Too often – dare I say, virtually all the time – contemporary citizens of free or mostly free (I use the word “free” in a casual and I believe well understood manner here) countries don’t understand what democracy is (and here I use the word “democracy” in a very specific, well-defined sense, one which will become clear momentarily). In fact, Wikipedia even highlights this confusion and destruction of the concept of democracy at the end of its second paragraph on the topic. Democracy is nothing more or less than a political system in which laws and/or representatives of the people are established or elected by people who have an equal right to participate. Essentially: one person, one vote. Note that historically, it has not even been the case that all people had an equal right to participate. In Ancient Greece, for example, the birthplace of democracy, only “elites” (however that was defined) could vote. There were a lot of revolutions in Ancient Greece and there was a lot of killing or marginalizing of one’s enemies when one group of elites wrested power from another.

In no contemporary country does democracy mean majority rule by individual citizens, which is, I believe, what most people today think it is. Even if everybody has the right to vote as is the case in, for example, the United States, there is still three part system of power sharing. At the Federal level, individual citizens cannot do anything. No, an individual acts through her Congressional representatives. Why don’t people understand this? Why doesn’t the President understand this?

Here’s George Will in an excerpt from a larger piece of his on the amelioration of Congress’ power and responsibility to keep the Executive branch of government in check (and, further, to exercise its proper power of authorizing war):

“…Obama spoke to the public, not to the public’s institutional embodiment, Congress…”

As Will points out, it is not the public to whom BO should be pleading his case; it is Congress.

Yes – Congress is the public’s Federal institutional embodiment. It’s not majority rule by the people. It’s: elect Congressional representatives who then go to DC and haggle (or, in the case of Will’s point, just roll over and let the Prez do what he wants).

The people do not have the power to authorize the President to go to war; Congress does.

In the US, and perhaps or perhaps not in other “free” places, the will of the people doesn’t matter; what matters is what Congresspeople get elected and what they choose to haggle about and what deals get made. Such is democracy.

-JD Cross