In 1787, Ben Franklin was asked whether the constitutional convention had created a republic or a monarchy. Franklin famously replied, "A republic, if you can keep it."
In the current political climate, however, signs are pointing to our inability to keep that sacred republic that has become so enshrined in our memories. In fact, one might wonder whether we live in a republic at all, or whether we cling to the fantastic illusion of republican ideals, while really residing under an oligarchy of the rich and powerful.
Hypothetically though, our republic is one that gives all people over 18 years of age the right to vote. There are problems with this system. First, what qualifies a 30-year-old moron to vote, when a 15-year-old genius cannot? Many people, mostly over voting age, ironically enough, will point to the moron's depth and breadth of experience, which a youngster cannot lay claim to.
In this age of information dissemination, we begin to wonder at what point experience starts being a moribund and foolish argument. I can encounter the experiences of thousands of people with the click of a mouse through videos, blogs, podcasts and more. Why do I need to be at the first hand?
For example, say you watch a YouTube video of a guy jumping off his roof into a swimming pool and breaking his arm. Do you have to then jump off the roof in order to learn that it will result in harm? Obviously not. So the arbitrary limitation of the franchise is foolish at best.
Nevertheless, it must be limited. The whole history of governments has been a long string of people giving the authority of force to other people, in order to establish benevolent governance. The Romans had their republic, then the empire. In the Middle Ages, there were kings, the nobility, the Papacy. Kings lasted until republics returned. Today we have "democracies," limiting their franchise to those of sound mind, clean record, sound body, adequate age or any other of a number of limitations. Obviously, history has proven that sovereign power must be limited.
The American system, as noted above, is more or less cogent. If you are not in prison and are over 18, you're good to go; vote early and often (just not twice in one day, that's a felony) and you'll have done your civic duty. But somehow, in some needling little way, the whole system seems wrong to me.
Yes, we have decent representation. Yes, we sort of have democracy, kind of have plurality and like to tell ourselves that we're benevolent democrats. To believe otherwise is nigh on blasphemy in this country.
But it's a lie, really. We have two parties; those are the choices. Republican or democrat: take your pick. Don't like either? Don't vote. Sure, there are some fringe candidates (Ralph Nader, I'm looking at you) but really, you might as well not vote. The third parties have never made a respectable showing.
What we have, then, is the illusion of benevolent and equal government, propped up in front of a system of selfish partisanship. The system is clearly broken, as recent political events clearly show.
How then do we fix it? I'll tell you! Next week. Stay tuned, or reading, as the case may be.