and is exercised by them indirectly through a system of representation and delegated authority in which the people choose their their officials and representatives at periodically held elections.. (emphasis mine) I also checked another dictionary and it said basically the same thing. Thus, the U.S.A is a democracy. It is also a republic, as shown in...

Exibit B: Ibid. republic def. "b (1) a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officials and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law : REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY" Thus a republic is a democracy.

Research, research, research!


I will now reply to SharQ because he makes good points.

America does only have two major parties.

  • If there were twenty parties and one consistently ruled (winning elections by a small margin) for a really long time would it be a democracy? Where do you draw the line? My point here is that if a country's populace has a very homogeneous political opinion then the candidates that represent that opinion will win consistently. It's still a democracy. Democracy refers to the system--the procedure by which the leader(s) are selected--not the political opinion. (Unless, perhaps, the popular opinion is that we should have a dictatorship. But that's not the leading American mindset so it's irrelevant.)
  • The parties keep winning but others exist and can run on a (nearly) equal basis. They don't win because they're not the most popular. That is, because we have a democracy.
  • This doesn't address why there aren't a bunch of parties, but the reason why the parties stay alive for so long is largely because they change to match political opinion. We have different Republican and Democrat parties than we used to; just the names stayed the same.
  • Money: Again, I think this is a big problem but not one that makes us not a democracy. It's de facto not de jure.

An irrelevant point I'd like to make is that while from a Norwegian point-of-view the Democrats and Republicans are both very 'right," but from my perspective (and the perspective of most American experts, I think) they're very centrist. (That's another reason why third parties keep losing: they represent the extremist views who are in nearly every society the minority.)

Re communism v. facist: You need to define terms. In American politics Communism and Facism generally represent the extreme-left: powerful, oppressive central government. (Though actually I think communism is an economic system, not a political system so a comparison makes no sense what-so-ever.)

Your final point: I say above "supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote" Thus, what matters is not that they do vote but that they're entitled to vote. Democracy essentially means ruled by the people. If half the people choose to defer to others wishes, they're still equally ruling. They control the government just as much as any Norwegian. A voter helps decide their leader by voting for one, a non-voting helps by choosing (that's the key word here) the option of "Whatever you guys decide is okay with me."


See also: America isn't really a democracy, Why does the USA continue to insist it's a Democracy?

Why USA is not a democracy

A hyper-short history of democracy
In the ancient Greece, the people worked out a fairly genius system of governing a country, in a system which later has been dubbed a "direct democracy". In this system, people living in a polis (city-state) would gather every now and again to decide on important matters. A democracy is per definition a country or a state governed by the people (demos=people, kratein=leadership)

This system has become adopted into the system that most European countries use nowadays - the parliamentarian system. This system pretty much eliminates the possibility of having your say directly, but by voting on people who have roughly the same opinions as you have, you can control what happens in a country.

"Democracy" in Norway
I will in this part shortly discuss how the democracy in Norway works. This because the Norwegian political system is the one I am most familiar with.

In Norway, one has roughly 20 parties, spread more or less evenly all over the right/left spectre of politics. Recently, there was an election; here are the results:

(from left to right on the polical scale)

SV: approx 12 %
AP: approx 24 %

--
V: approx 4 %
KrF: approx 12 %
SP: approx 6 %
--
H: approx 21 %
FrP: approx 14 %

The top two parties can be seen as left-oriented parties. The bottom two are right-oriented.

This list demonstrates two things: For one thing, it shows fairly well the diversity in current Norwegian politics. This diversity is not always a good thing, but at least it does introduce discussions from both sides, which is healthy for the democratic process.

A few notes on the left-right scale
Secondly, it illustrates the left/right red/blue scale. On the far left you'd find Communism. On the far right side you'd find Fascism (and arguably Nazism, but that's a different discussion altogether).

Traditionally, the right-side parties welcome privatizing of industries and services, while the left-side parties are more concerned about controlling the services more, to make sure that everybody gets what they need.

"Democracy" in the USA
In America, there are two political parties worth mentioning - the democrats and the republicans. On the scale mentioned earlier, both these two parties end up on the right side of the scale - without being absolutely sure, they would probably end up each one one side of the "H" above.

