A civics lesson for Hillary Clinton - democracy and informed consent
by JJE, Thu May 22, 2008 at 07:01:07 AM EDT
Yesterday Hillary Clinton gave a speech in Florida addressing several topics. The aspect of Clinton's speech that has received the most attention from the media is her call for the Florida and Michigan delegations to be seated as-is.
In explaining why these delegations should be seated, despite the fact that they violated the rules of the controlling authority, Clinton, invoking the Florida Presidential election in 2000 had this to say:
Now, I've heard some say that counting Florida and Michigan would be changing the rules. I say that not counting Florida and Michigan is changing a central governing rule of this country - that whenever we can understand the clear intent of the voters, their votes should be counted.
Now, of course, this argument was offered in transparent bad faith, as Clinton had previously endorsed stripping Michigan and Florida of their delegates. It beggars belief to think that Clinton, an intelligent and knowledgeable woman, has just discovered this "governing rule".
But spin is spin and politicians often say things they don't really mean. As one who has previouslypraised Senator Clinton, her intellectual dishonesty on this particular score is not what troubles me about her argument.
What is troubling is that Clinton grossly distorted the governing principle of democracy as she purported to explain it. Ironically, Clinton spoke at length about American history, but made no mention of the basic principle that underlies democracy everywhere. As Thomas Jefferson succintly stated, "governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed". (emphasis added)
The flaw in Clinton's argument, then, is that the voters who voted in Florida and Michigan did not consent to have the delegations seated. At the time those polls were taken, it was widely known that the delegations were not going to be seated. The voters therefore were expressing a Presidential preference, but it cannot be said that they were expressing the desire to elect pledged delegates to be seated, because no informed person would have thought that they were voting for that outcome. Further, some voters undoubtedly decided not to vote based on the knowledge that the delegations would not be seated, and by their silence consented to not expressing a Presidential preference. But by no means did that silence imply consent to have delegates seated on the basis of the Presidential preference poll. Clinton' call therefore is not only not a call for enfranchising voters, but rather an argument that voters should be disenfranchised.
Recognizing the fundamental concept of consent in a democracy makes it clear that Clinton's argument about the intent of the voter is specious. Assuming, as we must in a democracy based on informed consent, that the voters knew what they were voting for, Florida and Michigan voters intended to express a Presidential preference. They did not intend to elect delegates to be seated at the convention. Thus, if we are to take Clinton's "intent of the voter" principle seriously, we should certainly not seat delegates based on a poll where voters did not intend for that to happen.
There was no meaningful informed consent to the consequences that Senator Clinton would now like to follow from the Michigan and Florida polls. Clinton's call is thus not an expression of a fundamental principle of democracy, but a cynical and transparent twisting of it to further her self-interest.
Spin is spin and politicians change their positions to fit the needs of the day, but Clinton's argument is one that no person who cares and understands the nature of democracy should credit for a moment. It also renders Clinton's comparison of her personal political campaign to such historical struggles as the suffragists and civil rights movement not just risible but highly offensive.
There is a word for what Clinton would like to do to the voters of Florida and Michigan. It is not democracy. It is fraud.