The Drive For The National Initiative
By Dave Parrish
In 1788, the founders of our nation, The United States of America, ratified our Constitution in order to, among other things, "… secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…"
In the ensuing 214 years there has been, according to numerous opinion leaders, scholars and commentators, an erosion of the foundation and the overriding premise of our Democracy, namely that our government is by and for the People.
"Our government has devolved into one that is run by the economic and political elites for the economic and political elites. During my sixteen years of elective office I was appalled by the fact that, in our elected legislative bodies, the People’s interests almost invariably took a back seat, first to the personal and political interests of the politicians whom we elected, and then to the interests of their financial backers."
There is an untapped wellspring of sentiment throughout the body politic for change. This is evidenced by the many states that have adopted initiative and/or referendum processes by which the people of those states can act as lawmakers without the approval or consent of their elected legislatures. Combining his profound belief that all power ultimately resides in and flows from the people with a motherlode of public sentiment lying just beneath the surface of public debate, Senator Gravel saw a critical window of opportunity. It was his recognition of the American public’s unarticulated yearning for change that inspired Senator Gravel to began his drive to create and enact the National Initiative For Democracy.
The National Initiative has been a work in progress, constantly evolving, for thirty years. The central themes of the National Initiative were first articulated by Senator Gravel in his book Citizen Power, published in 1972, wherein he proposed
"…the adoption of a Constitutional Amendment that would give the people power of initiative, whereby the voters themselves could propose statutes and amendments to the Constitution and would adopt or reject them in a general or special election."
That document also contained "A Model Constitutional Amendment for Initiative and Referendum." A key difference between the National Initiative for Democracy and this "Model Amendment" was that the latter would first have to be adopted by two thirds of both houses of Congress and then ratified by three fourths of the State legislatures, whereas the National Initiative will be enacted directly by the People voting in an ad hoc election.
In 1977, U.S. Senators Mike Gravel, James Abourezk, and Mark Hatfield introduced Senate Joint Resolution 67 to establish a national initiative. Not surprisingly, given the predilection of elected legislatures to guard against dilution of their own powers, Senate Joint Resolution 67 never made it out of committee. On the positive side, it did provide for an extensive Judiciary Committee hearing, which was the first opportunity to establish a formal record and a base of knowledge on this subject.
In 1988, eight years after leaving the United States Senate, Senator Gravel initiated development of the precursor to what is now the National Initiative for Democracy. Originally known simply as the California Initiative, and later the Philadelphia II Initiative, this document called for the creation of an American Electoral Administration to conduct state and national initiative elections. The Philadelphia II Initiative was to be submitted for voting in regular elections in each of the several states whose constitutions permitted citizens to place initiatives on the ballot. The concept was that, when the people of sufficient number of states had voted in favor of the Philadelphia II Initiative, it would become a Federal law. Specifically:
"Commencing from the date that a Philadelphia II Initiative is first approved by a majority of the voters in any state of the United States, voters in any other state jurisdiction shall have ten years to approve or disapprove Philadelphia II…. At the time voters approve Philadelphia II in states having a majority of the registered voters of the United States, the Philadelphia II Initiative shall become a federal law and shall be added to the federal code in the appropriate manner."
In 1993 ,Senator Gravel and a small cadre of supporters of the Philadelphia II Initiative contributed their own funds in an effort to put the Initiative on the ballots of California and Missouri, with the bulk of those funds being used to contract with a firm to collect petition signatures in Missouri. In California, the severe lack of resources resulted in a proportionately severe lack of signatures. In Missouri, due to the steadfast opposition of an attorney in the Secretary of State’s Office to certify a valid ballot title and summary for the initiative (until he had been successfully sued by Senator Gravel), the period in which signatures could be collected was reduced by half. As a consequence, insufficient number of signatures were obtained, and the Philadelphia II Initiative failed to appear on the Missouri ballot.
On January 9,1995 the Philadelphia II Initiative was filed with the Secretary of State of the state of Washington. On January 25, 1995, the Washington State Attorney General refused to issue a ballot title and summary for the initiative, thereby violating Washington’s constitution which states that
"…the attorney general shall formulate and transmit to the secretary of state … [a ballot title and summary which] shall give a true and impartial statement of the purpose of the measure." (Title 29.79.040,RCW).
Senator Gravel subsequently sued Washington’s Attorney General for failure to perform the ministerial task required by the state constitution. On October 27, 1995 Senator Gravel argued the case before the Washington State Supreme Court (click here to view a recording). On February 29, 1996 the Court ruled that the Attorney General had indeed violated the constitution by failing to issue a ballot title and summary but, nevertheless, denied Philadelphia II a place on the ballot. Senator Gravel decided to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of the United States. A formal appeal and brief was filed in the U. S. Supreme Court on June 28, 1996 on a Writ for Certiorari (appeal for a hearing of the case). On October 7, 1996 the Court declined to hear the case.