This brings us to a few of the problems in the USA today. Most Europeans, even the ones inclined to vote right, would agree that the choice between "pretty far right" or "right" isn't really much of a democratic choice - because the more socialistic / neutral views are by and large ignored. This promotes a very polarized, rigid political system of black-and-white, without any gradations in between. In this case, the choice will always be Republican or Democrat - there is nothing in between, and there seems to be nothing to the left or right of these parties. At least not worth mentioning.

Far more serious than the fact that there are only two parties, though, is how the different parties are chosen. In America, elections look more like television entertainment than a choosing of how a country is to be run the next years. Like quite a lot of other things in America, appearances are far more important than contents.

Take president Clinton, for example. General opinion is that he has done a marvelous job at his years of being a president, until the entire Lewinsky case blew up. Sure, it might be a bad thing that he committed adultery, and it was far worse that he lied about it in his trials. But none of these two things are very important to Clinton's ability of running a country.

I did a highly unofficial survey among approx. 50 American youth in high school (this was in 1998, and the people in question were about 16-17 years old), asking them what the difference between the republican party and the democratic party was. Only 10 or so were able to give an answer at all, and only 3 or 4 were able to give an answer that actually made any sense.

The other question I asked them, was what Communism and Socialism was, and if they could mention ONE single thing that was good about either of the two. The replies were nonexistent.

The complete and utter ignorance of the young members of American society is worrying, to say the least. This also raises the question of where the Americansdo get their information from, on which they base their choices. The answer to this, sadly, appears to be the television.

The problem with television information on political issues is that this kind of information often only handles a few different topics. This leads to a highly populist discussion. The characteristics of a populist discussion are partly that they are quite shallow, and don't touch the big issues in society. In addition to this, the populist topics often exclude more leftist parties from joining the discussion.

Besides, in USA campaigns tend to be heavily financed by lobby organizations and large corporations, like the NRA, Shell etc. This is a vicious circle indeed:

  • A party needs some corporations to be able to get to power at all
  • A large corporation is not going to fund a party that does not act in their own interest
  • A non-right party is not likely to support large corporations, and will not receive any funds from these

Sadly, the conclusion of these three points is that only parties oriented to the political right will have any power in the USA. This means that the large corporations will get even better soil for growth, allowing them to pour even more money into the political system.

Recap
All these mentioned points are arguments for USA not being a democracy, i.e a country ran by the people. USA is run by a small elitist group of multi-billion corporations, and democracy has been made impossible by the system.

When the planes crashed into the WTC on sept 11th, it wasn't democracy that was attacked, because USA doesn't have such a thing. Capitalism might have been attacked - but I suppose we just don't know the difference anymore.

Final point:
Election turnout in the USA at the last election: 36.4 %
Election turnout in Norway at the last election: 75.1 %

Can a country where most people don't even bother to vote be called a democracy?

I rest my case

-30-





After having gotten used to E2, the way it works etc - I have decided to write a reply to The Custodian's WU. First however, I suggest you have a look at my node about Domination Techniques

WU parts by The Custodian is italicized

Okay, SharQ. You're new here, and thus get leeway, to the point where I won't just smack this writeup off the system. :-)

This is a reference to TC's power here on E2. TC is a content editor. Already in his first line, he makes sure to point out that he is a very nice guy, in the fact that he does not abuse his power by nuking my writeup (Even though this can be forgiven because he added a :) on the end.)

 

Countries have their own political spectra.

This is, of course, true. However, there is an "universal" political spectrum, that ranges from far left to far right. The fact that the USA has nothing on the left side of the spectrum is a strong argument to the fact that the American democracy is lacking in diversity

 

Nader's party, which in the minds of many gave the election to Bush and company, isn't worth mentioning?

I agree that they should have been mentioned. However, they have no political power as such.

 

assertions of mass support doesn't cut it. I'm not saying you're wrong, but show me numbers.

There are no numbers on this, as you are aware of. So I'll have to pull that statement. However, I have yet to meet anyone who does not agree that variety in politics is a positive thing.

 

"Nothing to the left or right of these parties" worth mentioning...um, again, Nader? Anderson? Perot? While never themselves holding office,

Where are they now? Does anybody listen to them? The problem with the system is that if you don't win the election, you are nothing. I was merely noting that in many other countries, parties that do not win the elections still have a say in politics.

