Monday, September 15, 2003

Undemocratic, Indeed

My dear, but somewhat more to the right, friend, George, at Fool in the Forest, makes a very plausible argument of why the California recall, in spite of protestations from the Davis camp and President Clinton, is in fact a very democratic process. In the spirit of full disclosure and so as not to unfairly summarize his argument, I quote the entire graph in question...

"All of which is by way of working back to my pet peeve in the recall campaign: those who insist that the process is "undemocratic." (Mr. Clinton, of course, rolled that one out, as do all of Governor Davis' anti-recall adverts.) "Undemocratic" would be Arnold's Army marching in the streets of Sacramento, demanding Davis' resignation or his head. "Undemocratic" would be an effort to oust Davis without using the procedures, involving an election and the casting of ballots, that have been incorporated in the laws of the state for nearly a century. "Undemocratic" efforts by "right wing" groups would presumably have included a single approved Republican candidate to replace the Governor, rather than the large field (rather more of whom are self-designated as Democrats than as Republicans, and notably missing the key source of funding for the original recall petition) that the process has actually yielded. "Undemocratic" would more likely incorporate the idea that when you approach the ballot box on October 7 (or thereafter, depending on the 9th Circuit's next decision) it is your duty as a citizen to vote in only one way - against recall - as Davis' proxies urge in his Advertisements That Dare Not Speak His Name. Messy this process may be and is, but undemocratic it is not."

The arguments he makes are completely reasonable and correct in so far as the arguments he makes. Yes if we contrast the idea of a Democratic election with something totally undemocratic, such as jackboot thugs telling you who you can vote for, then the recall is democratic and the other option not. But the jackboot thug scenario is a pretty extreme analogy. What about the analogy of a recall that takes 25% of the electorate who cast a vote in the previous election to place their signatures on a petition? Which is the method that Nevada uses. And what about a recall election that calls for a runoff between the two candidates that get the most votes? Would that not be more democratic than replacing a candidate that was elected within the last year with a majority of votes by a candidate with a slim plurality of the votes? Would these options not be considered to be a more democratic method of allowing the people to replace an unpopular official, but in a way that the democratic majority actually got the chance to have their voice heard. While it is extremely unlikely that a 15% candidate will get chosen, it is mathematically possible. Is it not undemocratic to have 45% say no to recall and a replacement picked by a lesser number, meaning potentially that the replacement has less democratic support than the current Governor?

I will concede that to contrast Democratic with Undemocratic, by the very use of the prefix "un", invites black and white contrasts. But my contention is that one can take a more nuanced approach. And besides, an ad that flashes, "Vote NO on Recall, it is kind of undemocratic", would make for a lousy ad.

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