It appears to be quite in vogue to refer to our nation as a Democracy, but is that really true? Not according to our U.S. Constitution. Article IV, Section IV states "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government." Not according to our Pledge of Allegiance either. "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands." Why is it that so many of our citizens today promote the idea that the United States is a Democracy? Just to be clear, this is not a Republican versus Democrat partisan issue. Many Republicans mistakenly refer to us as a Democracy on a regular basis as do many Democrats.
Before we address why the answer to this question matters, I believe it would be useful to first define the difference between a republic and a democracy. A republican government means that we elect representatives to govern us. We are technically a "constitutional republic" since we elect representatives that pledge to govern in accordance with the authority vested in them by our Constitution. Their authority is limited by the rule of law. In a democracy, there is no such constraint. If a majority of citizens believe that it is acceptable to take someone's property, then it is acceptable to take someone's property.
Benjamin Franklin once put it like this, "Democracy is like two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch". In essence, a pure democracy abides by the theory that "might makes right". This is not so in a constitutional republic. We are constrained by the rule of law…or as President Abraham Lincoln once put it, "Let us have faith that right makes might.". For over 225 years, we have indeed proven that right makes might as we are the most powerful, most prosperous, and most charitable nation in the world today.
So, why does it matter today whether we call ourselves a Democracy or Republic? This November, our citizens will be presented with several ballot initiatives that require a vote of the people. I support, as does our Michigan Constitution, the right of citizens to pursue these initiatives in a democratic manner via petition drives. It is important to note, though, that these initiatives need to adhere to the laws established by our elected representatives in accordance with our Constitution else they might be undertaken in manners that would deceive voters into thinking that a proposal is something that it is not.
Our Governor and Attorney General filed suit a few months back that the scope of Proposal 2 impacts, the so-called "collective bargaining rights" ballot proposal, would not be accurately represented within the 100 word limit required by law. During the subsequent testimony, attorney Andrew Nickelhoff, representing the Protect Our Jobs Coalition which sponsored the ballot proposal, did not know how many laws would be changed, and argued that it is not the coalition's responsibility to spell out all the details on the petitions or in the ballot language. This sounds a lot like former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi when, in reference to the health care bill, she said, "we have to pass the bill so that we can find out what is in it".
Thankfully, organizations such as the Mackinac Center are a bit more proactive. While Proposal 2 is pitched as a means of protecting collective bargaining rights for public and private unions, the proposal is actually geared to repeal state reforms that impact public employees, including the legislature, such as requiring that they pay 20% towards their health care premiums as is often the case in the private sector. Their preliminary analysis suggests that the minimum cost to Michigan taxpayers for this proposal would be $1.6 Billion. It also creates an effective "fourth branch" of government where public union bosses are no longer subject to oversight by the state representatives elected by our citizens. The union bosses negotiate their contracts and send the bill to the taxpayers. If this ballot proposal were to pass, it would be taxation without representation all over again for the 90% of Michigan voters who are not in public unions. Michigan cannot afford a surprise of this magnitude. Our laws have been instituted to protect our citizens from such surprises.
It is clear that the proponents of this amendment to our Michigan Constitution wish to dismiss the rule of law and pursue a misguided supposition that we are a pure democracy. We are not a democracy. We are a republic. Our system of government is designed to ensure that "right makes might" not promote assertions that "might makes right". Rick Snyder and Bill Scheutte, have stood up for our Republic and our Constitution as have I. Will you?