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Democratic deficit depends on your line of sight

By Mark Christensen - posted Wednesday, 31 October 2012

An array of political pundits, both here and in America, continue to lament the dysfunctional state of modern democracy. It is lost in itself, says the ABC's Jonathan Green, unable to take us beyond the barriers of self interest to a "mutually appreciative, consensual culture of deep shared purpose".

While true enough, it's a shame so few go on to establish why.

Politics commends us to a social contract, one based on the belief a champion team is superior to a team of champions. But it also binds us to a higher truth. In the end, the cooperation that makes a community special must come from the individual. Political leaders can only inspire.


Like most, Green reluctantly acknowledges politics is merely a pathway or a means, that democracy can't go all the way and save us by engineering the perfect society. Yet, like most, he is also clearly distressed it hasn't produced a satisfying end.

The liberal media are loathed to unpack this conflict, preferring emotive pleas for balance and moderation over simple logic.

It's an unambiguous choice. Either one trusts people to see the value of a champion team, or one invests faith in the ability of mediating institutions to make it happen. The former eschews expectation and judgement, and transcends doctrine, since the freely-given commitment must come from the heart, not the head. On the other hand, a frustrated desire for others to do the right thing, is proof of one putting system and ideology before personal responsibility.

The media consistently muddies the issue by demonising right-wing extremists rather than objectively examining the root cause of partisan paralysis.

Earlier this year, the Southern Baptist owners of Chick-fil-A restaurants were embroiled in controversy for explicitly opposing gay marriage.

So-called progressive politicians across America were incensed. The mayor of Boston demanded the fast food chain "open up their policies", a Chicago alderman said a second store would be conditional upon working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups, while Philadelphia City Council member James F. Kenney wrote to the CEO, Dan Cathy, suggesting he should "take a hike and take your intolerance with you". Food personality Mark Bittman Twittered the following: "Speaking of pigs, the VP of PR for Chick-fil-A dropped dead of a heart attack the week after the chain's latest homophobia/anti-gay marriage scandal."


Few politicians or commentators look here for answers as to why democracy is broken.

Isn't attacking Christians for moralising a form of moralising itself? Cathy and many of his countrymen may be bigoted and untrusting of themselves, so much so that they place their hope in the imagined certainties and redeeming powers of organised religion. But two wrongs don't a right make. Illiberal liberals, sneering, melodramatic intellectuals who take umbrage at uncultured types for holding back humanity, substitute unprocessed rage for strategic thought. Who in their right mind believes using democracy to punish heretics – just as the church once did – could ever achieve a lasting civility?

Barack Obama was elected to heal this rift. Not by introducing universal healthcare, closing Gitmo or implementing some novel government program. The great hope was for him to continue to rise above the political structure. For this freedom, high-mindedness and moral clarity to finally initiate an adult conversation about the efficacy of politics.

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About the Author

Mark is a social and political commentator, with a background in economics. He also has an abiding interest in philosophy and theology, and is trying to write a book on the nature of reality. He blogs here.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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