The Conversation

Seriously, guys, let's give the Republic another chance

Gallup has a poll today that shows big national support for government by referendum on key issues (68 percent in favor, 23 percent opposed.)  The respondents were somewhat less strongly in favor of dramatically shortening both the presidential election and party primaries, with the notion of single-day nationwide primaries getting 58-33 support.

Some of this is probably due to general exasperation with out-of-touch government and long, grueling national elections.  I didn't see a breakdown of responses by state, but I wouldn't be surprised if voters in the late primary states - whose votes scarcely matter to a contest that was almost invariably decided weeks earlier - are particularly keen on the simultaneous national primary idea.  Campaigns aren't conducted from the backs of trains any more, and there isn't much compelling evidence that a drawn-out process results in better candidates, so the rationale for a long plodding march to the national convention is harder to see.  

And why should some states be given such immense importance by virtue of early primary placement?  They wasted a lot of time jockeying for position in 2012, sparking a number of lawsuits.  That sort of thing can only weaken a party during the general election.

The support for referendums is more depressing.  It's stronger among Republicans than Democrats, and grows increasingly stronger with younger groups of voters.  That's frustration talking, mixed with a dash of Information Age populism: why not just put the big issues on the Web and let everybody click "yay" or "nay"?  We want our voices to be heard!

Perhaps this will sound old-fashioned, but I think everyone's giving up on the Republic too easily.  Granted, it's been obscured by layers of political maneuvering and the massive accumulation of central power, first in Washington, and then in one man.  But Constitutionally-restrained government by elected representatives is still the best (or, for the cynical, least worst) way to preserve the ideals of orderly self-government and individual liberty, the best compromise on the spectrum between autocracy and mob rule.

I would submit to referendum supporters that your frustration with out-of-touch government stems more from what we've allowed the State to impose, give, take, and destroy, rather than the transmission system for conveying popular will to the bureaucracy.  The whole idea of Big Government as the super-powered incarnation of popular will is the problem.  If federalism and individual liberty were properly respected, we'd probably feel more comfortable with the business of electing representatives to debate the issues of the day.


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