Representional Democracy , Leadership and Self Responsibility

The representative democratic system - Political intractability
Survival fear, as the unacknowledged basis for national political power, allows politicians play on the fears and hopes of the electorate. Survival fear justifies the politician's usefulness and collectivises nations. The politicians investment in trauma keeps the electorate wondering what the nation will do in the face of danger. This focuses attention on the politicians who, at centre stage, convince their public that their acts are believable and can be trusted.
Politics, in the U.S., is a business of convincing New Yorkers that politicians must protect them from imported Korean cars but not from (imported) Californian lettuce. The essence of their political message is, "if you do not do follow our directions you will not survive because the Russians will invade us, or the Mexicans will take our jobs, or we will have to work for the Japanese at minimal wages." Politics is a trade in fears. As Gerald and Patricia Mische have written in TOWARD A HUMAN WORLD ORDER, "the central confirming concept today is that of national security."
Politicians see themselves as an elite having the power to decide the lives of millions of people. This faith in their power is buttressed by their access to information not available to the ordinary citizen. This adds to the politician's mystique and power. Politics is a self- supporting and self-propagating mystery of power.
This mystique and power is based on the premise that politicians can decide how another person will lead his or her life. It is implicitly assumed that politicians know what direction a nation will take and what its fate shall be. This assumption is rejected by a growing number who assume responsibility for themselves, and is only apathetically accepted by the majority.
It is difficult for politicians to conceive of solutions that do not directly involve their abilities. They labour under the most dangerous of all delusions - that they are indispensible. They operate on the basis that cultural groups must have leaders and, because of their wisdom and experience, they are the chosen few. This view reached its ultimate irony in 1983 when it was assumed that the fate of the world rested in the hands of two men, a faceless bureaucrat named Yuri Andropov and an ex-movie actor named Ronald Reagan.
Leadership depends on time and circumstance. With plenty of time available a group will discuss a question at length and eventually come up with an answer. Such agreement, reached by consensus, is likely to be acceptable to most people and also have the greatest support. The Japanese are the masters of this kind of social agreement. If there is very little time to decide, and it is an emergency, then the fastest way is to appoint one person as decision maker. This is the leader, or authority system, that is inferior both in regard to group cohesiveness and likelihood of success. It is, unfortunately, the type of system that suits the politician's mind set.
We are now departing from the edicts of authority that have dominated our lives for so long. We are so accustomed to directions that we barely know how to act without them. We are slowly devolving from the `system' and taking an `inner', giant step.
The representative democratic system
The representative democratic process in its earlier conception was a good system. The electorate knew their representatives and the representatives were closer to the ever-changing needs of their community. However, events, and the rush of inventions have ravaged the representative democratic process to such an extent that it is now the antithesis of democratic freedom. Probably no institution has been more harshly dealt with by time. Almost every nation's political system is an object of scorn and derision to a substantial number of citizens. To be a politician has become synonymous with chicanery and corruption.
There is a fiction that says the voters have the right of deciding which political party or leaders shall represent their views. This fiction ignores the pre-selection process that determines who shall become an elected official (and thereby represent a particular portion of the electorate).
This pre-selection forces anyone wishing to exercise political power to join, or form, a political party. In paying his or her dues to any political party a person crosses a psychological line from concerned citizen to party politician. "The first duty of a politician is to get elected," said Lloyd George; perhaps so, but loyalty or adherence to a political party line can, and often does, curtail, or defeat, real solutions.
A close look at the mechanics of being elected in a representative democracy reveals several problems.

The first rung of the ladder of political ascendancy is to get the backing of the local political party. Providing that the local party is impressed with the candidate they will organize their members for a political campaign. From the outset a political aspirant is aware that he or she must be popular to get people to join their organization. Ability at a very early stage becomes secondary to popularity.