 

Oh, boy. Here we go with knee-jerk European liberal condemnation of the American Media.

Please see my node about domination techniques, the point about decreditizing discussions and ridiculing. This comment has absolutely nothing to do with the discussion we are trying to hold here.

 

The massive coverage of elections in America, while skewed in terms of emphasis, is all about who's going to lead the country. Tell any candidate who's had their past investigated within an inch of his/her life what you just said and listen to the laughter.

Which was exactly my point. Who cares what the past of a politician is? The point isn't how christian you are, and how many good deeds you have done in the past, but how well you are able to run a country. Hitler (although he was an ass) had a spotless personal life - and he was not very fit to run a country. Winston Churchill was infamous for heavy alcohol use, and his many girlfriends, but he is known for being one of the reasons why the second world war didn't include a German invasion of Great Britain.

 

Unfortunate, but not nearly as damaging as you seem to think. Some candidates' pasts don't get enough coverage, it seems to me.

Although you do have a point here, I have to admit I disagree.

 

none of those you spoke with is of legal voting age.

True - but it does show that young people in the US have little or no working knowledge of democracy, or indeed politics as a whole - in contrast with the same age groups in the other two countries I have experience from (Norway and Holland)

 

I somehow don't think that a lack of intimate knowledge about Socialism and Communism will affect the impact their future votes will have,

I wasn't talking about an intimate knowledge. I was talking about any knowledge whatsoever. Besides - both socialism and communism are important theories as background knowledge for voters. I do realize this is my personal opinions, and will as such be disputed, but I do still think I have an important point.

 

First of all, I'd say you were being an unabashed elitist; however,

Please see my node about domination techniques, the point about decreditizing discussions and ridiculing

 

Populist, I would remind you, involves 'of the people.'

Indeed - but populist also means that the politics follow the current opinions, rather than sticking to an ideology. There is no consistency, which was the point I was trying to make (granted, it was very poorly formulated, for which I apologize)

 

Oh, sure, we don't talk about foreign policy and global economics much...because we don't have to. Some incredibly pathetic percentage of the U.S. economy is actually based on international trade;

That, of course, is absolutely true. But what the USA fails to recognize, is that of most countries outside the USA, international trade with the USA are substantial parts of a country's economy. This means that even though foreign policy and economics have little or no impact on the US, it is worrying that some people don't realize the impact that US policies have on the rest of the world.

 

Wrong. Parties need money to be able to get to power. This may or may not involve companies.

I am sorry, but this is unrealistic. Money comes from corporations, companies, large organizations etc, who all have their own agenda. This is bound to influence politics.

 

Don't even bring up the September 11th incident. Frankly, it has dick to do with what you're saying, and dragging it in just to emphasize a point is not only cowardly, stupid and annoying, but would probably get you smacked if you'd brought it up in this argument to my face. The people that died in that incident have NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with this discussion.

Please see my node about domination techniques, the points about decreditizing discussions, threats of physical violence and ridiculing.

The whole reason I wrote this node is that I was annoyed with the fact that it was repeatedly stated that the terrorist attacks were an attack on democracy, while (as the title of this node suggests) USA is not a democracy.

 

As for your last paragraph - big whoop, Norway has a bigger eligible voter turnout. Ooh. I'm jealous. While it is sad that more Americans don't vote, the fact remains that it is their right not to vote. If, in fact, you argue so strongly that they are never offered a real choice, and that the media and discussion in the country is too populist, then where do you get off with this one?

Please see my node about domination techniques, the point about ridiculing.

A society where people don't practice their right to vote has a problem. When only a third of the people who can vote actually bother to vote, you have a serious problem, because the whole democratic process is built on the fact that people have to get up and vote.


Please note that I am very happy that The Custodian came with criticism on my writeup - I have learnt a lot from it, and I feel that I understand a little more about the American way of thinking, no matter how far fetched it seems to me as a european.


As for the earlier comments (not from TC) that a Republic is not a democracy

- This is just straightup wrong. A democracy is not the same as a direct democracy. If it was, then there is not one single democracy in this world.

The modern definition of a democracy means that a country is run by people who are chosen (this is where the democracy part comes in) by the people - nothing more nothing less. My arguments on why the USA is not a democracy, then, point out facts and ideas of why USA does not fit the commonly accepted idea of a democracy.

