Is Democracy Fair?

By Sally Morem
Is democracy fair? Is it just? Is it a kinder, gentler, and more effective political decision-making system than, say, monarchy, aristocracy, or oligarchy? Or is it merely a more colorful and extravagant way for the most ambitious to grab power? No one has ever been able to prove to anyone’s satisfaction which type of person or group is inherently best suited to lead. So, we are left with majority rule for consideration. Democracy, in other words. Majorities have been known to be wrong on occasion. But they’ve also proven their ability to retrieve their mistakes in free and open societies. Here majorities begin as discrete minorities, then coalesce and break apart as political interests and issues ebb and flow. They do so by talking constantly with one another. Freedom of speech lies at the heart of democratic rule because democracy is so dependent on talk. No talk? No democracy. Recent calls for campaign finance reform inspire the next question: Is it fair for some to be financially able to express themselves politically to more people than others can? There are a few hidden assumptions in that question. So, in order to get at them… …I’m pleased and proud and humbled to accept the Hypothetical Party’s nomination for President. My worthy hypothetical opponents have given it the old college try, but I won fair and square—hypothetically speaking, of course. Now my hypothetical campaign staff tells me we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. What exactly will it take to run an effective campaign? Good ideas, of course. And I have a lot of them. But good ideas aren’t enough. We have to create the means by which we can spread those ideas to a very large number of people. I could set up shop on a soapbox at Speakers Corner and let loose a soul-satisfying oration for anyone who happened to walk by at the time, but, my fellow Americans, you would never hear it.

We’ll need brochures, pamphlets, flyers, posters, campaign signs, bumper stickers, buttons, newspaper ads, magazine ads, radio ads, TV ads, letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, TV interviews, debates, campaign appearances for handshaking and babykissing, and web sites on the Internet—the paraphernalia of modern political campaigns. Why? Well, if we do believe in the rule of the majority, in the power of the majority to make decisions and carry them out, our campaign clearly must reach the majority—and hopefully, every American. Why would anyone vote for me if they’ve never heard of me and haven’t the foggiest notion of my background or what stands I take on important issues or my core values? They wouldn’t. Nor should they. We live in a very large, continental nation of 300 million people. So, we’re talking about an effort that’s as costly in terms of dollars as the most elaborate advertising campaign ever carried out in the private sector. Now, where shall we get the money allowing us to undertake this massive effort? From you, of course. If I can get you to agree with my core values, with my goals for America, with the decisions I would make as your President, I can also get you to agree to help finance my campaign. You see, political decisions are not just composed of votes; they’re also made up of freely contributed dollars. Freedom of speech is composed of (1) Free Expression and (2) Free dissemination. Unfortunately, dissemination of ideas is actually not free. The services of campaign staff, printers, layout artists, photographers, writers, keyliners, studios, broadcast technicians, on-air talent, airlines, taxis, buses, and rental car shops don’t come cheap. In order for a large democracy to work, in order for us to keep talking with one another, we must allow candidates the greatest latitude in their efforts to raise campaign money. Equality is not the greatest democratic ideal. Why? Egalitarian ethics would require strict regulation of the amount and kind of political speech permitted in order to mete out equal shares. Say goodbye to freedom of speech. Human freedom is inherently unequal. Our nation’s core value—freedom of speech— means nothing more and nothing less than untrammeled discussion and dissemination of our most cherished beliefs. Regulation jeopardizes democracy by stifling the conversation. This would truly be unfair. My fellow Americans, I’ve achieved what I set out to do. I hereby withdraw my name as a candidate for the Hypothetical Party…hypothetically speaking of course… …and conclude with this: Yes, democracy is fair—eminently fair. Because the continued existence of exuberantly untrammeled political expression is the fairest reality of them all.