Once a political organization has committed itself to promote the candidate, the candidate must get as much public exposure as possible. He or she must use the media so as to persuade the electorate that it should to vote for the candidate. In the United States large sums are spent on advertising agencies to obtain the public vote. In 1990 more than half a billion dollars will be spent on races for the House and Senate, almost a tenfold increase from 1974. The `selling' of the candidate has little to do with a candidate's integrity and a lot to do with the candidate's pocketbook. The two Presidential candidates and the two Vice-Presidential candidates for election in the United States in 1988 were all either millionaires or will inherit a million dollars. Poor persons, no matter how well qualified, have little chance of election to high office.
An alternative for qualified people who lack funds is pledges from moneyed institutions or people. However, for such favours a price must be paid. This price, called patronage in political circles, usually represents some form of bribery.
Another vote-getting ritual involves `pressing of the flesh' or `mainstreeting'. This self-abnegating procedure is designed to manipulate voters into believing the candidate is interested in them. Strange rituals, kissing babies and listening attentively while murmuring blandishments at senior citizen Golden Age meetings, are early lessons in duplicity.
The candidate must make promises that raise the hopes of the electorate. Once elected the candidate will try to keep the promises that are possible and fudge the promises that are not possible. Politics must be one of the few professions where evasiveness is extolled. A candidate cannot make a virtue out of honesty and straightforwardness. H.L.Mencken has cheerfully castigated the profession as follows:
There is, in fact, no reason for confusing the people and the legislature: the two, in these later years, are quite distinct. The legislature, like the executive, has ceased, save indirectly, to be even the creature of the people: it is the creature, in the main, of pressure groups, and most of them, it must be manifest, are of dubious wisdom and even more dubious honesty. Laws are no longer made by a rational process of public discussion; they are made by a process of blackmail and intimidation, and they are executed in the same manner. The typical lawmaker of today is a man wholly devoid of principle a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology or cannibalism.1
The election process calls for smooth machinery. The perfect campaign requires that all voters be visited to determine their vote. Those who will vote for the candidate should be transported or carried to the polls to vote and a check made recording all votes. Those who will not vote for the candidate are ignored. The undecided voters then become the principle target and the number that can be persuaded to vote for the candidate is a matter of energy and money.
A politician must be an extrovert who has a high regard for himself. A contemplative introverted person is unlikely to distinguish himself in politics. The political process of an election requires a type of person who, at the outset, is not representative of the electorate.
Western nations do not have a democratic system. They have a representative democratic system. The representative is presumed to be typical of the section of the electorate that he or she represents. This is obviously not so. Lawyers, a minuscule portion of the electorate, overwhelmingly dominate elected bodies. Representatives, because of the nature of the political machinery, are un-representative.
Once elected, candidates are on the lowest rung of elected representatives and find that achieving power requires the allegiance and goodwill of other elected members. A maverick will be excluded from the inner halls of the political hierarchy no matter how good the program. In her ascent in the hierarchy a politician must attach her hopes to rising stars or curry favour from a political boss. It is, once again, a system that reinforces the belief that popularity will prevail over substance.
We talk quite freely of clout, and which political bloc has it. It is explicit in the United States. While Bush was seeking the Presidency in 1988 he addressed the police in a city and talked of `the thin blue line'. The police chief then promised him that he would have the police vote. The use of clout, of pork barrel politics, has transformed representational democracy into an oligarchy of powerful interests with `clout'.
Whatever faction a politician attaches herself to must be successful at the polls, otherwise she will remain in the political wilderness. Political programs or events must show quick results, preferably immediately before election time. Representational democracy is an exercise in achieving an expedient result satisfactory to competing powerful interests. Long term consistent planning and the determination to achieve worth while goals are practically non-existent.
Politicians also must be models of proper conduct. They must marry the right person, have controllable children and only involve themselves in generally approved diversions. Any of the harsher and more salutary of life's experiences must be avoided. A politician must legislate about slums without having lived in them; legislate about drugs without having taken them; legislate about divorce, without being divorced; legislate about the sewage worker, the truck driver, the logger without having experienced these ways of life. It is a system that ensures that those with power have no understanding and that those with understanding have no power.
We are all indebted to President Nixon of the United States in an unusual way. The threat of impeachment over the Watergate affair resulted in voluminous accounts of the political process at the highest level during his tenure. There are books by Nixon, Kissinger, Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Dean and others, each giving his viewpoint of that period. As a result the political process was carefully scrutinised. The various dealings between members of the inner cabal showed a callous disregard for any principles of good government. John Ehrlichman, former counsel to the President, in his book, WITNESS TO POWER, provides an illuminating example:
Rebozo was Nixon's principal contact with the Howard Hughes organization and also with the Mary Carter Paint people the paint company that was later to be called Resorts International. Some individuals, J. Paul Getty and Bobby Baker among them, also found that they could easily reach Nixon's ear via Rebozo.
Florida businessmen and politicians often made their contacts in the same way. After lengthy study, my staff recommended that the Cross-Florida Barge Canal, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project, be stopped. The Corps had already dredged a long section of the wide canal, inflicting heavy damage on the ecology of northern Florida. Our study showed that by any test cost versus benefit, economic return or the flow of commerce the project couldn't be justified, particularly when the benefits were measured against the damage it would do.
Nixon had granted me a broad delegation of his prerogatives on the subject of the environment. The fact was that he didn't much care about the subject of environmental conservation or what I did about it, so long as I didn't create any political problems for him. So I exercised my delegated discretion and ordered the Corps to stop work on the Cross-Florida Barge Canal.
Florida commercial interests were not happy with the decision. After returning to the White House from a weekend with Bebe Rebozo, Nixon pushed my red call button and demanded to know why the hell I had stopped the canal. I briefly described how it was ruining the water table, destroying wildlife and knocking the ecology out of kilter. He waved all of that away. He had not had a good weekend in Florida; Florida's business people were unhappy.
I offered to deliver the staff's thick study of the pros and cons of the Canal for his evening reading; but that was the last thing he had in mind. Instead, he asked me to call Bebe Rebozo and explain our reasons for stopping the Corps. Had I received this instruction early in my White House career, rather than later, I might have called Rebozo myself. But I had begun to learn a few things; I had a member of my staff call him instead. (Some years later, a judge held that the canal must be built it was authorized by statute, and a President, not to mention an assistant, couldn't stop it.2
The Nixon administration was based on political expediency. It clearly had little relevance to any principles of good governance. Unfortunately, the American political system has become so ossified and unresponsive that it has been unable to profit from the lessons of mismanagement. In 1987, the U.S Congress report on the Iran-Contra scandal assigned blame to President Reagan. The report found that the President had failed in his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the law. The report further depicted the administration as being out of control in allowing subordinates to routinely disregard constitutional and legal requirements. By 1990 the American political process has been described in an article in the International Herald Tribune as follows:-
... an unhappy consensus has emerged at home that domestic politics has become so shallow, mean and even meaningless that it is failing to produce the ideas and leadership needed to guide the United States in a rapidly changing world.

"We've tended to trivialize issues to the point that meaningful debate has become almost impossible," said Representative Mickey Edwards of Oklahoma, the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.
Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale said, "We've got a kind of politics of irrelevance, of obscurantism, that is more prevalent than in any time I can recall."
Representative David R. Obey, a Democrat of Wisconsin described the problem thus: "When the main question in a member's mind every time he votes is, `What kind of a 30-second spot are they going to make out of this vote?' then truly the ability of the political system to make complicated and tough decisions in the long-range interest of the United States is atomized...
Japanese industries are challenging America's for world economic leadership. Are not these challenges, along with the challenge of homelessness, rootlessness and second-rate education performance sufficiently profound to demand a vigorous, honest and substantive debate between and within both parties about how they should be met?
