[EM] Democracy

Kristofer Munsterhjelm km-elmet at broadpark.no
Fri Mar 27 16:08:28 PDT 2009

Don & Cathy Hoffard wrote:
> The first amendment includes freedom of speech and freedom to assemble and
> are very important components in a democratic society.
> The Supreme Court has defined freedom of assemble to mean (or include)
> freedom of association and is the right of individuals to form a group or
> organization and to allow them to promote their common interest.  How does
> this relate to democracy?  This freedom includes the right of individuals to
> form political parties. Thus the constitution did indirectly addressed the
> existence of political parties. Political parties have a right under the
> U.S. Constitution to form an association, to assemble (conventions), to
> select a candidate, and to promote that person for public office (assuming
> that public office is elected).  You cannot take that right away from them.
> You may not like political parties or "partisan politics" but I would hope
> that you would support a person's individual freedom as defined under the
> first amendment.  They are called "political party" but really what they are
> is a group of individuals supporting and promoting a common interest.   I
> strongly support an individual's first amendment right to assemble. That
> includes the Communist Party, Socialist Party, and the Worker's Party. That
> being said, there are some operational things (not their actual existence)
> that I do not like about political parties (perhaps, too numerous to go into
> here).

Of course - a system like Practical Democracy doesn't outlaw political 
parties. Instead it aims to make them irrelevant as devices to gather 
power. Parties may still exist as "groups of common interest" that seek 
to coordinate the positions of their members so as to maximize the 
impact if a party member does end up selected, but the parties can't use 
the power that accompanies centralization to stack the cards against 

At least this is the idea. To use an analogy, one wouldn't outlaw party 
duopolies when introducing proportional representation; instead, the 
variety that PR enables lets smaller parties survive so that the duopoly 
is broken as a matter of course.

> Interest groups are also protected under the first amendment. They also have
> a right to organize and to promote their common interest.  I think everyone
> would agree that they are included under the freedom of association (well at
> least the U.S. Supreme Court does).  Let me say, first, something nice about
> interest groups.  Most Congressmen (or Congresswomen) are lawyers, which is
> an ok profession for a person making laws. But some of those laws relate to,
> for example, nation healthcare, which most congressperson don't know squat
> about.  Before passing a law, I would hope my congressman would seek the
> advice of those knowing something about the healthcare industry.  For
> example, nurses, doctors, hospital administrators, insurance companies, etc.
> and even those receive health care.  I would hope that he (in my case) would
> listen to all interested parties ("Interest Groups") and then make the law
> in the best interest of the nation.  I think interest groups do provide a
> value service in our democracy and they do have a right to promote their
> common interest as defined under the first amendment.

The problem with trying to gain knowledge from the statements of 
interest groups is similar to that of trying to judge the best product 
based only on advertisements: there is a conflict of interest. Sure, 
insurance companies may know more about healthcare than do lawyers, but 
the insurance companies would also say that publicly-funded healthcare 
is a very bad idea, irrespective of whether that's actually the case.

> The next democratic principle include free speech.  Political campaigning is
> a form of speech and is thus protected under the first amendment.  A
> candidate is free to speak in support of his/her election and free to
> criticize his/her opponent. The courts have been "freer" in this type of
> free speech than other types of speech (even allowing half truths, lying
> about yourself, lying about your opponent).  There is, perhaps, a good
> reason for this "freer speech", because you do not want the courts deciding
> (campaigning) in behalf of one candidate over other. In general the general
> public has not wanted political speech filtered and have concluded that it
> should be left up to the voters to judge the truthfulness of the candidates.
> If you think it should be filtered then who do you think should do the
> filtering?

Could there not be laws analogous to "truth in advertising", for 
political campaigning? Any argument against restrictions in the latter 
could also be turned around to be used as an argument against the 
former, unless one uses an argument of the type that one may accept some 
inefficiency in the economic realm (due to restrictions on advertising), 
but that elections are too important and therefore the speech must be 
unregulated (with the implicit assumption that regulation brings 

> I have no problem with political parties, interest groups (or even
> campaigning). Most entities (and candidates) get their "Political Power"
> primarily from money. Entities do get some of their "Power" based on their
> expertise, which I think is clearly appropriate.  Do you think that the
> National Rifle Association would have any clout if they could not make
> contributions to candidates?  I think our democracy is really up for sale to
> the highest bidder. The problem we have is that the U.S. Supreme Court has,
> in general, said that "money is a form of free speech".  There is clearly a
> trade-off between free speech (money) and voting rights (the concept of one
> man-one vote). (see articles below). I come down on the side of voting
> rights and that money is not really free speech.  For example let us say we
> have an auditorium filled with 10,000 people and we say that anyone is free
> to speak their mind from the floor at anytime. But there are a few who can
> afford a microphone with a load speaker and are given access to the stage.
> The question I would ask, is that really "free speech" for everyone? In
> effect if you have the money you have a lot more free speech and can be
> heard, but if you do not have the money you can speak all you want but no
> one will be able to hear you.  Also, if you make a 5,000 dollars
> contribution to a candidate you are in effect voting 51 times (assuming you
> actually did vote).  You could do a statistical analyses to determine how
> many additional votes 5,000 dollars would generate.  (I am assuming $100 = 1
> vote).  I'm sure most interest groups have a good idea on how many votes
> their money will buy.  Money clearly buys votes, i.e. you can vote as many
> times as you can afford. It is clearly not right that someone would have 51
> votes and others only 1 vote. I thought that the concept of "One man-One
> vote" was the foundation of our democracy.

I agree that the influence of money is detrimental. More generally, the 
problem is that it's possible to influence people by using certain types 
of power (such as money, but also by owning media, etc); and that those 
who have this power can make deals with politicians, where the 
politicians then repay them greatly once in office. Both the "seller" 
(whoever has power) and the "buyer" (the politician) gain - at the 
expense of the people.

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