Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Too Much Democracy, a 1952 Incident and Looking at the Markets


                                             

Although the Presidential election is over a year away, politics is all around us, and with that in mind, I include an original story written for our local "writers' group."  Hope you enjoy it.


An Unforgettable Incident


It was October of 1952 and “Ike” Eisenhower, who had led the Allies to victory in Europe, was running for President against Adlai Stevenson, former Governor of Illinois. I was a junior at Rutgers University and one of my professors was an ardent Democratic supporter of Stevenson.  One day after his lecture, he nodded for me to come up to his desk. 



Dwight Eisenhower


“Mr. Lippman, you know Hugo Misner, don’t you?  He tells me you both belong to the same fraternity.  From some of things I’ve heard you say in class, I think you should speak to him about a project the two of us are involved in.”


“Okay, Dr. Charanis,” I said, and that evening I let Hugo talk me into helping out the local Young Democrats the next morning.  “Ike” was scheduled to stop off at noontime and speak in front of the Middlesex County Court House in New Brunswick for ten minutes while travelling between major speaking engagements in Manhattan and Philadelphia.


After breakfast the following morning, Hugo and I loaded bundles of what looked like four page tabloid newspapers into his car.  The banner headline on page one read “Why ‘Ike’ is Coming to New Jersey” and the article went on to explain how the Republicans were afraid that they might lose the Garden State, and were almost in a state of panic, and that was why they were bringing the General here to counteract the strength Stevenson was showing in the polls and the great support he was getting from working people.  The rest of the paper was Democratic publicity for local candidates.


There were three or four of us who walked among the crowd of about a thousand assembled in the plaza in front of the Courthouse steps. We weren’t wearing any buttons or signs and we handed out our newspapers to anyone who would take them.  We got a few dirty looks when some puzzled recipients took a look at them and threw them away.  Fortunately, no one reacted violently.


I spotted a trio of unsmiling middle aged ladies standing toward the rear of the crowd.  Arms belligerently folded in front of them, they were wearing Stevenson buttons and sashes identifying them as committee members from the United Auto Workers union at the nearby Ford assembly plant in Metuchen.  Striding up to them, I offered them copies of the newspaper.  One pushed it away and turned to me, snarling. “Keep your lying garbage.  We know what “Ike” represents and want no part of him”


“Yeah,” a second lady added.  “A young man like you should know better than to be giving out stuff for Republicans.  You look like a college kid.  I thought they were smart.”


I shuffled off, giving out the rest of my bundle of papers while Dwight Eisenhower was briefly speaking to the crowd, and then started looking for Hugo so we could go somewhere for lunch. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  It was the United Auto Workers lady who had upbraided me a few minutes earlier.  She was almost in tears.


“Oh, I’m so sorry.  I’m so ashamed of the way I spoke to you. After you went off, Marie over there showed me what was in the papers you were giving out!  You’re with us!  On our side!  I could kiss you!   You’ve made my day!  I’m so sorry.”


I smiled at her as she walked off.  I waved at her two companions who were watching all of this and waving back to me with the papers I had handed to them. 

I’ve never forgotten this incident. 


(Eisenhower defeated Stevenson in the 1952 election receiving 442 electoral votes, including New Jersey’s, to Stevenson’s 89.)
Jack Lippman


                                                  


Too Much Democracy?

The “Founding Fathers’ were not so hot on “democracy” back in the last decades of the Eighteenth century.  In fact, giving a more direct voice to what “the people” wanted was considered somewhat dangerous, because what “the people” wanted might not be the best thing for the country.  After all, look what happened in France when they got rid of their monarchy, they thought.  It was only about a quarter of the way into the Nineteenth century, with the election of Andrew Jackson to the Presidency, that the idea of a more direct “democracy” became more respectable.





Founding Fathers at Work



When the United States Constitution replaced the loose confederation of the thirteen former colonies, now States, in 1789, only the House of Representative reflected the democratic idea of the people electing their Representatives in Congress.  Each Congressman (there were no women in Congress then) represented a supposedly equal number of voters. (Slaves were counted as 3/5 of a voter, somewhat doctoring the formula in favor of the southern States).  This “democracy,” however, did not extend into the Senate where the States’ legislatures appointed two Senators for each State, which was not a representative method either in terms of numbers or as a reflection of the will of the people.  It took 124 years until the Seventeenth Amendment (1913) provided for the direct election of Senators, but still, two of them from each State, regardless of population, is obviously not democratic.





Throughout American history, there has always been a fear of the “Dictatorship of the Majority,” resulting in the disadvantaging of those not in the majority, from both an economic and social standpoint.  The Frenchman, Alexis deToqueville, discusses this at length in his 1838 work, “Democracy in America.”


To prevent a dictatorship arising in this country, politics has always leaned on the powers entrusted to the individual States, which would act as a counterweight to the Federal government.  We see this today where the power of the States, as manifested in both Houses of Congress, is aligned against the Executive branch, in the person of the President.  This is the way the Constitution was designed to work!


One of the initial safeguards against a dictatorship arising was the idea that the fledgling United States would not have a standing army.  Too often, such armies posed a danger to democracy.  A look at the world today shows clearly that often it is the military which ends up in a country’s driver’s seat.  But without a standing army, how could the United States defend itself against the British, who were ready to move back in and retake the colonies, as well as defending the new nation against other potential enemies? 


The answer was that the military forces of the United States would be provided by the individual States in the form of their locally maintained militia.  (As evidence of this, histories of the Civil War frequently refer to such military units by their state names, such as the “Third Battalion, Massachusetts Rifles.”)  This was so important to those wanting to forestall the possibility of a military dictatorship in the United States that some of framers of the Constitution before they agreed to vote for it, demanded a “Bill of Rights” which would include a provision guaranteeing that those state militia would be more than just paper units, but be able to actually muster armed troops.


That is the basis of, and the reason for, the existence of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which says that "a well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."  Joseph Ellis, author of “The Quartet,” a recent book on the birth of the Constitution, remarks that James Madison would be laughing in his grave if he knew what interpretations the Supreme Court has given to that Amendment.”

James Madison
The point of all of this is that the opinion of the people of the United States, separately or by States, as often reflected in that supposedly most democratic of monitors, the public opinion poll, is not always on the side of the wisest choices.


In that sense, too much democracy can be a dangerous thing.  The reins which the United States Constitution provides on democracy, through the division of powers among Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government, as well as the powers left to the individual States, and the existence of the Presidential Electoral College, are good things.




Without such a balancing of powers, which still are derived from the people although not always directly so, we might be more exposed to the dangers of unfettered democracy, where the donkey that brays the loudest gets first crack at the bale of hay.  

JL
 


                                                  



On the Economy … the Markets, in Particular
The lesson to be learned from the gyrations of the markets is that “globalization” has put us in a position where anything that happens anywhere in the world can have a direct influence on us, here in the United States.  Just as we utilize low cost labor from all over the world to manufacture what we consume, and just as we invest all over the world, and investors from all over the world invest here, we cannot isolate our economy from outside influences. 


This is further complicated by the regulation, or lack of regulation, of not only our markets but of the markets and economies in the rest of the world.  All too often, the differences between investment, speculation and outright gambling are blurred, and this is not healthy.


If you are driving a car, watching a TV set or using a mobile phone manufactured outside of the United States, you should understand that our economy and our markets are irretrievably tied to those of the countries where those products were made.   Cheap overseas labor may have made these items inexpensive to purchase, but sooner or later, somewhere in the economy, or in the markets, everything evens out and balances.  That is what is going on now.
JL


                                                  

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