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Sunday, January 29, 2006
Book Review: America's democracy dementia
James Bovard's 'Attention Deficit Democracy'
senior editorial writer
I've always enjoyed the black humor of the old Soviet Union, expressed in simple jokes that were no doubt told under one's breath in that totalitarian world. "What's the difference between the Soviet and the U.S. Constitution?" asks one such joke. "The U.S. Constitution guarantees your freedom after the demonstration!"
Clearly, the Soviet citizenry understood that they lived in a totalitarian land. In America, the average citizen believes we are freebecause we live in a democracy. Even as our Constitution is frittered away in a sea of regulations, intrusions on property rights and policies designed to "protect" us from terrorism, Americans are reluctant to face up to the truth. We tell a few jokes about the IRS, but not too many about the governments that tax us and bully us.
Fortunately, we have authors who are ringing the alarm bells about the slow erosion of liberties in this Land of the Free. James Bovard, whose previous contributions have included "Lost Rights" and "Terrorism and Tyranny," has produced another readable, fact-filled and depressing tome. In "Attention Deficit Democracy," Bovard explains how supposedly free citizens have bought into the lies and frauds offered by the political class.
Bovard is a libertarian who has savaged Democrats and Republicans alike, which makes this a fair-minded account of what has gone wrong in America rather than a partisan attack.
"In the same way that dementia patients are prone to exploitation by caregivers and others, ignorant voters are easy pickings for politicians who want to profit from their mental voids," he argues. Chapter by chapter, Bovard documents the result of this lack of attention by American voters. We are lied to repeatedly, scared into accepting massive expansions of the federal government and messianic democracy, and fleeced by politicians who want to redistribute our income.
My favorite chapter deals with trust in government. The founding fathers knew that power corrupts, and the key to a free society is limiting such power to a handful of necessary functions. In this day and age, Americans have learned to value unlimited government.
"Since it has not been possible to neuter political power, citizens' thinking on government has been neutered instead," he wrote. "Fear of government is portrayed as a relic of less civilized, unrefined times. There is a concerted effort to make distrusting the government intellectually unacceptable, a sign of bad taste or perhaps ill breeding."
I was reminded of this on a radio show recently when a flak for a local school district that has been stung by myriad mismanagement charges lashed out at me, arguing that I never have anything good to say about public schools. When I criticize police abuse of citizens and taxpayers, I rarely hear a rebuttal to the specific points at hand, but a blanket defense of those who "put their lives on the line."
Those charged with power and given vast amounts of dollars from the public till refuse to allow themselves to be held accountable. Instead, they insist that criticism of their behavior, priorities or spending is outside the pale.
Yet the founders did not believe that we should behave like subjects in a monarchy, who bow down to those who rule us.
Bovard also makes valuable points about the way democracy has become a means to provide credibility to the rulers rather than to elect officials who represent the people. I think of California's gerrymandered system, where not one of 153 legislative races produced a switch in parties in 2004. We aren't choosing between different ideologies so much as anointing the current rigged system.
As usual, Bovard offers wise counsel and sage advice. But if he is right, the voters will be sure to ignore it.
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