Ike Williams says the popular answer to that question will determine the outcome of this election -- and the outcome of this election could change democracy as we know it. In this photo, American artist Jasper Johns’ painting 'Flag,' made between 1960-1966, hangs on the wall of an auction house in London, Friday, Feb. 5, 2010. (AP Photo)
The present election, perhaps more than any other in American history, focuses voters on the two models of government most likely to be adopted for this century.
One, the traditional model, is a Republic whose mission is to elect its ruling class from broadly educated candidates from all sections of the professional world. They typically choose public service at much lower compensation than they might command in the private sector, at least for their time in office. These officials envision representing their individual constituents to promote a government that provides the greatest benefit to the greatest number of citizens.
The rival model is a bolder new one, a corporate prototype based on successful capitalist models of profit driven companies. This model seems to attract already successful corporate leaders who see their mission as one to make America the most successful corporation in the world — one which delivers value to its shareholders, voters capable of being more successful than others in their education, health and assembly of net worth.
Republics have faced many challenges since their creation in parts of the Greek and later Roman worlds. Their most successful competitors have been autocracies led by charismatic leaders such as Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great; and later imperial dynasties from the Egyptian, French, Russian, Spanish and German empires; and popularly elected parties which transform into dictatorships such as those of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Formidable as many of these threats were, none were based on a profit seeking model.
Somehow, our American Republic has been fortunate in preserving its integrity through swings to the left and the right, but the present candidates exhibit stark contrasts: the Democrat espousing the traditional role of the Republic and its duties to the widest possible citizenry, and the Republican unabashedly promoting a new model based on capitalism and run by narrowly trained “job creators” whose role models are investment banks and multi-national corporations whose only duty is to acquire equity in the venture. Their theory is that we have been poorly governed by non-business leaders who have fallen under the influence of socialist and other non-capitalist models, who have eroded our competitive advantage.
In our lifetime we have never seen so bold a move by the wealthy and corporations to campaign for election without at least the scrim of “democratic” language and purported common goals veiling their mission.
Which side are you on?
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.