Preface: SharQ has been quite reasonably /msg-ing me and responding on this node to my rant below. He, apparently, quite gets the smileys-and-sarcasm bit, and tries to force me back on an even keel in the argument with his replies above. I salute him for his position, his convictions and his arguing - and I hope more around here will be able to jump into this irresistable ring of contention that may, at times, resemble an academic WWF Cage Match. Cheers, SharQ!

Note that I still don't think he's right (grin).

Now, on to my original hotheaded sarcasm fest-

Okay, SharQ. You're new here, and thus get leeway, to the point where I won't just smack this writeup off the system. :-) But that doesn't mean it can slide.

So hold on, partners...it's time to play deconstructionist writeup rugby! Don't try this at home; this noder plays with sarcasm levels that could KILL YOU ALL!

As is my usual practice, all components of the original node quoted here are sic and in italics. My comments are in plaintext.

I'm going to just ignore the 'short lesson on Democracy' as it really isn't relevant. After deluging us with Norwegian election results, SharQ notes:

This list demonstrates two things: For one thing, it shows fairly well the diversity in current Norwegian politics. This diversity is not always a good thing, but at least it does introduce discussions from both sides, which is healthy for the democratic process. Um, no, sorry. It does not illustrate the diversity in current Norwegian politics, just the relatively even distribution of Norwegian voting patterns. We have your word that the parties lie across the political gamut; however, we have no information on the width of the political spectrum in Norway. It may, for example, be much narrower than in other places; it may be much larger. Either way, these numbers don't say anything about the diversity of Norwegian politics.

Your notes on the 'left/right scale' are somewhat helpful, but don't address the point above. Countries have their own political spectra. If those votes had been for U.S. democrats vs. republicans, maybe they'd mean something.

Moving along: In America, there are two political parties worth mentioning - the democrats and the republicans. On the scale mentioned earlier, both these two parties end up on the right side of the scale - without being absolutely sure,they would probably end up each one one side of the "H" above.

Really? Nader's party, which in the minds of many gave the election to Bush and company, isn't worth mentioning? Hmm. Also, you appear to forget that local elections feature a plethora of parties, some of which even make it officially to Congress (my own state of Vermont had a Socialist in there, for one). Secondly, party identification in the U.S. is less a matter of positions than you seem to believe. More on this later.

This brings us to a few of the problems in the USA today. Most Europeans, even the ones inclined to vote right, would agree that the choice between "pretty far right" or "right" isn't really much of a democratic choice - because the more socialistic / neutral views are by and large ignored. This promotes a very polarized, rigid political system of black-and-white, without any gradations in between. In this case, the choice will always be Republican or Democrat - there is nothing in between, and there seems to be nothing to the left or right of these parties. At least not worth mentioning.

Whoa. "Most Europeans"...sorry, but assertions of mass support doesn't cut it. I'm not saying you're wrong, but show me numbers. Also, the characterization of American political choice as "pretty far right" to "right" is yours, not ours. If a political process is designed to work for those who belong to it, I'm afraid to say your opinions don't really mean much.

In any case, how can you first argue that there's no real spread to the system and in the same sentence argue that the system is rigidly polarized black and white? Black and white imply contrast; contrast implies difference. And the choice is not always Republican or Democrat, sorry. There are a myriad of candidates in every election in the U.S. While it's true that at the national level very few other than those that proclaim themselves Dems/Reps get elected, that doesn't mean much. Try to look at values and viewpoints. There is a wide range of difference in the values and viewpoints within each party! Such spreads make your constant harping about binary choice incorrect and irrelevant.

"Nothing to the left or right of these parties" worth mentioning...um, again, Nader? Anderson? Perot? While never themselves holding office, you cannot claim that these parties did not influence their respective elections (in some cases decisively). That's how a parliament works, after all; it magnifies the leverage of individual members when there is a lack of unanimity, forcing the government or those trying to form one to pay an unbalanced amount of attention to those who are 'on the line', no matter what their opinions actually may be.

In America, elections look more like television entertainment than a choosing of how a country is to be run the next years. Oh, boy. Here we go with knee-jerk European liberal condemnation of the American Media. Seriously, though, what's your point? The massive coverage of elections in America, while skewed in terms of emphasis, is all about who's going to lead the country. Tell any candidate who's had their past investigated within an inch of his/her life what you just said and listen to the laughter.