In mid-1996, as a result of the clear evidence that state governments would continue to thwart attempts to place the Philadelphia II Initiative on the ballot, Senator Gravel determined to take the matter directly to the People in a national election. In 1997, a revised version of the Initiative was published that incorporated this important change. Since then the Initiative has undergone continual incremental refinement as well as changes in its title. The current title, National Initiative for Democracy, was introduced in October, 2001.
The recently concluded Democracy Symposium offered nationally recognized constitutional and political science experts an opportunity to analyze and critique the National Initiative. The contributions of these experts is serving as the foundation for the next iteration of the document, which is expected to be published this summer.
Direct Democracy In Switzerland
by Gregory A. Fossedal
Reviewed By Donald H. Kemner
This is truly a most noteworthy study that I recommend highly not only with a view to American readers but readers globally. Because the Preface—-written by Alfred R. Berkeley III–is so apt in providing an overview and germane to my assessment, it merits quoting at some length:
Great books must either tell a gripping story, impart vital information, or expose an important new idea. In Direct Democracy in Switzerland, Gregory Fossedal has done something rare — he’s done a little bit of all three.
The result is a highly readable story…[about] the world’s only 1,000-year democracy.
At the same time, Fossedal tells how one of the world’s countries least blessed with physical resources has come to be, arguably, the most successful economy in the world, and how a nation with pervasive religious and linguistic divisions enjoys profound social tranquility– information that is surely important to people around the world.
Finally, Direct Democracy in Switzerland raises important issues for the future of democracy itself. In this it resembles Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, which suggested the need for political freedom to a Europe straining under the dead hand of aristocrats and top-down, elite politics. For, as Fossedal notes, the Swiss democracy is very different from any other system in the world. Switzerland’s direct democracy–in which the people, by initiative and referendum, wind up voting directly on a large number of policies that affect their lives–is sufficiently different that it might be called, as the former foreign editor of The Economist, Brian Beedham, once suggested, a "different system" altogether.
Certainly, democracy in Switzerland is very different in some important features than democracy in America, Asia, or the rest of Europe today. Switzerland thus may function as a kind of laboratory. It has a purity in applying the democratic idea, and it has a. long history as a functioning cluster of democracies. That history is more than four times as long as the next longest-running democracy, the United States (p. 6).
After looking at the Table of Contents, the question might arise: how necessary is it to devote one of the book’s five parts to the history of the Swiss people? The answer, in my view, is that it is quite necessary. Moreover, what Part 2 reveals about the origins of the Swiss as a nation is enhanced by an abundance of anecdotal stories scattered throughout the book derived from the author’s first hand experience interviewing Swiss citizens and officials. These anecdotes consistently reaffirm that this is a polity whose way of going about democracy exhibits reasonableness, common sense and possibilities still dormant in others national democracies. So abundant is this evidence, they coalesce into something approximating an empirical demonstration of the following thesis:
The Swiss polity, as an historical and on-going exhibit in the exercise of deliberative direct democracy is a persuasive rebuttal to the stand of elites from the Greeks of yesterday to the elites of today who hold that exclusionary representative democracy, in itself, is a better form of democracy than a direct democracy in partnership with representative democracy. In a word, Fossedal, in Direct Democracy In Switzerland provides an effective rebuttal to the stand: you can’t trust the people.
The book is laid out in five parts:
Part 1, Conception: Here the author gives an account of his "pilgrimage" to the town of Schwyz where the "Bundesbrief, " the "charter of allegiance," or the "confederation bond" entered into in 1291, is preserved. This immediately immerses the reader into the dramatic dimension of the study.
Part 2, History: In three relatively short chapters Fossedal covers a thousand years of Swiss history. Throughout, Fossedal focuses on how the Swiss confederation formed itself. At first, the dominant dynamic was the social and political oppression felt by peoples neighboring the Swiss enclave driving them to look outward and to union with the Swiss for liberation. Later, the unmistakable attraction of the Swiss model of a self-governing people became the dominant force. The Swiss experience with democracy, written here with commendable detail, shows it to be the model for the possibilities of democracy everywhere.
Part 3, Institutions: Here, Fossedal examines the Swiss Constitution, its structure, powers and procedures for its Executive, Judiciary and Parliament as well as the procedure and operation of Referendum. The latter, described in Chapter 9, is a chapter not simply to be read but studied.
