5/13/2002

 

Are We Letting Aristocracy Revive?

 

This is the last in a three-part series. The previous columns are available at www.tomcantlon.com. The theme of this series is that there are leaders in our government who are not fully committed to democracy and individual rights, even though such an idea seems shocking in times when these principles are taken for granted. Last time I pointed out that our Founding Fathers, just coming out of an aristocratic era, left most of the individual rights out of the constitution, but they eventually corrected that with the Bill of Rights. Throughout our history weíve gradually moved from that aristocratic attitude to a fuller realization of democracy and rights. For instance it wasnít until 1971 that the Supreme Court held that the fourteenth amendment (equal protection under the law) applied to women.

 

In the more recent past this aristocratic attitude has shown itself in actions such as Nixon and Kissinger arranging the overthrow of a democratically elected leader in Chile just because they didnít like his policies. Or when Reagan couldnít get the duly elected Congress to fund his Central American policy, he ignored the electorate and developed back-door channels (coordinated by Oliver North) to carry it out anyway. In domestic issues this attitude usually shows itself in policies that affect the powerful, whether itís who benefits disproportionately from tax breaks, or who gets most of the farm subsidies, or letting players like Enron have excessive influence on energy policy.

 

Whatís the common thread in all these actions? An aristocratic attitude. It is leaders who assume they know best, and if democratically elected officials get in the way, or laws are inconvenient, they think they should overrule it all and just do what they want anyway. It is leaders who assume that if they just help the inner-circle of the powerful have free reign then the little people will be better off too, because of all the crumbs that will fall from the table.

 

Itís not an issue of rich and poor, or business versus individuals, or strictly conservatives versus liberals. It is a mindset of some conservatives, but not the many who are more populist-minded. It is a subset who are the game-playing powerful elite, who typically find it convenient to rationalize their game playing under a cloak of conservativism. Some, Iím convinced, even believe in what theyíre doing, but every time a decision pits what would be good for the many against what the powerful want, the powerful win. When it comes to knowing how to apply the principles of democracy and rights to the everyday decisions of governance, they just donít get it.

 

George W. Bush and his staff are one example of this, though hardly the only ones. In forming energy policy behind closed doors with input only from those who will benefit, in compromising rights in the pursuit of terrorists, in the casual attitude toward the overthrow of democratically elected President Chavez in Venezuela, he reveals an aristocratic thread that leads to bad decisions that will have long term consequences.

 

Plenty of liberals and conservatives can be accused of assorted flaws in their reasoning, but this flaw runs counter to fundamental ideas that we cannot let slip. Watch your leaders actions, regardless of their words. Pick up on this aristocratic thread when itís in evidence. When you see it, the next time you have the chance, vote for someone whoís more populist, vote for someone who ďgets itĒ that these principles canít be compromised, but in any case, vote aristocrats out.