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Liberal Elitism
February 2004

Ann Coulter is a shrieking, tactless and hysterical talking head. Thus, when she made the claim that “liberals hate democracy,” it was easy to ignore her. The world, however, is rife with examples of this very phenomenon -– for all of their populist, “common man” rhetoric, liberals really do hate democracy.

I have never seen this hatred of democracy so brashly articulated as it was in Jessamyn Blau’s Letter to the Editor of the YDN (2/3). In this letter, she attacked Eric White for “represent[ing] a passive apathy” and for “waiting around for Joe Schmoe in Middle America” to accept the rights of homosexuals. She followed this up with a most astonishing claim: “It is the work of enlightened activists and politicians —- apparently White not included -— to make society better and equal for all.”

Of course, Miss Blau is correct in acknowledging, as she does earlier in her article, that America has never been governed by a direct democracy. Thus, Mr. White was being more than idealistic when he argued that the acts of Congress always reflect the “will of the people.” However, when Americans talk about democracy, they rarely mean direct democracy. Rather, they refer to the republic in which we live -– a republic in which people are allowed to elect representatives who make their laws; a republic in which people are allowed to replace unsatisfactory representatives with better ones; a republic in which an abysmal representative may even be recalled. With the exception of the angry arguments that arose in the wake of the 2000 election, very few political critics will argue for direct democracy. Thus, Miss Blau’s arguments against it are not very interesting.

However, her claim that not the people but, in fact, “enlightened activists and politicians” should alone be involved in improving society shows great contempt for American government as it is intended to function. First, while the American government is not a direct democracy, it does depend upon the people that it governs to provide an important check against the will of the “enlightened activists and politicians” in Washington. Miss Blau rejects this crucial role, contrasting the ineptitude of “Joe Schmoe in Middle America” with the acuity of an enlightened activist. This contrast is troubling for two reasons. First, it displays a shocking level of intellectual elitism, making the assumption that those Americans who have not studied political philosophy should have no meaningful say about the world that they live in. Second, it devalues the importance of experience to developing a mature understanding of public policy. It is not hard to imagine that someone who actually works as a public servant in a welfare office knows more about what needs to be done to reform welfare than the average Yalie, enlightened though we may be.

The best Congressmen are those who have not only experience but also education and intelligence. Americans should expect their lawmakers to be “enlightened.” The value that they place on enlightenment, however, should not come at the expense of the value that lawmakers place on them. The average American citizen may be ignorant about a lot of things (as Jonathan Berry’s article in our December issue pointed out); however, the average lawmaker is going to make errors in judgment as well. Our government functions better because it makes a place for the opinions of those who have experienced the world that enlightened lawmakers create legislation for. Liberal disdain for the valuable role of these people is terrifying.

A case for the fact that liberals hate democracy cannot be made by attacking one letter in the YDN. Liberal hatred of democracy can best be seen in liberal support of judicial activism. Judicial activism is pernicious for several reasons. First, judges are appointed, which means that they are twice-removed from the grasp of an ordinary voter. Second, judges do not come up for re-election –- the average voter has little hope of unseating an incompetent judge. Finally, the only legislative power held by the judiciary is the power to strike down laws that have already been passed. Thus, the judiciary, far removed from the will of the people, has the power to get rid of laws that were passed by representatives of the people.

Elitist liberals use the court system as a tool to force radical goals upon helpless citizens. Why? Because in the American government, the court system is the institution farthest removed from democracy. The best example of the horrors of judicial activism is a case from Nevada. In the summer of 2003, Nevada’s governor proposed a budget to his legislature that called for a 35% hike in state education spending. The budget was defeated by legislators who balked at passing the largest tax increase in Nevada’s history. However, the governor took his case to the Nevada Supreme Court, where he received a ruling that allowed the state legislature to pass the budget with a simple majority instead of with the two-thirds majority that a recent voter-initiated state constitutional amendment required. As its reason for overturning this constitutional amendment, the Court referred back to an amendment passed in 1938 requiring a uniform public school system that secured general attendance. The Court argued that the governor’s tax hike was necessary to fulfill the requirements of the 1938 amendment, a specious claim at best, and one unsupported by precedent, which usually sees a newer amendment trumping an older one. The example of the case in Nevada shows how willingly members of our modern judiciary system will trample upon the desires of both the people and their representatives.

Citizens of Massachusetts are currently enduring a similarly frustrating experience. The Supreme Court of Massachusetts ruled in November that Massachusetts’ existing marriage laws, which prohibited the marriage of same-sex couples, were unconstitutional. The Court gave the Massachusetts legislature six months to rewrite the laws. This month, the legislature proposed a law allowing same-sex unions but not same-sex marriage. This proposal, too, was struck down as unconstitutional. Again, the will of an elected legislature is being held hostage by a group of seven appointed judges.

The balance represented in America’s legislative process between “enlightened” politicians and experienced voters is being threatened by its ponderous and overzealous court system. If Americans want to be consulted and respected by the people who make their laws, they must fight against this trend toward elitism. They must not allow liberal hatred of democracy to disenfranchise them.

Nikki McArthur a junior in Saybrook College and Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Free Press.


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