Part 4, Issues: Fossedal devotes a chapter to nine major issues of social and political life: education; taxes; crime; welfare; press; family; army; holocaust; and diversity. The reader may, without jeopardizing his or her grasp of the overarching message of this study, move more quickly and/or pick and choose what to read and in what order. The overall thrust of Part 4 is, once again through both anecdote and reasoning, a making of the case that democracy, which includes a structure in which the people can deliberate and legislate directly, really ‘works.’
Part 5, L’idee Suisse: The author does so much more than merely impart information and make a ‘pitch’ to the rest of national democracies to follow this ‘new’ idea. It is here where Fossedal’s study particularly rivals the analysis, critique and prognosis of democracy done by Alexis de Tocqueville on the American democratic experiment.
But in speculating in Chapter 20 about "The End of History and the Next Citizen" and possible avenues where and how the inclusion of direct democracy might occur in other democracies, Fossedal assumes, in a curious omission, that should such an advance come about in democracies elsewhere, it will only happen if the representative democracies bring it about through the action of their national legislatures. Fossedal, at this juncture, seems to forget the possibility of the people bringing it about directly. In this conventional but inaccurate assumption, the author does not allow for the coming of a form of direct democracy by a grassroots, "peoples" movement in the United States, following the precedent of the Philadelphia convention of 1787 and the subsequent ratification of the U. S. Constitution by the people through special ratification conventions. This was not an act brought about by the Congress of the Articles of Confederation or of the state representative legislative bodies but by the people on the basis of "First Principles."
At the head of the final chapter Fossedal states: "There is little point in studying Swiss democracy unless there is something distinctive about it–and not only distinctive, but importantly distinctive." In my view, the Swiss and their experience with democracy as demonstrated by Fossedal’s study validates making this assumption. What the author accomplishes is a lesson plan for democracies of the world still locked in the undeveloped stage of representative democracy. And the Swiss, by their inclusion of direct democracy with representatives bodies, are the centerpiece in this lesson plan.
Minding the People’s Business
Report on the Democracy Symposium
By Charles Turk
Anthropology Professor J.M. Weatherford, in his seminal 1988 book, Indian Givers – How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World writes that "the most consistent theme" in accounts sixteenth century visitors to the American Hemisphere sent or took back to Europe related how impressed they were by the personal liberty enjoyed by the indigenous peoples they had encountered. While the Europeans eventually came with enough force to savage the native populations, they did not succeed in stamping out the characteristic thirst for individual freedom held by the natives, and they obviously were cross-infected by it for they became the ancestors of modern Americans who are among the most resolutely independent peoples on earth. This indomitable attribute of the American People was celebrated February 15th though 18, 2002 in an event worthy of historic Williamsburg,Virginia in its pageantry and demeanor as well as its content and result.
Senator Mike Gravel, for the Democracy Foundation, with much enthusiastic help, defined, organized and conducted the event honoring the memory of Ed and Joyce Koupal. The Koupals were ordinary people who accomplished the extraordinary in vitalizing and redefining the use of citizen initiatives in law-making in California while generating an influence to be felt across much of our nation beginning in the 1970s. The event, conducted in the beautifully appointed and well-equipped Williamsburg Lodge and conference center, can only be termed a smashing success. More than eighty men and women, many of national stature, contributed to presentations and discussions on the proposed National Initiative for Democracy (NI4D) with intelligence and fervor which carried over into lively communal meals. With such intensity rampant, the only external element that could capture everyone’s attention was the "Groaning Board" banquet which was complete with a Colonial-days costumed fife and drum unit that enlivened the scene marching and playing. Many people know U.S. Senator Mike Gravel (AK, 1969-1981) as an enthusiastic proponent of the People.
From the Welcoming Address and Charge to the Participants, delivered superbly by an emulated Thomas Jefferson, to the spontaneous declarations by many that they would be strong supporters of our program regardless of any defects that might remain in the NI4D after the assembled experts had their inputs considered, to the final gathering of those – including new participating members – who would finalize the Initiative, Senator Gravel’s leadership made The Democracy Symposium an inspiring event. Even the official photographer, Dr. Ellen Rudolph, declared that ours was the most interesting and compelling group event she had recorded in seventeen years of such activity.
We had contributors like Gregory Fossedal, President of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute who lauded our expectation to assist the U.S. citizenry in defining and activating a Legislature of the People as he reported on the efficacy of Direct Democracy in Switzerland where they have for more than 130 years practiced just that. They don’t need campaign reform there, or caps on political spending: their long experience has resulted in their having a mindset different from ours when it comes to political office. His views were confirmed by Brian Beedham, Associate Editor of The Economist, the international magazine based in London, who has long studied the political systems of the world.
