This paper explains the term “Constitutional Democracy”, with reference to the United States.
CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY The basic premise of a constitutional democracy is that government has rules and all of the people have voices. Through free and fair elections we elect candidates to represent us. The Constitution of the United States guarantees us the right to do this, and to live democratically. The framers attacked tyrannical government and advanced the following ideas: that government comes from below, not from above, and that it derives its powers from the consent of the governed; that men have certain natural, inalienable rights; that it is wise and feasible to distribute and balance powers within government, giving local powers to local governments, and general powers to the national government; that men are born equal and should be treated as equal before the law. The framers of the U. S. Constitution sought to make these ideas the governing principles of a nation. Constitutional democracy has three basic elements. Those being interacting values, interrelated political processes and interdependent political structures. The first idea of interacting values is popular consent. Popular consent means that government must obtain consent for its actions from the people it governs. It is similar to majority rule, a political process, in that the most popular acts or ideas of the people will be adopted by our government. There must be an allowance or willingness on behalf of the unpopular group to lose. Popular consent may provide a means for judging parental consent laws for minors seeking abortion. Since minors are not legally allowed to be competent to engage in sex, to enter into contracts, or to form sufficient “informed consent” to agree to their own medical treatment, it is incredible that they would be regarded as competent to make a life and death decision about something that later in life they might themselves regard as a real person, with individual rights Drawing on several major contributions of the enlightenment, including the political theory of John Locke and the economic ideas of Adam Smith, individualism posts the individual human being as the basic unit out of which all larger social groups are constructed and grants priority to his or her rights and interests over those of the state or social group. Individualism in its original form means looking at people as discrete but whole units, without all the impressions of his social standing, the make of his car or his postal code. It is a way of deliberation, to tune out the clink of money in the background when you talk to somebody, so that you can concentrate on that person’s message and judge it on its own merits. It means looking at someone and not saying to yourself, “That’s my aunt” or “That’s my boss,” but rather, that is someone with his or her own inclinations and desires, in other words, a true Individual who incidentally happens to have this relation to me, as a relative or a superior. On a grander scale, individualism is putting the individual above the state and country. In those countries that have always been proud of their traditional values of emphasis on the family or the country above self they see Individualism as a direct attack on these values. However, we live in a democratic country and we believe in individualism and equal opportunity for all persons. Equal opportunity for everyone is idealistic. Roosevelt outlined a second bill of rights which the book states answers the question, “what kind of equality?” This second bill of rights was four freedoms. They were freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of speech ; expression and freedom of worship. There are laws and acts to guarantee equal opportunity. For example, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which requires equal pay for equal work and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination in programs receiving Federal funds. But on a more personal level, we don’t all start at the same line. What about children beared with AIDS, or children born to the poor? Is it believable that they have the same opportunities as a child born to middle class parents who are still married? While every American can be denied almost nothing because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability, a lot of Americans aren’t in the position to be discriminated against. This means that many Americans do not have the opportunity to fully exercise their liberty. Personal liberty is freedom. It means all persons must be given the opportunity to realize their own goals. It translates to self-determination. The Constitution states all people have the right to life, liberty and freedom. This is a bit idealistic because one person’s liberty may infringe upon another person’s freedom. Take abortion for example. Although it is legal and feminists consider it liberty, it takes away another persons freedom to life. The Constitution did not provide protection of rights to the unborn. Another issue, if a person has a right to life and self-determination, do they have a right to end their life if they are in severe pain and suffrage? Dr. Jack Kevorkian provides assisted suicide, but it is not legal. Why is it deemed legal to kill an innocent child on a whim or for any reason, but illegal to kill yourself if you are in constant turmoil? There are conflicts that will not be resolved for a long time, but one political process which is not in controversy is the right to vote in free and fair elections. They are held with the premise that opposition will be loyal. The winning party will not interfere with the defeater’s attempts to regroup for next election and vice versa. Election