Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” And during this election season, his analysis seems particularly true to me.
While the form of civil government in the United States is a republic, not a democracy, Churchill was correct that our form of government is better than all the other “forms.” It’s better in that it best protects us from the corrupting influence of power by distributing those powers in various ways and attempting to put checks and balances on the exercise of those powers.
But the form of our government does not protect us from either of two problems that can result in corrupt, immoral, or dysfunctional government.
First, our form of government does not protect us from ignorance, both among the electorate and among our candidates.
I have previously written that some very fine individuals running for office don’t really seem to adequately understand our form of government. We won’t let someone drive a car if they don’t know the rules of the road, but we will elect someone who doesn’t know how to steer the ship of state according to the constitution.
As for the ignorance of the electorate, what I see runs the gamut from voters who also don’t understand our form of civil government to the uninformed who don’t thoroughly study up on the candidates for whom they will vote.
As a case in point, in recent weeks I have spoken with individuals who have given money to and actively supported candidates whom I know don’t share their views on issues like marriage, family structure, or religious liberty. That is, they didn’t know until I told them. Unfortunately, in most cases, I was too late.
I also find people supporting candidates because they know or like them or because someone else they know vouched for or endorsed the candidate. That may be fine for popularity contests, but it’s not so great when it comes to putting the power of civil government in someone’s hands.
Knowing and liking someone has nothing to do with whether they will wisely exercise the power they hold according to the constitution and God’s moral order. Personal piety just means that the person may do the wrong thing with an honest and pure heart. But integrity and purity don’t turn bad policy decisions into good ones.
Endorsements are yet another cause for concern. They are tricky because it’s very possible that the endorser doesn’t know what to look for in a candidate either or may not have properly vetted the candidate. In some instances with which I’m familiar, I know the endorser hasn’t vetted the candidate well. It’s a classic case of the blind leading the blind.
The second problem that our form of government doesn’t protect us from is deception.
There are advertisements for and against candidates that I know make “connections” between various things to suggest conclusions that really don’t connect. Charitably speaking, what they say is a “stretch.” But if a voter doesn’t have more information or take the time to really consider what has been said, then he or she will be fooled.
And I’ve already written about candidates who give answers in one venue that are, in principle, contrary to what they have said in a different venue. It’s impossible for voters to be in all places at all times.
Lastly, I admit that I struggle with how to accurately portray an incumbent’s voting record. Scorecards are snapshots that show you only a moment frozen in time, but what happened before or after that shot was taken may provide much-needed context.
What’s the Solution?
All that can be discouraging, but as Churchill said, the problem isn’t in our form of government. These problems can be remedied if we all take more seriously our duty to investigate candidates more thoroughly and we have candidates with more integrity than those who are willing to stretch the truth. And, thankfully, that remedy is in our hands if we’ll use it.
Our Voter Education Headquarters is just one tool that can help you remedy the problem.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.