We had contributors like Auburn University Political Science Professor Ted Becker, an advocate of national citizen initiatives since the 1970s, who reminded us in no uncertain terms – after the symposium – that this assertion of the inherent right of the People to direct self-governance is the natural next step in the political evolution of the citizenry of America. He joins with us and will help on a continuing basis to make it happen.
There was lively discussion on our determination to instruct all Americans that they, the People of this nation have full right to invoke First Principles and amend the Constitution if necessary to declare their will. This precept was well known to our ancestors but largely forgotten by the people who were to busy building our nation these past two hundred years. Yale Law School Constitutional Law Professor Akhil Amar has written eloquently on this subject. Though prevented from attending the symposium by family illness, his conclusions were very much in evidence and subject to commentary by the likes of Harvard Law School Criminal Law Professor Richard Parker and Northwestern Law Professor Ronald Allen and Widener University Constitutional Law Professor Robert Lipkin.. We also heard from Valparaiso University Law Professor Edward Gaffney, Jr. who showed us a snippet from a Monty Python Holy Grail episode: an encounter between "King Arthur" and two persons he mistakes as subjects. "As Professor Gaffney put it, "If Monty Python doesn’t help you understand the difference between monarchical pretensions and popular sovereignty . . . you signed up for the wrong symposium." A delightful moment!
An impressive number of those in attendance "signed-on" to help finalize the Democracy Amendment and the Democracy Act which comprise the National Initiative for Democracy and make it available to the citizens of the U.S. for their approval in a direct election process to start, if possible, on September 17, 2002 — the 215th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. It will be the first step on our path to what presenter Brian Beedham called Full Democracy, by which he means "government by the people, and we are the people."
Fortunately, just when we needed them, people came forward (again) with specialized abilities or software to ease the problem of communicating among and melding the ideas of diverse, widely separated people. We have very active "eCommunities" now under the leadership of Board Member David Parrish who has built and controls all of our web sites, Evan Ravitz, owner of Vote.org, who is managing the on-line presence of a large advisory group, and new supporter, Dr. Marilyn Davis, who has made her polling software (eVote/Clerk, at Deliberate.com) and her services as a consultant available as a contribution to our program.
Exciting days are ahead. This is the People’s business
Dialog Between Brian Beedham and Gregory Fossedal
© 2002 Alexis De Tocqueville Institution
Brian Beedham has been Associate Editor of The Economist since 1989.
Gregory Fossedal is Chairman of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, a research foundation based in Arlington, Virginia. Tocqueville studies and promotes the spread and perfection of democracy, both to countries and within their institutions. Fossedal
How do you see the state of direct democracy around the world? Has it been advancing?
I think direct democracy has made good progress in the last 25 years, but no great development has emerged in the last 5 or 6 years. By that I mean that it spread at the state level in the United States but not beyond to the national level. However its use has been strong, at least over the last quarter of a century. It’s been somewhat more active in Australia. More important, perhaps, it has spread, to some extent, in Europe in the last 15 to 20 years. I don’t think it’s made any strong advance in the last 5 years, but then historically, this is not a long period. I think it’s going to take some time before we see a really big extension of it.
The conditions of the post-Cold-War world, I think, mean that more people will start becoming interested in the idea of direct democracy and we shall see an expansion of it over the next several decades.
Are there particular regions, or economic or social conditions, that make it likely that in this spot or that spot we are likely to see the next outbreak or the next steps for direct democracy?
Well, let me begin by reviewing the one or two things that I think are desirable, if not absolutely essential, conditions for direct democracy.
I think that it is very useful, first, to have a substantial part of the population that is reasonably well educated, can read, absorb facts and figures and think things through. And second, it’s desirable to have a reasonably high proportion of the population that feels itself at least in part economically independent. In other words, the ideal constituency of a direct democracy is a people who are willing to speak for themselves, as it were, and defy the politicians when necessary, and have the intellectual ability and the means of knowledge that enable them to do so.
Thus, what I think is going to happen in the next generation or so with the end of the Cold War having removed one major adversary of democracy, is that democracy is going to spread to quite a few parts of the world it hadn’t taken root in or appeared in before. It will be in those parts of the world that have a reasonably influential middle class, good education systems, and a substantial number of people who feel confident enough to take this responsibility on their shoulders, where you will see a demand for direct democracy, rather than relying upon inadequate and often corrupt politicians to represent them.
Where? Well, parts of Eastern Europe are certainly candidates. I’m not sure about Russia itself, but certainly Eastern Europe up to Russia. Possibly parts of Latin America though I’m not quite so sure about that. But possibly. I feel that direct democracy could come up in India, which has been a reasonably well-working democracy for 50 years now. The Indians are a very individualist people and self-reliant. Though many of them are very poor and badly educated, if the Indian economy starts to improve, there will be, indeed, there already is and will continue to be, an expanding middle class. I think that Indian culture is one that could well produce direct democracy.
