Saturday, September 20, 2008

NOTA gaining ground? Dana Nelson and why we don't want or need a strong Presidency

Vanderbilt U. Professor Dana Nelson makes the case i nher new book, Bad for Democracy, that the imperial presidency is neither intended under the US Constitution nor good for democracy.

Caught in an interview with Utne Reader, she explains

The American Revolution was fought so that the people could have sovereignty. Imagining that our president will be our savior makes us reimagine democracy in opposite terms. The president has all the power and we get our power as a people from him, which is the way of a monarchy. It’s something that’s developed over a couple hundred years, but it takes us back to exactly the place that we as a nation tried to reject.

She points out that part of this yearning for participatory democracy is Senator Barack Obama's appeal:

Obama is interesting in big ways. He speaks the language of open systems. He’s talking about a coproduced democracy; he’s talking about citizen access, citizen input, and universal volunteerism. I think what people, especially young people, are excited about is that he talks like a leader who would reopen democracy for citizens to be coproducers and not just consumers of government services.

But that yearning usually gets suborned by the realities of centralized government power [pay particular attention to the last sentence]:

I don’t want to be unfair to Senator Obama, but I think there’s a good chance that there will be more rhetoric than action. When people step into that office, the power is centripetal—it sucks them into what they will then argue are the demands of that office. The presidents who first served in Congress—Lincoln, Truman, Johnson—were all initially against executive power. They went out and battled it and they said smart, principled things about why it’s dangerous to give the president more power than the people. Then, the minute they were in the office, they started backpedaling, and quite arrogantly so.

My argument is that no one leader will deliver democracy back to the people; the fact that people ardently believe that an Obama-like candidate is needed to effect that change is exactly where we go wrong.

And finally, these thoughts:

I’m willing to admit that maybe federal government needs an executive office. But I don’t think the office was the greatest idea. And we definitely don’t need a president for a democracy. That’s for the citizenry....

The first thing we have to do is articulate our sense that democracy should be something more than whatever the current president says it’s going to be for us, and that democracy doesn’t have to be about strong national unity but can be about a productive, highly functioning disunity.

Those last five words are perhaps the best definition of the productive chaos that our democracy ought to be that I have seen recently.


Ross said...

"Personal sovereignty" and self government are why I support the Ni4D. It would lead to people being their own leaders, rather than relying on presidents to be their "saviors".

Ross said...

The Ni4D website, if you don't know what it is, is