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Voters frequently encounter difficulty in their efforts to match their personal preferences with the policy positions taken by parties or candidates because of the ambiguous manner in which campaign rhetoric is phrased. Moreover, even if they are successful in obtaining an almost perfect match between their own views and the opinions of candidates, they often complain that politicians do not keep their promises. The initiative and referendum eliminate many of these problems. In an election held in response to an initiative drive, attention can be concentrated on a single issue; and, if the initiative is approved, voters can be assured that the policy will be enacted. As a result, the initiative provides a means of circumventing many features of the political process which might otherwise impede political accountability.
In addition, the adoption of a national initiative might increase the political responsibility of elected officials and the mass media. As previously noted, the history of the initiative at the state level does not suggest that voters will be burdened by a large number of trivial or insignificant issues at the ballot box. But the threat of an initiative could be a powerful factor in stimulating an unresponsive legislature to act in accordance with the desires of the people. And the existence of many grass-roots organizations seeking to promote initiative campaigns may exert a critical influence upon the mass media, perhaps stimulating them to cover many policy questions and controversies which might otherwise be neglected or ignored. In a democracy, one may not always agree with the wishes of the people or even with their definitions of a newsworthy issue. But the strength of a democratic society ultimately depends upon both the existence of a lively dialogue concerning alternative ideas and upon the ability of the people to communicate their opinions to major decision-makers. Providing citizens with a crucial vehicle for expressing their sentiments, on their own initiative, constitutes an important means of realizing those principles.
I am pleased, therefore, to have been accorded this opportunity to register my support for Senate Joint Resolution 67. Not only do I advocate the adoption of this amendment, but I also hope that it might lead to the consideration of additional measures to grant the American people increased power in the political process. Specifically, in the light of recent experience with a major national crisis and the difficulties of the impeachment process, I would urge that serious consideration be given to the addition of a provision for the recall of public officials to the initiative and referendum at the national level. Furthermore, with growing progress in technology, I wish that attention might be devoted to the creation of an interactive policy-making system which would enable the people to respond directly and instantaneously to the statements of national leaders and which would permit periodic advisory plebiscites on major political issues.
It would be a mistake to assume that popular rule is a static idea, enshrined permanently in the institutions created by the American Constitution. Instead, democracy is a dynamic concept, which must be continuously expanded and amplified. The adoption of the constitutional amendment for a national initiative and the consideration of additional proposals to give the people an increased voice in their government would represent an important milestone in this historical progression.
Office of Senator James Aboureszk,
DEAR MR. CARTER: Enclosed you will find a statement on S.J. Res. 67. I am sorry I have gone somewhat over the limits I originally mentioned. As you will see, however, the greater part of the statement is devoted to dealing with the sorts of objections the resolution elicits (in the Bachrach or Fish testimonies for example)—an exercise that I hope will be useful to the resolution's proponents.
I have also raised certain problems in a final section; again, my intent is to both strengthen the bill and to meet legitimate criticisms.
Because we are between semesters, I do not have access to my secretary. I hope I have not let too many errors creep into my typing.
BENJAMIN R. BARBER.
PREPARED STATEMENT OF BENJAMIN R. BARBER, PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY
THE ARGUMENT FOR PARTICIPATION
The apathy, anger, factionalism, cynicism, indifference, privatism, pessimism and despair that have characterized the American political scene in the last fifteen years all point to the bankruptcy of citizenship. At the very point in American history when external conditions (changes in scale, the need for interdependence, resource scarcity, the energy problem, and the burgeoning of corporate power) call for greater political paticipation, our institutions are encouraging less.
A major national priority ought then to be the revitalization of American citizenship and the fashioning or refashioning of participatory institutions. This may possibly mean that some substantive goals be deferred that values that are in any case disadvantaged under present conditions remain disadvantaged for a while longer. In the long run, however, increased political participation can only enhance social justice-but guaranteeing that laws and public attitudes will be on consonance with one another. Liberty will finally be served by an educated, active citizenry, though the process of education through participation will inevitably take time and exact some costs.
Given how badly both liberty and social justice have fared under conditions of nonparticipation, these costs seem more than justified. This is particularly true if it is understood that underlying many of the economic problems of unemployment are political problems of civic alienation; underlying inequality is indifference (on the part of the oppressed as well as the oppressors), underlying the failure of leadership is the failure of citizenship.* Welfare strategies depending on the growth of the welfare bureaucracy, the servicing of clienteles, and the redistribution of wealth can no more serve participation and citizenship than withdrawal of government from such activities. The choice at this moment is not more government or less government; it is more or less participation in a society that, whether run by supergovernments or supercorporations, presently leaves many citizens feeling like passive clients. Too much government and too little government are all the same to a people who lose the capacity for self-government.
Self-government in turn means not simply choosing governors, but govern ing. Political participation is not only one more check on governmental power, it is a vital condition of meaningful citizenship. The goal of participation, thus understood, is more than popular control of policy-making; it is also civic education and the cultivation of citizenship itself. In this perspective, the participatory act is more than an instrument of securing interests or effecting policy goals or controlling power: it is a unique concommitant of citizenship and the key to a vital and continuing democratic tradition.
In general setting of these problems, S.J. Res. 67 appears as a significant initial step-both as symbol and as practice—in the right direction.
OBJECTIONS TO A NATIONAL INITIATIVE PROCESS
There are a number of legitimate objections that can be raised against participatory institutions in the American setting. However, few of them can be sustained except through the cynicism democracy itself is unlikely to survive These objections-along with possible replies-are as follows:
(1) "A national initiative/referendum process will not really enhance democracy; it will only fortify the struggle between competing elites for control of popular opinion" (the Bachrach critique). There is certainly some truth in this, particularly with respect to the early phasing in of an initiative. But it seems foolish to think that America will be saved from elite manipulators and money by reducing public input into the legislative process. One might as well combat crime in the subways by keeping the public at home. Moreover, it seems clear enough that more rather than less experience in governing is the remedy for public gullibility and the vulnerability of public opinion to elite control ('the cure for the malaises of democracy is more democracy'). Here, the significance of initiative and referendum processes as tools of public education is absolutely vital.
I have tried to explore the relationship between leadership and citizenship in my "Command Performance", Harper's Magazine, 5/’75.
(2) "A national initiative/referendum process will be used for retrogressive and obstructionist purposes since the people are less well-informed and more bigoted and reactionary than their representative legislatures—nationally and locally." This charge is clearly related to the first one. And it is undeniably true that there are costs in terms of obstructionism, fashion-mongering, prejudice-articulation, that increased public participation in the legislative process might exact. In the 1976 election, referenda to ban handguns (Massachusetts), revive the California Agricultural Relations Board (Initiative 14), impose stricter standards on nuclear reactors and wastes (Washington, Oregon, Ohio, Arizona and Montant), and permit the union shop (Arkansas) all failed to secure public approval. cet, at the same time, in Michigan and Maine disposable soft-drink containers were banned, in New Jersey casino gambling was legalized, and in many states bond issues thought to be vulnerable to the public's fiscal conservatism were passed. Moreover, in many cases, the public ends up taking stands clearly opposed to institutional elites-suggesting (contra the claim of Charge 1) that they are not simply dupes of manipulating elites. (This has certainly been the Swiss experience, where the establishment again and again has outspent the opposition on various referendum issues only to find itself defeated in the popular vote).2
In any case, democracy would be easy if it required only that the people be permitted to govern prudently. In fact, it also requires a great tolerance for popular folly: it requiries that the people be permitted to govern foolishly as well as prudently. The safeguards built into the American system give it a natural tolerance for folly, and would continue to operate fully under the provisions of S.P. Res. 67. Indeed, America has survived the follies of its representatives for two centuries. Having survived them, it seems perfectly capable of surviving the follies of the people themselves as they learn the difficult art of self-government.