Maybe Southeast Asia with its highly intelligent and industrious peoples, its levels of education rising very fast and quite good economies. However, in that part of the world, direct democracy has to compete with the Confucian view of the world that places a lot of emphasis on authority. But there, my guess is that perhaps the desire for authority will gradually give way to a responsible, well-educated middle class who will start saying what it wants and how it wants to be governed.
Africa, I confess, I feel rather pessimistic about. I would not make any prophecies about African politics for some time ahead, including the possibility of any form of direct democracy.
Conceivably, even some parts of the Moslem world, might be receptive to a form of democracy even, perhaps direct democracy although that is another crossed-finger situation.
Islam has shown it can coexist with democracy, but it’s far from embracing it so far.
Yes. I think Eastern Europe is a good bet, some parts of Southeast Asia, and quite possibly India and South Asia.
As you were going through the list, I was thinking about cases where states are actually being built. For example, in Korea. Even though the conditions, certainly in North Korea, might not be optimal for direct democracy to smoothly evolve, direct democracy might be a tool where countries are trying to legitimize a new order, really to build a new state. The EU and even Latin American integration, might be other examples. You could almost see direct democracy as a kind of diplomatic or development tool.
You could. My guess is that in South Korea, for at least the foreseeable future, opposition from the politicians is going to be pretty robust. South Korea has a history, over the last 40-50 years, of pretty centralized, authoritarian rule, shall we say. Between elections and when holding elections, the politicians keeping a tight grasp on things sometimes even manipulating the elections. And North Korea, which will ultimately join South Korea to form some kind of all-Korean political entity, has been cut off from the world for so long that its has not slightest experience with any kind or any degree of democracy. So that how do you go to an impoverished, possibly starving North Korean peasant, and say, "right now, what is your view on how to spend the next year’s budget?" That would make the eyebrows go up a bit.
Although, in some cases, historically, it isn’t always the times when things are going well and smoothly that states are willing to innovate and reform politically. Sometimes, often, it only happens under duress. If we look at the adoption of direct democracy by the Swiss and then the U.S. states in the 1800s, it was a time during the aftermath of the 1848 revolution in Switzerland and Europe and vast dissatisfaction with corruption in the U.S. Perhaps the next steps will occur in states where things aren’t going as smoothly as they are in the U.S. and Europe today, where there are urgent demands for change that have to be met. The Zurich newspapers, in the 1860s, said all the things we might say today about the Koreans and their readiness or lack thereof.
Well, fair point.
When I mentioned Latin America a bit earlier, one of the things in my mind was that here are peoples who are accustomed to elections and going out to vote. In many cases, especially in the last 10 years, the elections have been fairly honest. The trouble is that Latin American politics still has a fairly high level of corruption and corrupt politicians. That is one of the circumstances that tend to make people say, golly, I think we should do it ourselves; let’s make the jump to direct democracy.
I was thinking that about Latin America, and if that is the case there, indeed, why not in South Korea and parts of East Asia? I think I was hesitating, particularly about the North Korean part of the electorate, because that has been cut off from any kind of contact or practice with democracy, or any form of political responsibility, for so long.
The U.S. today, even the U.S., we might say is very concerned with the issue of money and politics. Not in the sense of direct bribes and petty corruption, but with a much broader and more elusive corruption. The campaigns of Bill Bradley and John McCain weren’t victorious, but I think they tapped into a deep hunger for political reform. I think that if direct democracy is applied in the U.S. or Europe, it’s more likely to come as a way of reforming the system so as to immunize it from big money, rather than people waking up and saying, "gee, we’re so close to direct democracy, we may as well evolve the last little bit."
I think a couple of things have been happening in recent times and may be ready to happen much more quickly now, which point in this direction.
One is that, in large chunks of the world, a large proportion of the population of any given country is reasonably well-educated, reads a fair amount, knows about public affairs, and is therefore more likely to say, "why should we have to delegate hundreds of decisions, in between elections, to people who are no better educated than I am and no more intelligent than I am?"
Secondly, precisely when this first kind of skepticism about representative democracy is growing, a second kind of skepticism is also expanding, that is, "golly, we are now able to know and find out much more about what happens in the political world and how our politicians behave and we’re discovering that quite a number of them are not corrupt in the African or Latin American sense, but that money is influencing their decisions in various ways which a lot of people find rather distasteful and inefficient as well." So the combination of those two things, first, the feeling by people that they are competent to handle their affairs, and second, the feeling that representative democracy is vulnerable to money pressure, is a very powerful combination. We’ve seen this both in the United States and in several European countries.
