Rotating Chairs

Tuesday, April 30th, 2024 @ 11:54PM

It can be said that giving voice to all the people is the essence of a pure democracy. It can also be said that, in all the world, there is no freer, purer form of government by the people. However, pure democracy has a down and, often, dark side referred to by some as “mob rule.”

The framers of the US Constitution, well-versed in history, especially that of ancient Greece where democracy is said to have arisen, feared pure democracy for exactly that reason – mob rule. A famous example of the dangers of mob rule often cited by historians is that of the Mytilenean revolt. The leadership of Mytilene, the capitol city of the island of Lesbos, had planned a revolt against Athens. In retaliation, the Athenians voted to send military forces to the island with orders to execute all male adults and enslave all women and children. The force set sail for the island, however, the next day the mob changed its collective mind and voted to spare the masses and only execute the ring leaders. Messengers were sent to rescind the original orders and arrived just in time to stop the impending carnage.

In efforts to protect against the potential abuses of mob rule, the framers created not a pure democracy but, rather, a representative democracy. This form of government, still based upon a “one person, one vote” framework, was designed to create a more “deliberative” body that would carefully consider the ramifications of the issues at hand before rendering decisions. So far, in America, the system has worked well for more than 230 years…or has it?

Undeniably, the US Constitution is the longest surviving constitution of any nation in history. Further, the US Constitution is the basis for one of the most stable governments ever conceived. Yet, despite the phenomenal success and stability of our representative democracy, there have been, and remain, many problems.

Within the national and state legislatures, there are committees that focus on particular aspects of governance (e.g., Agriculture, Appropriations, Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security, Veterans’ Affairs, etc.). Each of these committees has a chairperson who controls which legislation pertinent to the committee’s subject area is considered. These chairpersons have almost total control over the committee which places a great deal of political power in their hands. Many legislators strive to earn a chairpersonship and once attained, they tend to hold onto it tenaciously.

The problem is that such concentrations of power can be beneficial to the chairperson’s constituents at the detriment of other Americans living outside the chairperson’s district, especially if the chairperson maintains the position for long periods of time. The solution to this problem is rotating chairs, that is, instituting a policy limiting the length of time any person can hold a chairpersonship, say, four years. At the end of the chairperson’s term, another person should be appointed to the position. Further, that person should be from a completely different region within the US in order that no particular area benefits unfairly from years of committee control by a legislator from that region. The long-term maintenance of power in the hands of a few legislators is anti-democratic. It is a problem that could easily be resolved if national and state legislators truly believed in and supported real democracy through rotating chairs.

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