Saturday, June 16, 2007

Respect your betters

The conservative blogs in the US are abuzz at the moment about an ominous-sounding comment made by Trent Lott, the Republican's minority whip in the Senate, who told the New York Times that "talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem.” The background to this is Lott's endorsement of the immigration reform bill currently being considered in the Senate, a bill which is widely unpopular with the general public for aiming to provide a massive amnesty to illegal immigrants without at the same time making an equal provision to secure the southern border. Despite the prevalent and very vocal opposition to the bill, there is a strong bipartisan effort in the Senate to push it through regardless of public opinion. Supporters of the Republican Party have already found themselves in the uncomfortable position of being dismissed by their own representatives as ignorant nativists who hate Hispanics. And now one prominent GOPer seems to be suggesting that the very media promoting opposition to the bill ought to be silenced as well.

I can't say I'm surprised by any of this. Politics, even in the democratic countries of the West, tends to nurture the type of person whose deepest desire is to remake society in his own image, whether society likes it or not. Although politicians are happy to claim popular vindication when their own views enjoy public approval, they are just as happy to ignore the wishes of the majority when they feel that they themselves know better. What democracy amounts to as a result is really a sort of plutocratic aristocracy whose members condescend to run for election every four or five years but, having once gotten past that tiresome formality, pretty much do as they like until the next election year rolls around. The problem is further compounded when there is a powerful judiciary -- normally comprised of unelected former lawyers -- who have the authority to approve or reject legislation based on their own (often very subjective) interpretation of their country's constitutional documents.

This is why, to take one example, you will never see the return of capital punishment in Western Europe or Canada: however popular it may be among the voters at any given time, politicians in the main are part of that more educated and affluent segment of society which regards executions as a barbarous relic. It's no different with immigration: polls in many countries suggest that native or host populations want tighter controls on it, but the superstition remains among the elite classes that their electorates are mostly made up of ignorant racists whose wishes on the matter they ought to ignore. (If the elites did not believe in the widespread racism of the public, they would have no need of the elaborate "anti-racism" bureaucracies which have sprouted up everywhere in the West.)

All of this being said, of course, I'd still much rather live in a democratic country, whatever its flaws may be. Politicians may be by and large a pack of hypocrites, but hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, and God knows there are many other countries in the world where the rulers don't even pretend to have the people's best interests at heart. As Churchill (himself an imperfect democrat) once famously remarked, "democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried." With some vigilance, we can at least keep our governments from becoming worse than they already are.

No comments: