20 August 2009

"Actual Democracy"

Every few days I get a chance to look at the New York Daily News, the more liberal-leaning of the big city's tabloids. Today was one of those days, so I had the dumb luck to read a column by Michael Daly, who announced that "actual democracy" had arrived in Albany yesterday. This actual democracy was presented in stark, damning contrast with the faction-ridden, conspiratorial state senate. Had there been a revolution? Did a tea party race up the famous Capitol steps and send Pedro Espada bouncing down? Not at all. The real, democratic action took place away from the seat of government.

Democracy arrived here in the early afternoon on a fleet of gray and silver buses carrying the duly elected members of the 2009 American Idol Tour. This season's top 10 are touring 52 cities after Americans cast 624 million votes. Just the chance of a fleeting glimpse of them had a hundred fans standing in the sweltering heat as they never would for the politicians who babble and bumble and bluff at the Capitol, a two-minute walk from the concert arena.

Is there better proof in our time that the people rule than that these Idols reign? According to Daly, there is, and you can see it in the Idols' humble acknowledgment of their accountability to the People.

[T]he startling volume of votes and their remarkable popularity are not what make these young singers true figures of democracy. What sets them apart from the politicians who infest our state capital is their attitude toward the voters.
This year's winner,
Kris Allen, received more votes than both houses of the New York State Legislature combined. His attitude toward his electorate would transform government if our politicians felt the same.

"Being the American Idol, I feel like there is a pressure to live up to a certain standard," he said in a pre-concert chat. "I want to be someone people look up to."

You may have noted a note of irony in my selections from Daly's commentary. Is he really saying anything awful? Maybe New York's senators do deserve an unfavorable comparison to the studiously humble, grateful contest winners, though you might remember the senators saying similar nice things when they're up for election. But we can let Daly have his little joke and still insist that the difference between American Idol and state government is not the difference between "actual democracy" and its absence. Daly has forgotten, presuming that he ever knew, the fundamental definition of democracy -- and it doesn't involve elections. Elections are a function of representative government, what we call around here a republic. Commentators of a certain bent are fond of reminding us that we live in a republic, rather than a democracy, because ours is a representative rather than a direct government. Ours is a democratic republic because the people choose their representatives, though we called ourselves that even when many representatives (e.g. U.S. Senators, presidential electors) weren't chosen in strictly democratic fashion. The New York senate is an institution of representative government, and American Idol is an analogous institution. The singing contest is no more "actual democracy" than state government is, and a besotted Daly, basking in the presence of celebrity for what may be a rare time in his life, has forgotten that the singers are doing no more than practising public relations just as the senators do -- or does he imagine that Espada and his peers actually go about in public sneering at the masses and saying, "We're not answerable to you, mwa-ha-ha-hah!"

Daly's article is wrongheaded from so many angles that I feel justified in nominating him for Idiot of the Week. The floor is open for seconding speeches or further nominations.


hobbyfan said...

And this is assuming you can take Daly's analogies with a grain of salt.

The sad irony is that the tickets for the American Idol Live show at the T-U Center were, like so many shows there and at other venues in this region, priced to favor the politicos and their families moreso than Joe Average Consumer. That is, unless JAC has the one equalizer needed, a credit card. I for one wouldn't blow a week's allowance on a traveling version of the 21st century reincarnation of Ted Mack's Amateur Hour.

Anonymous said...

640 million votes? But the entire population of the country is only about half that. And I know I didn't vote and I'm sure there are millions of other Americans who don't watch or participate in that show. So how is that "democracy", unless you think the old days of the political bosses stuffing ballot boxes is "true democracy".

hobbyfan said...

AI encourages people to vote as often as needed, wasting money on multiple texts (they have a deal with AT & T), rather than letting them vote online, which wouldn't cost as much. Like you, Crhyme, I don't watch AI. Some tabloids claim AI is rigged, but don't have the real evidence to support their bogus claims.