officials shoulder the great responsibility of making sure that the election process is conducted under free and fair conditions without any regard to the influence of individuals, factions and groups. The elections for the legislative body in any country are considered crucial for laying the foundation of a genuine democracy. In any country, if the credibility of elections becomes suspect, the entire political fabric of that country will break down. Free and fair elections are the only means to maintain and enhance the credit and prestige of the country’s prevailing system not the victory of this or that faction or group. The electorate with the most votes wins the election. This process is known as majority rule, but it is not a clear-cut process. Some would say majority is 50 + one, but votes can be so staggered that the winner may not have had 50% of the votes, but only the highest percentage. The framers took care to foresee that some groups may take advantage of the plurality rule and have their way. When there is an issue, it is debated, compromised and then a decision is made after the majority and minority have spoken. In order for people to become educated to cast their votes they must have access to information about and from the candidates. A good deal of this information is obtained from the media. The media must exist without government regulations to be unbiased. To achieve that, freedom of expression must exist. It is one of the most fundamental of our freedoms summarized by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Freedom of expression includes everything listed in the First Amendment freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of petition and freedom of assembly. Unfortunately the founding fathers couldn’t see into the future, and so omitted an equally important aspect of freedom of expression: freedom of communication in any form, including broadcast and electronic. On February 8, President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Reform Bill which took away our basic rights to free speech and freedom of expression on the Internet. Our E-mail letters are now wide open for the U.S. Government to read and they will imprison us if the content is deemed “indecent.”. While child pornography and national security interests should be subject to censorship, our correspondence should not. The Internet has always enjoyed the freedom of democracy. This may be another issue that we will have to fight for to be regarded as an unalienable right. If we gathered and fought for this right, we would be exercising our right to assemble and protest. A recent occurrence was in April, in Los Angeles where there were two reactions to the beating of several undocumented immigrants by Riverside County sheriffs. On the city’s west side 200 middle-aged and older white people gathered in front of the Westwood Federal Building to cheer in support of the police and opposition to immigration. Simultaneously, downtown, more than 6,000 marchers mostly Latinos, with Black and Asian contingents, chanted through the streets of City Hall. So, even within our rights we exhibit opposing views. The right to assemble ; protest can conflict with individualism. We live in a constitutional democracy and we believe in individualism. Every person has the right to assemble and protest, but what if they are interfering or disrupting the lives of other individuals? Whose right comes first? The protester or the burdened? The U.S. Constitution leaves that decision to the states. Beyond our values and process, political structures exist. Among these structures is federalism. The framers of the U. S. Constitution were strongly influenced by the advantages of separation of powers and of checks and balances. These theories had been in practice in the governments of the American colonies, and they underlie the fundamental laws of the United States. The Constitution distinctly separates the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. The doctrine of the separation of powers means that in a free society, the liberty of citizens is secured by separating Parliament’s power to make laws, from the Executive’s power to administer laws, and from the Judiciary’s power to hear and determine disputes according to the law. It is crucial that Judges know they can apply the law without political intimidation. The creation of three separate branches within the federal structure, each in numerous ways dependent upon the others for its healthy functioning, afforded another way to ensure that federal power would not be used indiscriminately. The extensive powers of the president likewise were proscribed in a number of places by designated responsibilities. The judicial power was to be wielded by judges. Explicit jurisdiction of the courts was subject to congressional definition. Checks and balances are the constitutional controls whereby separate branches of government have limiting powers over each other so that no branch will become supreme. Perhaps the best known system of checks and balances operates in the U.S. government under provisions of the federal constitution. The operation of checks and balances in the federal government is spelled out in the Constitution. The Constitution of the United States has afforded us many rights. At times, those rights are in contention. At others, we would be in anarchy without them. Constitutional democracy is a beautiful thing. Although we may not all have the same amount of wealth, we have the liberty to. We have the right to be heard. And how is this right anymore exemplified than voting? Our representatives will do what we want, and if they don’t give us a couple of years and we’ll find someone else who will promise to. AMEN