The PJ Tatler

These Top White House Petitions Cast Doubt Upon the Virtues of Democracy

online petition

Democracy. Folks evoke that word frequently and with reverence in the political discourse. Normal everyday people exercising direct control over their government through expressions of collective will. It sounds great, until you take a closer look at some of the things people are trying to do.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune examines petitions submitted to the Obama administration via the White House website. Here are some of the top demands:

Legally recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group.

File charges against the 47 Republican senators who wrote a letter to Iran to undermine the nuclear deal.

Deport Justin Bieber and revoke his green card.

Extradite Twin Cities dentist Walter Palmer to Zimbabwe for killing Cecil the Lion.

Imagine if government were actually driven by such micro-populism. It would be like trial by Facebook comment, a kind of digital mob rule.

J.H. Snider, a public policy researcher who has studied We the People, called the petition site “a gem in the rough” that has so far fallen short of its promise.

“In theory, it’s supposed to help the disenfranchised, the people that don’t have other vehicles for getting the attention of Washington insiders,” said Snider, president of a Washington think tank called iSolon.org…

… [In practice] some of them ask the president to violate the Constitution, or exercise other powers that he doesn’t possess… [like] granting permanent immigration status to a German family that home-schools, urging a recount in the Venezuelan election and making the opening day of Major League Baseball a national holiday.

Of course, the Founders understood the dangers of direct democracy, which is why they constituted our Union as a republic. Grassroots political activists may perceive a certain elitism inherent to that system. But to the extent it’s there, it’s an elitism based on merit. The peanut gallery shoots from the hip, without researching the issue or bearing any real responsibility for policy outcomes. Certainly, elected officials should respond to constituent concerns. But a direct democracy that did whatever it was petitioned to would soon turn as tyrannical as any other form.

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