Diffusing power would seem like a straightforward way to decrease the role of money; it’s easier to bribe or pressure a few dozen key legislators than 250 million people. But David Broder, one of the better U.S. political reporters, has written a book arguing that direct democracy will be government by monied interests waging demagogic advertising campaigns. It’s a well-written critique, even though I think he leaves out a lot of information and perspective. What do you think of the argument?
Well, I think David Broder is basically wrong. Of course it is true that direct democracy, specifically the referendum process, is open to propaganda. And the more money you have, the more propaganda you can make. But I would argue that the power of money to make propaganda can be limited by agreed upon rules about how much you can raise and spend and in what ways and so on.
There are also natural limits. For example, the Swiss spend very little on their referenda, because as the electorate has evolved over the years, it’s been found that highly emotional appeals and last-minute negatives and so on don’t have much influence. Even in the U.S., whose system is not as developed as the Swiss system, there are often cycles in which in any given year there are so many ballot measures that people feel overloaded and simply vote them all down. It then becomes much harder, in the next cycle, to get anyone to give any money.
Yes, although it is true that people can be influenced by what they read and what they see on their television screens and the Internet, whether accurate or not, that’s not quite the same thing as the more direct ability of money to influence politicians. You can’t bribe a whole people. You can try to distort their judgment by your propaganda, but you can’t actually bribe them.
So, I would argue that direct democracy is in one instance vulnerable but in important ways less vulnerable than representative democracy to the power of money. And there are ways of making sure that the arguments are made fairly and dispassionately on all the sides of a particular debate.
The Swiss experience demonstrates this. In a Swiss referendum, every voter receives extensive and dispassionately written materials that set out the different points and the major arguments pro and con. I’ve read several of these and they are fair, open and objectively written. And the government has come to think that an important part of its job is to provide the voters with at least most of the major arguments and information for and against resolutions. Subsequent to that, if you want to make a television program or a publication or what have you, you can do so in the form of radio broadcasts, Internet sites, or posters in the street etc. If your argument or your particular set of facts isn’t being covered, you have this further recourse.
I was very impressed by how little the Swiss spend on the referendum votes, considering how affluent the society is. And the bulk of this is from natural forces and from self-restraint. There are some rules for campaign finance, but very few. The spending is low because the electorate gets most of its information from newspapers and it credits what it sees there more than it does any particular advertisement. The result is a very high degree of self-regulation.
There’s another response or another point to make about Broder’s concern with the role of money. In a direct democracy, such lobbying as there is, is directed at the people. And lobbying the people means that they’re getting information. Any dollar spent on lobbying is thus a dollar spent on public education, if you will. What you get is what you have in Switzerland, arguably the most sophisticated, and certainly one of the best informed and best read, electorates in the world. It’s as if every Swiss had been a member of parliament for a month or two, which is probably what all the votes accumulate too, if not more, if you were to add up all the votes of a typical Swiss over his or her lifetime.
Further, there’s something of a cumulative, deliberative effect. One of the things that worried our founding fathers was the passions of the people and their inability to deliberate questions long enough to make serious judgments. The experience of direct democracy in Switzerland and many U.S. states has been for some measures to come up many times including measures on immigration to taxes, etc. Over time, the voters get to see these, vote on them, and get more information through a number of cycles. The result is that direct democracy in practice, is something much closer to the deliberations of a legislature than I think Madison or Hamilton ever imagined.
A good example is the series of referenda on immigration that you mentioned. As you noted, these things have been going on for years. In the process, the public is able to deliberate the same question over and over, with much information being thrown at them and constant refinements made in the arguments and reporting by both sides. At the least, a lot of social tension that might otherwise be bottled up is released as people feel they are having their say. And, I would argue, what actually takes place is a cumulative, highly pedagogical process. It isn’t just the people who learn from the elites. The elites learn a thing or two from the people.
The net is that direct democracy, under the modern conditions of global communications and the like, functions much more like a classical, deliberative legislature.
Very much so, except that the legislature then is no longer an elite, but the people. In Switzerland, as you observe, the people are fairly mature in the exercise of direct democracy. That might be one reason why they are able to have such restraint, on both the spending by special interests and the sort of general volume and tone of propaganda, even without having many formal, legal limits on these.
The people with money have discovered that it’s a waste of effort. There’s no point in throwing a lot of money around the place. They’re mature enough to simply absorb a lot of this, smile and then go about their business and support what they think is the right.
Now, if that happens in Switzerland, I don’t see why it can’t happen in other countries, countries with an educated, reasonably self-confident population, which means North America, most of Europe, chunks of Latin America coming up, chunks of Asia coming up. A maturing process is necessary in any kind of politics. Representative democracy, in its early days, had some pretty hair-raising aspects. I mean, read Dickens, and the other Victorian English novelists. But the systems matured, and the process is now reaching the point where direct democracy may be ready to evolve in much of the Euro-American world.
