by Rob Schwarzwalder
February 2, 2010
In the late 1990s, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote a book called Lost in the Cabinet about his admitted misadventures as head of a major federal agency.
Now comes his latest missive, an article in the left-leaning American Prospect Magazine called “What Happened to Democracy.” In it, he decries industry lobbyists and back-room negotiations - pretty standard fare for a liberal who is as yet un-mugged by reality.
No one wants “closed door” deals or unfair benefits for any company or group. But then Mr. Reich takes us into the intellectual thin air with this statement: He calls for “adequate public financing for congressional and presidential candidates who refuse private funding, more constraints on lobbyists, tighter rules for who must register as a lobbyist, fuller disclosure, and tougher rules on the revolving door between public service and private gain.”
Let me see if I understand: The federal government will pick and choose what candidates are viable for public office (that’s the basis of public financing) but people representing private corporations and business associations (that would be lobbyists) merit “more constraints.”
Then Mr. Reich leaps beyond the ether into stratospheric terra incognita and gets thoroughly lost in political space: “Yet nobody seems to be talking about these sorts of reforms. They don’t appear on Obama’s agenda. True, they don’t generate lots of public excitement, and they’re murderously difficult to enact. But without them our democracy doesn’t stand a chance.”
Conservatives have, for decades, been calling for full and immediate disclosure of campaign contributions. No argument there. But does Mr. Reich honestly believe that without federal financing of elections and tighter rules about lobbying - it’s already illegal for lobbyists even to buy a Congressman a cheeseburger; how much more “constrained” can the rules get? - “democracy doesn’t stand a chance?”
We live in a republic, not a democracy, a political sphere in which people govern themselves through elected representatives at the local, state and national levels. Our Founders were terrified of democracies, considering direct self-rule an invitation to mobocracy and social dissolution. They believed that representative self-government is the only sure way for honorable, or as they put it, “virtuous,” citizens to maintain ordered liberty.
My good friend and former colleague Bill Wichterman will be addressing this theme at the Family Research Council in a speech titled, “Did the Founding Fathers Establish a Democracy?” this coming Thursday, February 4 at 11 a.m. ET. The speech will be Webcast and can be viewed at frc.org.
I hope Mr. Reich will join us. Perhaps together we can learn a thing or two about representative republican democracy.