Is American politics so braindead that we are reduced to having political shysters manipulate symbols?"3
The desire to hold the reins of power has meant that political structures no longer have the support of the bulk of the populace. The International Public Opinion poll found that in 1985 only 18% of the populace of the United Kingdom believed that politicians generally tell the truth. The International Gallup poll found in 1979 that 71% of the populace of the United Kingdom said that they do not have enough say in the way government runs the nation. The Allensbach poll in West Germany found approximately half of the citizens canvassed between 1975 and 1978 believed they were powerless to influence the decisions of the federal government. A 1988 Gallup poll of Canada found that 50% of Canadians felt that the government was not handling the economic situation properly (33% felt they were and 18% had no opinion). An American poll in 1988 found that 68% of Americans believe that the media pick the political leaders, not the voters. In the same poll, 59% say that the system discourages the best candidates from running.
Political intractability
It is in such polls that the extent of disillusionment and cynicism with the present day political structures can be seen. As of 1991 approximately half of the eligible voters in the United States do not vote. Many have mentally devolved from the political process that supposedly controls them.
The representational democratic system, in pursuit of popularity and money, has destroyed itself with excessive legislation. In catering to special interest groups, unmanageable systems have been created destroying the ability to properly govern.
Representational democracy has all the problems of power without accountability. There is no standard except that of comparison with other nations. There is no measure for the proper size of a government nor is their any definition of its proper functions. The only bridle on the power of government is public outrage, and, if politicians can achieve their ends without a public outcry, they can do as they wish.
Global challenges indicate that the present political powers have to be supplanted. As Leopald Kohr in THE BREAKDOWN OF NATIONS stated, "the current nation states are no longer effective units of governance being too big for the problems of their local populations and at the same time confined by concepts too narrow for the problems of global interdependence."
Governments, at present, are composed of people who do not trust the people they govern. If it is a representative democracy, the vote of the masses must be bought by the vested financial interests and it thereby becomes an oligarchy of the rich and the powerful. If it is a socialist democracy, it is controlled by the communist party and becomes an oligarchy of the political elite.
John Burnheim has extensively canvassed the question of representative democracy in his book, IS DEMOCRACY POSSIBLE. A summary of his findings is as follows:
In order to have democracy we must abandon elections, and in most cases referendums, and revert to the ancient principle of choosing by lot those who are to hold various public offices. Decision-making bodies should be statistically representative of those affected by their decisions. The illusory control exercised by voting for representatives has to be replaced by the chance of nominating and being selected as an active participant in the formulation of decisions. Elections, I shall argue, inherently breed oligarchies. Democracy is possible only if the decision-makers are a representative sample of the people concerned.4
Anne Wilson Schaef has drawn an analogy of American's tolerance for a political system that lurches from crisis to crisis to that of alcohol addiction. In her book, WHEN SOCIETY BECOMES AN ADDICT5, she points out that society is `hooked' on political systems that give the illusion of control when in fact they are uncontrollable.
The resentment and cynicism is, in part, self-imposed; there is an acceptance that the system is `the way it is' and nothing will change it. There is an unwillingness to leave the representational democratic system because an alternative is unknown. Personal and societal processes however evolve towards an acceptance that the representational democratic system is no longer appropriate. The raw beginnings are upon us, and the first step is an acceptance that our present system does not work.
The Institute of Economic Affairs in London issued a book, GOVERNMENT AS IT IS6 which pointed out that British citizens have a false view of the competence, impartiality and power of government. They crave a benign authority that will look after them. Having no faith in God, they have sought a human institution in which they can invest His attributes. Government however, the report says, is composed of a collection of people who have their own personal motivations and do not implement policies because they are `fair' or `in the public interest'. In this book, Mitchell states, "no-one in politics knows the value of anything". Mitchell and others argue that it is wiser to leave individuals to their own choices, and that we must not implant in their minds a fear of freedom. Furthermore, the belief that the government understands people's needs better that they do themselves is a ludicrous proposition.