Direct democracy will have its bumps and its ups and downs. But as it matures, and as people get used to it, I think, particularly regarding the questions of money and pressures, as we have seen in Switzerland already, people will, on the whole, turn their backs upon on these influences and behave with great wisdom.
Andreas Gross, the Swiss parliamentarian, has made the case that direct democracy can be useful, and may even be essential, to building the European state. First, it would be governed better, second, it would build social and political bridges across national borders and third, it would mean Europeans would be committing sovereign acts as Europeans. Of course, it might be that the subject matter on which one could bring referenda or initiative would be highly limited at first, but it would start the process. What do you think of that?
I think it’s certainly true that Switzerland could far more easily accept the idea of joining the European Union if there were some elements of direct democracy that were practiced Europe-wide.
On the other hand, as far as the European Union is concerned, this is still a very fragile experiment. The present evidence is that the application of direct democracy could have a very disintegrating effect on the European Union. The most vivid example at the moment is what would happen to the effort to expand the European Union to include states in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. If there were a direct vote on that question by the existing members of the European Union, it would be defeated.
Something like this was actually suggested by a German politician six weeks ago or thereabouts… that there should be a referendum in Germany on the idea of expanding the union. This was promptly sat upon because public opinion polls suggested that most Germans would vote against it. This is now being dropped from the argument.
There would be a similar problem if you ask, what would be the outcome of a direct vote on the question of the Euro: Do we want the Euro or not? In Germany, in the opinion polls, more than two-thirds of the population do not want the Euro, and would reject it. The Euro would collapse if it were subjected to the process of direct democracy at the moment.
Now, that is not an argument against doing it. What I’m saying is that it’s extremely unlikely because of the political results people would project from it at this time.
But is that where the debate would wind up afterwards and if people were listening to the debate with the knowledge that they would be having a direct vote on the subject?
Beedham I don’t know. You’re quite right that there is this difference between how people answer a poll one day and how people vote on a referendum after considering it as legislators, as it were.
In the long run, we need to have that debate, to move public opinion, don’t we? In the long run, even in representative democracy, if two-thirds of the people don’t want something, it eventually is going to be defeated.
I would certainly accept the application of direct democracy to the processes of the European Union, but my guess is that, at the end of the day, the result, in the short term, would be a European Union defined by much looser, probably much more purely economic terms, than the one which many European politicians want.
This is not an argument against applying direct democracy to the EU in an evolutionary way, but a statement about its immediate prospects. You would be swimming against the political tide.
We’ve alluded to, but haven’t mentioned yet, a major factor. I’m not sure but isn’t the Internet close in importance to the end of the Cold War in the way it makes information instantaneously available.
Allow me to provide a simple picture. I see people who can point and click and buy an airplane ticket with an aisle seat, even a car with very specific features, eventually asking themselves, why isn’t my government as responsive as that? I don’t mean to confuse the issue with the question of whether the referenda themselves, or other voting, actually take place online; I view that as a rather unimportant technical advance that will happen but is merely a mechanical change.
I’m talking about the experience that they feel on the net, and the way they can make specific, granular decisions, against the defused, clouded, indirect way they are limited to making their vote felt as citizens. "Write a letter to your congressman" just isn’t as satisfying as "you be the congressman." I just think the contrast between a highly responsive economy, and a comparatively sluggish political system, will be a powerful force.
I think you’re absolutely right. When I wrote about direct democracy in the 1993 essay, I mentioned things like new ways of communicating with each other, but in the ten years since then, things have leapt ahead even further than I imagined.
The Internet is now a powerful symbol of the development of individual knowledge as well as of our responsibility, which is certainly going to be about politics as well as about buying a nice car and so on.
This is one test of the kind of electorate I was talking about earlier. Most people in most developed countries a number that is growing, are now not only reasonably well educated, they know that they can do things. They know that they enjoy a wide range of choices they can make economically, and yet they’re being told that in politics, in the very place where, after all, we set the rules for these other exchanges, that in politics, they’re not competent. They’re told that, yes, you can come along and say in very general terms what you want every four or five years, but you can’t be trusted to make decisions in between. I think this is going to going to start to seem like utter nonsense.
The Internet, then, is both a symbol and cause of these changes in society that are going to lead people to demand direct democracy.
You’ve been very generous with your time, I want to thank you.
Well, you’re welcome, and so have you, and you’re making the telephone call.
It’s been my pleasure.