I know; you argue later that the media (and the people) focus on unimportant stuff. Well, BZZZT. Sure, they do. The problem is, however, you don't know what's important until you go look, and you don't get approval/budget/urge to go look unless there's the prospect of mass interest in the results. So, you have to hype that interest. Unfortunate, but not nearly as damaging as you seem to think. Some candidates' pasts don't get enough coverage, it seems to me.

I did a highly unofficial survey among approx. 50 American youth in high school (this was in 1998, and the people in question were about 16-17 years old), asking them what the difference between the republican party and the democratic party was. Only 10 or so were able to give an answer at all, and only 3 or 4 were able to give an answer that actually made any sense. The other question I asked them, was what Communism and Socialism was, and if they could mention ONE single thing that was good about either of the two. The replies were nonexistent.

I fail to see how this is relevant. First of all, you admit that none of those you spoke with is of legal voting age. While it may be a tragedy that they aren't better informed about history, I somehow don't think that a lack of intimate knowledge about Socialism and Communism will affect the impact their future votes will have, especially if (as you yourself argue) there's nothing anywhere near as radical as that available to vote for. Did you try asking them what they thought about gun control? What they thought about abortion? What they thought about taxes? What they thought about Israel and the Palestinians? These are the things Americans typically think about when they choose their leaders. I remain much more concerned about people who can tell you exactly what a party stands for but have no clue as to the congruence between that party's espoused positions and those of their current candidate.

This also raises the question of where the Americans do get their information from, on which they base their choices. The answer to this, sadly, appears to be the television.

Heh. First, you'd have to work to convince me we make choices based on the information we gather...at least, more than maybe 1% of us. Facetious comments aside, again, you seem to have little point other than a knee-jerk and practiced condemnation of American media. While I will be first in line to agree with you that American television media has and is guilty of some of the worst excesses of recent years, I defy you to give me a good option. Newspapers are (with very few exceptions) very, very regionalist; information obtained from them (in the U.S.) is never balanced. Furthermore, it is much more difficult to distribute a newspaper on a national basis than on a regional basis, not only due to logistics but because 95% of the country doesn't care what happened in your county last week unless it involved anthrax. The national papers really only became so after having a distribution network that could support them; and the ROI on that these days is pretty piss-poor.

I would remind you of the size of the country you're talking about. Ever driven across the U.S.? It's frickin' huge, man. Ever talked to the people who inhabit it as you drive? There's a fairly dramatic difference not only in opinions but in lifestyle, language, and culture. Television, while flawed, remains (with radio) the only effective means of quickly propagating information across the country. Don't even mention the Internet; with over 35% of the web traffic in this country going through AOL, odds aren't very good that that will help.

This leads to a highly populist discussion. The characteristics of a populist discussion are partly that they are quite shallow, and don't touch the big issues in society. In addition to this, the populist topics often exclude more leftist parties from joining the discussion.

Wow, I don't know where to start, here. First of all, I'd say you were being an unabashed elitist; however, that flies in the face of both your 'history lesson' earlier and the later fact that you seem to take great pride in noting the higher voter turnout numbers for Norway. Okay, which is it? Populist, I would remind you, involves 'of the people.' Who the fuck is government for? "...don't touch the big issues in society..." well, maybe not yours. Gun control, abortion, and the like are the big issues over here, cowboy. Oh, sure, we don't talk about foreign policy and global economics much...because we don't have to. Some incredibly pathetic percentage of the U.S. economy is actually based on international trade; an even smaller percentage on trade with nations outside NAFTA (especially those that aren't Japan).I'm not saying that the trade itself isn't big; just that compared to our GDP it's kinda silly. When this is the case, I'm sorry, but international affairs and globalism aren't the big issues. As to the degree of discussion of socialist policy in the country, you're wrong; what do you think the whole brouhaha about health care was, after all? Remember, our system is much, much more privatised than yours; as a result, most of the debates about how it is run are done silently - with our wallets. Debate at the policy level is typically only done when deciding what the government should be meddling in, since until that's settled, there's no point debating its policy.