(3) "A national initiative/referendum process, by serving only already mobilized constituencies (anti-abortion lobby, conservationist groups etc.) with middle-class concerns, will make the truly alienated of America still more alienated and cynical." This charge (which, again, seems to contradict the import of the first two charges, just as they contradict one another), seems groundless. On economic issues (for example), there are more Americans with incomes under (say) $15,000 than over, more who would welcome some kind of job security that would be indifferent, and so forth. The initiative process would be an obvious avenue of appeal for groups whose interests are neglected by elite institutions-though clearly this would require new forms of mobilization, and extensive efforts at civic education (in which the initiative process itself could play an important role).
Moreover, the initiative process as portrayed in S. J. Res. 67 supplements but does not replace all of the other normal legislative processes of the American constitution. The Congress could still act in areas where the public seemed silent about its own interests, or where constituencies were prevented by ignorance and poverty from articulating those interests.
(4) "A national initiative/referendum process would have a fragmenting, polarizing effect on American society (the Fish critique), by focusing on potentially divisive issue conflicts." The danger does exist, but the effects of divisiveness on national stability are hardly going to be avoided by refusing to raise such issues on legislative schedules. On the contrary, by raising them, the public can become aware of how intensely parts of the public feel about given issues. Protracted and extended debate over the E.R.A. suggested to proponents and opponents alike that there were significant reservations in the public that had to be considered and dealt with. The same is true with such questions as abortion and the death penalty. If we cannot afford discussion, debate and conflict on such issues as these, we cannot afford democracy. Tranquility and liberty are probably not compatible, Rousseau once remarked. Many contemporary social scientists seem to have forgotten that lesson, and would like to measure the health of our nation by its stability and by the absence of conflict. But the only truly stable and unconflicted governments are totalitarian dictatorships, while democracies are always and necessarily in something of a tumult. Politics is noisy and conflictful-the more democratic, the noisier. But for anyone who has known the silence of apathy or
For an extended discussion of the Swiss experience with the referendum, see my "The Death of Communal Liberty," (Princeton, 1974).
the death-like transquility of absolute rule, such noise is a welcome sign of democratic vitality.
In the end, in fact, the real issue at stake is S.J. Res. 67 is whether or not America believes in democracy, and believes it can afford the risks that go with democratic life. All of the objections to it are so many different ways of saying "the people are not to be trusted"-a skepticism which, it is perfectly true, can be traced back to the "realism" and cynical elitism of a significant group of constitutional fathers. But there is really no democratic alternative to such trust: if the American people are not capable of self-government, our democracy will perish-whether or not elites keep them from initiating legislation. More importantly, if Americans sometimes seem unfit to legislate, it may be because they have for so long been passive observers of government. The remedy is not to continue to exclude them from governing, but to provide practical and active forms of civic education that will make them more fit than they were. Initiative and referendum processes are ideal instruments of civic education; paradoxically, the more truth there is to the charge that the people are not fit to govern, the greater is the need to involve them in government. The argument against S.J. Res. 67 thus become powerful arguments for it.
SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR REVISIONS AND ADDITIONS
While the case for S.J. Res. 67 seems an excellent one and although many of the objections to it seem refutable, the concerns evidenced in those objec tions do deserve to be considered and dealth with. The following suggestions are intended to strength the bill and to answer the reservations many will have about the feasibility and desirability of a national initiative. Our system is, after all, everywhere hemmed in by prudent limits, and it would seem wise to impose some of the same safeguards on a national initiative process. Three possible additions, conceived in this spirit, would be
(A) a time provision to allow second thoughts, and prevent precipitous public action on emotional issues;
(B) a referendum format that would encourage careful deliberation, and avoid simple yea/nay polarizations of public opinion;
(C) mandated provisions that would assure public education on initiative and referendum issues;
What follows is a brief discussion of the form such provisions might take: (A) Section 2 of S.J. 67 prudently mandates a 120 day period between certification and election. It might also be prudent to mandate:
A one year waiting period before a law introduced by initiative go into effect (giving the Congress a chance to exercise its 'veto' by a two thirds majority, as provided by Section 3) and giving the public an opportunity to consider "what it hath wrought."