By the way, I can’t claim to have read the whole of it, but I think your book on Switzerland is admirable. It’s the kind of combination of direct experience, describing the mood and the feeling and so on, with a lot of hard facts, which is just the kind of combination I like.
Well, thank you very much. I was hoping to drag a jacket blurb out of you at some point; that sounds like one right there. It means a lot to me that you find some merit in it. Your essays are one of the things that led me to be very interested in direct democracy and therefore in Switzerland, which has perfected the art, or anyway, has taken it to its furthest extent.
I entirely agree. The Swiss are the true example of this. I have a special interest in this because my wife is Swiss; she actually voted yesterday on the four referendums. They defeated, quite correctly in my view, the 18 percent initiative, and they defeated several others as well.
Well, that gives us something else to agree on, perhaps at another time.
On The Ground
Report From The Field
By Elliott Jacobson
Source: Initiative & Referendum Institute (with permission)
2 Campaigns Bid to Ease 3 Strikes
Corrections: A bill and a voter initiative would exempt petty thieves from the law’s longest prison terms.
By CARL INGRAM, TIMES STAFF WRITER
SACRAMENTO — A pair of campaigns was launched Tuesday to overhaul California’s popular three-strikes law so that its 25-year-to-life sentences would bypass petty thieves and apply only to serious and violent felons. Advocates said the two plans would bring the 1994 law closer into line with voters’ intentions when they enacted Proposition 184, which created the pioneering "three strikes and you are out" statute. ….At a news conference, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) ….announced the introduction of a bill, AB 1790, to restrict the heaviest penalties of the three-strikes statute to criminals convicted of serious or violent felonies. …Flanked by other liberal Democrats, including Sens. Sheila Kuehl of Santa Monica, Richard Alarcon of Sylmar and Gloria Romero of Los Angeles, and Assemblyman Carl Washington of Paramount, Goldberg conceded Tuesday that she would face an uphill battle to push the bill through an election-year session of the Legislature, and get a signature from Gov. Gray Davis and approval by the voters in 2004. …Meantime, an organization known as Citizens Against Violent Crime announced the kickoff of a campaign to gather 419,260 voter signatures to qualify an initiative similar to Goldberg’s bill for the November ballot.
‘Kids First’ backers push school choice
By George Weeks / The Detroit News
Thursday, January 17, 2002
After the 2000 defeat of the "Kids First" school voucher ballot proposition, its backers formed two well-financed Grand Rapids-based organizations to build public and political support for the school choice movement. One of them is Choices for Children, a nonprofit organization that immodestly proclaims itself as "the leading voice for education reform." The other is the Great Lakes Education Project, a political action committee (PAC) that intends to throw a lot of weight and money on the 2002 campaign trails. The PAC said Wednesday it is halfway toward its $500,000 fund-raising goal and is about to make its first of many $5,000 contributions in legislative races.….But the fledgling school choice organizations have a way to go to achieve the clout in the Michigan GOP that the Michigan Education Association has within the Michigan Democratic Party….Ex-Gov. Jim Blanchard, who co-chaired the group that successfully fought the school voucher ballot proposal, has started what might be the earliest-ever gubernatorial ad campaign on Michigan airwaves.
Tobacco industry goes public to fight ban on smoking
By John Kennedy | Tallahassee Bureau Chief
Posted January 28, 2002
TALLAHASSEE — Usually a behind-the-scenes player, the tobacco industry is taking a surprisingly public stance against Florida’s proposed constitutional ban on smoking in restaurants and workplaces. Two of the nation’s biggest cigarette makers have hired the man who waged President Bush’s legal battle for the White House to represent them when the measure goes before the Florida Supreme Court. …"To me, it’s a ballot initiative involving clear constitutional issues, not a tobacco case." said Barry Richard, whose usual fee is $625 an hour, and who is representing Lorillard Tobacco Co., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the Cigar Association of America, and a half-dozen Florida business associations opposing the measure. Organizers say they chose the ballot route because they have met with little success. Smoke-Free for Health, the Orlando group leading the amendment drive, says it has collected some 500,000 petition signatures toward getting the measure on the November ballot. Not all of those signatures, however, have been validated by state elections officials. To qualify for the ballot, 488,722 valid signatures from registered voters are needed. Elections officials say the group is more than halfway toward that goal. State records show Smoke-Free has raised $2 million for the campaign, with $1.4 million coming from the American Cancer Society, and more than $530,000 contributed by the American Heart Association and American Lung Association. …C.J. Drake, spokesman for Smoke-Free, said the organization is confident the measure will meet the state’s strict standard that ballot initiatives deal with only one subject and not contain deceptive language. Justices in recent years have eliminated a number of high-profile initiatives because they were considered imprecise or overly broad and violated that single-subject rule.