Besides, in USA campaigns tend to be heavily financed by lobby organizations and large corporations, like the NRA, Shell etc. This is a vicious circle indeed:

  • a party needs some corporations to be able to get to power at all
  • A large corporation is not going to fund a party that does not act in their own interest
  • A non-right party is not likely to support large corporations, and will not receive any funds from these
  • Sadly, the conclusion of these three points is that only parties oriented to the political right will have any power in the USA. This means that the large corporations will get even better soil for growth, allowing them to pour even more money into the political system.

Yes, campaigns are heavily financed by large corporations, and yes, that can be/is a problem. However, don't get carried away. Corporations and their operations are much,much more central to public life here in the U.S. for one because of the laissez-faire philosophy of the U.S. Government; corporations fill many of the roles that government agencies fill in more socialist nations, and (oh, dear, here's the big secret) Americans like it that way. We have this whole issue of 'big government' versus 'small government-' remember? While the corporations should be better restricted and/or policed in terms of their abilities to set conditions on their contributions, and perhaps on their size, even then, you're going to have to cope with the fact that government action involving big corporations is, in fact, government action involving citizens in many cases.

Your list points, while not necessarily wrong, don't really follow nearly as tight a logic trail as you think. To wit:

  • Parties need corporations to be able to get to power

    Wrong. Parties need money to be able to get to power. This may or may not involve companies. Even if it does, there is an emerging trend among American corporations to increase their image as 'environmentally friendly' and 'humanist' - why? Because they lose money otherwise. This includes the pattern of their political giving. While the pendulum is nowhere near flipping, it's definitely wavering around; it's not all bad on this front.

  • A large corporation is not going to fund a party that does not act in their own interest

    Um, okay. Look, I'll say it again: this isn't about parties so much as it is about candidates. Companies give money at all levels, and are never above playing candidates off against each other even within a party. But in any case, it's sort of a rhetorical argument; you first need to convince me that what the corporations want is automatically bad. Some of it? Sure, no doubt. However, a lot of it can be traced directly back through to their primary task of making money - which employs Americans and pays their bills.

  • em>A non-right party is not likely to support large corporations, and will not receive any funds from these

    That's not as clear-cut. It's to the point now where companies are willing to pay political groups for their 'support' - and those that wield this sort of 'brand approval' aren't rightists or Republicans. Companies will pay whoever they think will get them a better environment, and that doesn't have to be politicians! Organizations like Unicef and Greenpeace are increasingly able to elicit large checks in return for declaring the sponsor's name. It's up to them to decide if they want to do that, but the fact that companies want this sort of recognition is, itself, an indication of some power moving to the left.

All these mentioned points are arguments for USA not being a democracy, i.e a country ran by the people. USA is run by a small elitist group of multi-billion corporations, and democracy has been made impossible by the system. When the planes crashed into the WTC on sept 11th, it wasn't democracy that was attacked, because USA doesn't have such a thing. Capitalism might have been attacked - but I suppose we just don't know the difference anymore.

Oh, for the love of...look, I got news for you. What did our last election come down to? Despite the huge number of problems in how it came out, it came down to vicious fights NOT OVER THE POLICIES OF A CABAL but over the choices of a small number of Americans. The very depth of the bullshit maneuvering that went on is in fact strong evidence that the People run this place. If that weren't true, there would have been no need to try so desperately to influence the count; more attention would have been paid to simply ignoring the result!

I know, I can hear you say it, the result *was* ignored. First of all, no matter whose side you are on, the difference either way was so far down into the 'noise' layer for an election involving many dozens of millions of people that in reality those fights were IRRELEVANT. The real battle came beforehand and on other fronts; in advertising, and (more perniciously) in the Supreme Court. The shape of the battle, however, was determined by the need to have the people of the U.S. accept the result. While I think the wrong guy won, I would point out that the power shift in Congress more than makes up for it. Congress, really, is the issue here, not the President; while he's important, Congress has the legislative power, and they are elected from a much wider spectrum of people (see those fun stats on how many of them have outstanding warrants) and in a much more direct process.

Don't even bring up the September 11th incident. Frankly, it has dick to do with what you're saying, and dragging it in just to emphasize a point is not only cowardly, stupid and annoying, but would probably get you smacked if you'd brought it up in this argument to my face. The people that died in that incident have NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with this discussion.