Political state power has come to mean total control over legitimized power and the regulation of all other attempts at power. Governmental power is assumed to decide matters beyond the competence of the people it governs.
The representative democratic system inhibits personal responsibility. It must give way to the concept that people can govern themselves. The future of politics must become a personal belief acted upon in a personal matter. Governance must become a description of how people operate together to reach certain goals. The authority figure, the charismatic leader, the sexual attitudes that favoured male dominance and denied equality must all be rejected. The search must be for a governance structure that emphasises personal responsibility and fosters community.
That new forms must emerge is widely agreed. Alexander King, President of the Club of Rome in 1984 is quoted as follows:-
There is one thing that Mr King says he does know: Government structures must change. “The institutional basis of the world was created for earlier, simpler times and the general policy-making arrangements, structures and things, are so archaic that we will have to make changes…
Government policies are, in general, not coherent. They are the sum of all sectoral policies, whether industrial, agricultural, foreign policy, the whole lot, rather than an integrated result of all these. Consequently, some policies reinforce others, some conflict with others. There is a very bad need for long-term thinking in government. Government policies are constrained by the needs of the next election. So they (governments) are dealing very often with immediate issues which the public demand and neglecting more fundamental things which are just around the corner or over the horizon and this is leading us to a sort of government by crisis,” he says. Mr King said he could not say for certain that what will emerge will be democratic but it will be something “beyond capitalism and communism.”7
There has been little progress in bringing about networks and agreements that ensure freedom of trade, choice of domicile, and the assurance of reasonable employment. Politicians do not want to solve global problems, they want to solve national problems. It is their natural wish to be a big fish in a little pond rather than a small fish in a big pond. Politicians emotional investment in their electorate issues means that any resolution that might result in a major loss of votes is not considered.
‘Think globally, act locally’ is now part of our vocabulary. Thinking globally has little concern with national politics. Acting locally is likely to direct energy towards the formation of communities. Thinking globally and acting locally is seen as opposing concepts from the viewpoint of national politics. For a politician to endorse global initiatives that, though beneficial to the world at large, are damaging to local industry is political suicide.
President Truman is quoted as saying, “If the kitchen is too hot get out of the kitchen”. Presumably this means if politics becomes too difficult from a moral perspective get out of politics. The thought that building a better kitchen might be a better way of having more people involved is not considered. If the kitchen that is too hot is representational government then the larger, cooler and more inviting kitchen is an alternate organisational structure. What is the probable alternate organisational structure?
Based on the political structures of the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Japan, and on the commercial structures of Mondragon, Quad Graphics, and Donnelly Mirrors, a more sophisticated organisational structure would emphasise direct participatory democracy and consensus thinking. Our present structures based on representative democracy and adversarial thinking are rejected.
Participatory democracy and consensus thinking forms part of a culture without vestiges of survival fear or relationships based on domination. Such a culture is also opposed to the idea of sovereignty being used to preserve what might be called an indigenous culture. Sovereignty in effect states this is my tribal land, state, nation and within my geographic boundaries I will preserve my culture. This argument is used by the Quebecois to preserve their unique French culture in Quebec, by native tribes to preserve tribal ways, or by nations to preserve religious beliefs as in Saudi Arabia. The fear of culture loss is very real to those affected, but whether such fear is justified is another question.

1. P.192, The Vintage H.L. Mencken. Vintage books. Alfred A. Knopf Inc. and Random House Inc., N.Y.
2. Pp. 69,70 Witness to Power, by John Erlichman, Simon and Schuster, New York.
3. International Herald Tribune, March 19, 1990, Pp. 1 and 5.
4. P.9. Is Democracy Possible, by John Burnheim. Polity Press, Cambridge, U. K.
5. When Society becomes an Addict, by Anne Wilson Schaef. Published by Harper & Row Publishers Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10022.
6. Government as it is. The Institute of Economic Affairs, 2 Lord Street, London, SW1P 3LB.
7. May 28, 1984.