Thursday, November 24, 2011

grateful for democracy

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for democracy. In all its inefficiency, it still represents the idea that human beings are noble enough to govern themselves.

This is unlike Michigan’s Public Act Four, which grants to an appointed (read: unelected) Emergency Manager the power to “terminate 1 or more terms and conditions of an existing collective bargaining agreement…[and] make, approve, or disapprove any appropriation, contract, expenditure, or loan, the creation of any new position.” In Michigan, an Emergency Financial Manager–now shortened to Emergency Manager (EM)–can fire elected officials and hire unelected officials; and can ignore previously-passed legislation.

David Weigel writes that the Act 4 is “an admission that democracy occasionally doesn’t work.” In the city of Pontiac, one of three cities with an EM, at least some people think that “working with an emergency manager who has no limits on power is a dream…’The last bunch we elected didn’t do anything,’ says [a local businesswoman.] ‘Personally, I like city managers. They’re educated not so much in city politics as in government.’”

Weigel notes there are critics: “A government that cuts at one manager’s discretion, with no voter accountability until his plan is implemented, is ‘a power grab to disenfranchise voters,’ if you ask one of the attorneys on the other side.”

In a similar story, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has announced that he will no longer allow the death penalty on his watch. His opponents state, “just by [his] own personal bias [he will] completely negate a law that exists.” Except Kitzhaber will “punt the issue to the legislature and/or the state’s voters, urging them to reconsider how and whether to have capital punishment,” according to Winston Ross’ article on TheDailyBeast. However, Kitzhaber is accountable to the voters–if they disagree with his decision, they can remove him. We cannot remove Pontiac’s Emergency Manager. Or Flint’s. Or the one that may soon be appointed in Detroit.

Weigel’s article ends: “There’s this…political class saying, ‘You know, this is horrible, this is a travesty, this is the worst thing that could ever happen, they’re violating our right to vote, etc.’ But the man on the street is saying, ‘You know what? I’ve got better police service than I had six months ago. The toilet still flushes, and when I turn my shower on the water still comes on.’” I’m surprised that he didn’t mention the trains running on time.

Given a choice between a super-efficient, unaccountable government, and the messy, slow tangle that is democracy, I am eternally grateful that our ancestors chose democracy. Now, let us continue their experiment, and work hard to embody and enact democracy. Occupy!

(original post, with links, at So May We Be) Happy Thanksgiving!


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