As for your last paragraph - big whoop, Norway has a bigger eligible voter turnout. Ooh. I'm jealous. While it is sad that more Americans don't vote, the fact remains that it is their right not to vote. If, in fact, you argue so strongly that they are never offered a real choice, and that the media and discussion in the country is too populist, then where do you get off with this one?

After reading through the collected writeups here, it's clear that many people have very strong feelings when it comes to the connotations of the word democracy, but not necessarily a firm knowledge of the definition of the word democracy. Such a central concept as democracy is bound to have many strong feelings and opinions, many of which have a lot of validity. Every one of these writeups here expresses a valid opinion; however, they each miss out on a few key issues.

Here, I hope to explain why the central idea here is mostly true, but not quite. In fact, the United States is largely a democracy, more so than any other type of government. This was the idea that the original creator of this node, advid, had when he submitted a writeup proposing that the United States is a republic, which is much less true than stating that it is a democracy. He does deserve credit for realizing that it is in fact not a democracy, however. In reality, it is very difficult to apply any other general form of government (communist, socialist, etc.) to describe the United States (and no one feels that they apply anyway), so I'll skip over these and stick to the two in question.

What is a democracy?
The chief characteristic and distinguishing feature of a democracy is rule by omnipotent majority. In a true democracy, the individual or any group of individuals composing a minority have no protection against the unlimited power of a majority. A true democracy is a case of majority-over-man.

What is a republic?
On the other hand, a republic has a very different purpose and an entirely different form of government. The chief characteristic of the republic is the strict control of the majority and all minorities, protecting the powers of the individual above all. This is achieved by having the populous elect representatives to create and enforce laws and decide their fairness In fact, the founding fathers intended the United States to be a republic, framed by a constitution that would restrict it from becoming anything else.

The problem is that both the idea of a democracy and the idea of a republic are ideals, ones that no true government can ever achieve simply because individuals have different ideals than one another. A true republic cannot exist because one representative can never precisely represent his constituents while simultaneously protecting the freedoms of all voices and opinions to be expressed. Meanwhile, a true democracy cannot exist because minorities would never have a voice, and it would quickly descend into infighting, mob rule, and a new governmental form because in a democracy, the simple majority always rules, even if the strong minority is actually correct.

The question is then begged: what on earth is the United States if it is not a democracy and it is not a republic? It is in fact a representative democracy, a different entity entirely. In terms of structure, it is much closer to a republic; in terms of effect, however, it is much closer to a democracy. Since the effect is what is actually turned into law and action, the government is much more like a democracy than a republic.

How is this so? Over time, the legislative and executive body moved from protecting the views of the minority and controlling the majority to simply obeying the wishes of the majority. Rather than debating issues on merit and allowing all voices to be heard, the Republicans and Democrats instead debate on a partisan basis, usually voting strictly along party lines or in whatever direction opinion polls of their constituency tell them. As a result, the majority rules: whatever party received the most votes at the last election in essence runs the country and enacts their policies because they have the support of the majority.

However, this effective democracy works within the structure of a republic. We have a three-pronged system of government and a constitution that does protect freedom of expression. Essentially, the United States is the monkey of democracy in the suit of a republic. People repeatedly complain that the "people aren't really in control;" that is in fact the result of the democratic elements of our government and the statement comes from people who want to see the republic-like elements of it instead.

For a better understanding of this, I strongly recommend a reading of The Federalist Papers, written by by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. These men provide a great understanding of what exactly the government of the United States was intended to be. To supplement this, try watching C-Span or a few political news programs such as CNN's Crossfire. Such programs will show you what exactly the government of the United States has become.

In the rest of this node, one can find a great debate between The Custodian and SharQ, who both do a great job of discussing the political arena of the United States today in comparison with other systems that have a mix of democracy and republic styles of government. Although their discussions are well worth reading, in essence the two are comparing apples and oranges. None of the systems they describe are truly a democracy, nor are any of them truly a republic. Instead, they debate different perspectives on what exactly the governmental system of the United States has evolved into and its impact on the country. It's a great debate and very interesting reading, but it doesn't address the central point of whether the United States is a democracy or not.

In conclusion, I'll restate the central point again: the United States is largely a democracy, more so than any other type of government; however, it is not truly a democracy.

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