A two stage process in which the public would be required to vote twice for a given measure (say with a year between each vote); this would again protect against hasty or emotionally charged decisions, and also give the public a chance to consider what it did the first time around ('do we really want the death penalty? 'have we really legislated public morals in keeping with the spirit of the First Amendment?' etc.) An affirmative vote expressed twice, a year apart, would at least demonstrate that the public was acting deliberately and knowingly, with real conviction, and would answer the fears of those worried about mecurial and impetuous actions.
(B) Simple yea/nay votes do tend both to simplify issues and polarize communities into majorities and minorities. A device once used in parts of Switzerland that might be adapted to the purposes of S.J. Res 67 is the multiple response format which put questions to th epublic in a form that enjoins more knowing attitudes than “yes!" or "no!" and which offers the public a more varied and searching set of choices. A proposal following this format might look as follows:
A BILL TO PROVIDE FUNDS FROM SALES TAXES FOR
1 ( ) YES: I support the bill on principle and believe it is a first priority. 2() YES: I support the bill, but do not feel strongly; not a first priority. 3) NO: I oppose the bill on principle.
4() NO: I approve of the bill on principle, but do not believe it is a first priority; deferred action suggested.
5 () NO: I approve of the bill on principle but oppose it in this form; rewriting and resubmission suggested.
Now the yeas and nays would be counted in the aggregate and the bill would thus pass or fail as legislation in the usual way. But the insistence on reasoned responses would achieve two crucial objectives. First, the initiators of the bill (and interested legislative bodies) would receive important information about why their measure won or lost, and could evaluate the likely effects on the political system. A bill defeated primarily by nays in the 5 column would be a clear candidate for immediate revision and resubmission (or an invitation to the Congress to introduce a more viable version of the bill). A bill passed by a small majority of yeas in the two column but opposed by a large minority of nays in the 3 column would suggest what political scientists call asymmetrical intensity: a casual, rather indifferent majority overruling an intense, impassioned minority; this would warn the nation of a very dangerous split and suggest cautious and modest implementation. A vote split between yeas in the 1 column and nays in the 3 column would reveal a danger zone of profound issue dissensus-one probably not ready for legislative resolution.
Equally important, would be the effect of such a format on civic education. Citizens required to choose between alternatives and to rank priorities would be compelled to think more subtly and carefully about the issues: indeed, they would soon be thinking in the public language legislators know so well: 'is A more important than B, given that both are desireable but only one possible within given budget constraints?' 'How can we reduce taxes if we also are committed to expanded public spending on (say) schools?' 'Will my weak support for this measure outrage an intensely opposed minority, and destabilize the entire system? These sorts of questions epitomize public thinking (as against private or group interest thinking). They will. in being asked, engage the public in forms of public debate vital to responsible government and active citizenship. At the same time, they will weaken the role of corporate and other interests which often become involved in referenda under false pretences and which will find such involvement much more difficult when they have to draw fine distinctions and explain degree and kinds of motivation. (C) Since at least one important aspect of the national initiative proposal concerns civic education and the development of responsible citizenship, it would be very useful to mandate certain explicit educational procedures that would attend each national initiative. This might include:
A limit on spending by interest groups and lobbies for and against an initiative;
One or more mandated media sessions for discussion and argument on initiative issues (following the precedent of Presidential debates);
The preparation and mailing of materials to all voters (following the California procedure), which would to some degree equalize the pro and con input to voters;
Follow-up by an electoral commission, that would provide voters with further material after a measure was passed or defeated; (letting voters see the effects of their action is vital to civic education).
Each of these measures would involve the government in facilitating free exchange of opinions and active deliberation on issues, without involving it in swaying opinion one way or another.
With or without such additions, S.J. Res. 67 would appear to be a crucial recognition of the need for greater public participation in the governing of the nation. It is not too much to say that the very survival of American democracy depends on such participation.
Attention: Kevin Murray
Washington, D.C. 20510
CALIFORNIA POLYTECHNIC STATE UNIVERSITY,
SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIF., January 19, 1978.
DEAR SENATOR ABOUREZK: Please urge your colleagues to support the Voter Initiative Constitutional Amendment (S.J. Res. 67). When the initiative process becomes available to the nation as a whole, it should bring all the people closer to the democratic process, and strengthen our country.