Direct Democracy or Representative Government? Dispelling the Populist Myth

Direct Democracy or Representative Government? Dispelling the Populist Myth

Direct Democracy or Representative Government? Dispelling the Populist Myth

Direct Democracy or Representative Government? Dispelling the Populist Myth

Excerpt

In some important respects, American political history has been characterized by a gradual but unmistakable march in the direction of more inclusiveness and more democracy. It took nearly two hundred years, but the franchise was extended beyond propertied males to all white males in the nineteenth century, then to women in the early twentieth century, then to African Americans in the South in the 1960s, and finally to young people aged eighteen to twenty years in 1971. Opportunities for power for the previously disenfranchised and powerless have flowed from that. In addition, the representative institutions of government in the United States, as well as the political parties, have opened up their decision‐ making processes in ways that distinguish American democracy from every other democracy in the world.

This seemingly inexorable movement in the direction of more democracy has never reached what some regard as its logical conclusion—a political process in which the people directly rule themselves—because of the impracticality of direct democracy in a huge sprawling country with many millions of people. Now, however, computers, the Internet, and interactive television can change all that.

Great advances in communications technology have always had profound effects on American politics. In the 1920s, the advent of radio forever changed the relationship between the president and the people. Calvin Coolidge was the first to use the new mode of communication to his personal political advantage, and shortly thereafter Franklin Roosevelt refined the technique with his legendary Depression Era "fire- side chats." A few decades later, television further changed how public officials and candidates interacted with the public. The political parties are still reeling from its impact, particularly the ability it has afforded candidates for office to connect directly to voters without the mediation of party leaders.

The twenty-first century promises change of an even more thoroughgoing nature. At the very least, advanced technologies will give citizens more avenues for contacting and petitioning elected officials. In addition . . .

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