Bryan Fischer
January 24, 2012
Primaries show why Founders were not fans of democracy
By Bryan Fischer

Follow me on Twitter: @BryanJFischer, on Facebook at "Focal Point"

Americans today are oblivious to the profound distinction between a republican form of government and a democracy, and quite often confuse the two. Democracy represents government by the direct will of the people, while a republican form of government represents government by representatives chosen by the people to make critical decisions on their behalf.

Unfortunately, our entire primary system is based on democracy and not republicanism, and is manifesting all of the inherent weakness of direct democracy our Founders warned us about.

For instance, Alexander Hamilton said in the Federalist Papers: "We are a Republican Government...[I]t has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity."

The Founders had a clear understanding of the differences between the two systems, and flatly rejected democracy in favor of republicanism. They understood that democracy, in which the people directly choose their leaders, was a recipe for chaos, anarchy and mobocracy since the the masses of the people are so easily misled, so easily fooled, and so easily persuaded to choose public officials on the basis of utterly superficial characteristics.

Under the Constitution as established by the Founders, the only federal officials chosen by the people themselves were members of the House of Representatives. Senators were chosen by state legislatures, presidents were chosen by the electoral college, and members of the judiciary were chosen by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Said John Witherspoon, "Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state — it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage."

Anyone looking at the first four primaries who doesn't see "caprice" and "the madness of popular rage" on distressing display has not been paying attention.

It seems evident, based on exit polling data, that voters are making their primary decisions about whom they want our next president to be on the basis ofsuch things as perceived electability, appearance and a willingness for candidates to stick it to their adversaries of choice rather than on such things as personal character, values and actual track record of governance.

As Winston Churchill said, "The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter."

Even the president, under the frame of government established by the Founders, was not chosen by the people, but by electors chosen by the people to make that decision for them. That's what the electoral college was designed to be — mature men picked by the people on the first Tuesday in November to choose a president on their behalf.

Presidential campaigns were designed by the Founders to be about choosing electors, not choosing presidents. Each man who wanted to be an elector was to convince voters that he was worthy of being entrusted with that enormous responsibility. He would campaign by telling voters the kind of president he would pledge to pick for them. He would outline the qualities he would pledge to seek in a president, including character, view of the proper role of government, fiscal policy, judicial appointments and foreign relations. Once elected, he would be part of the college who would cast the very first votes for president of the entire election cycle.

The concept of the direct election of a president, either in a primary or general election, would have horrified the Founders, because they were well aware of the way in which it could easily be abused. We must never forget that Hitler was elected to office by the German people. As James Madison put it, "Democracy was the right of the people to choose their own tyrant."

Thomas Jefferson trenchantly observed that "[a] democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%." Madison said that "democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention" (hello, Florida primary, which promises to be an epic cage fight between Newt and Mitt). John Quincy Adams pointed out that "of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable" of them all.

Because of these factors, John Marshall observed that "Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos."

I do not know what a better primary system would be, but the system we have now is clearly not working. Four states are eliminating candidates right and left, which leaves the other 46 out in the cold altogether. The current system has produced two leading candidates who are unacceptable for various reasons to many values voters in those 46 states. But they will have zero say in the matter, and will likely be left with a small subset of equally unpalatable choices.

Perhaps we should listen to the Founders and establish a primary system in which voters in each congressional district choose a man (used generically) to represent them at state nominating conventions based solely on the qualities he will seek in a nominee. Voters in primaries would not then be voting for presidential candidates as they do today. They would instead be voting for electors who would have to convince them they could be entrusted with such enormous responsibility.

You may call me a dreamer, but based on the chaos of our current primary system, I bet I'm not the only one.

(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)

© Bryan Fischer

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)