There is occasionally good sense in just standing back and watching the grand spectacle known as democracy.
The presidential try-outs, known as the primaries, have been a strong prop of that reasoning. People who want, or say they want, to be president step on the stage and tell us why. They strut their stuff, for better or worse. They talk (almost interminably) about their challenging childhoods, about the sacrifices their parents made in their behalf, about the flash of inspiration that led them to the political trade. They lay out their strategic plans for the first 100 days after the inauguration.
And around we gather — we the people of the United States, with iPhones for selfies, with cardboard signs, with hopes of pressing near enough to see, or even stick a hand in the direction of, the candidate.
And it works. That is the wondrous thing. Democracy of this sideshow sort — in direct descent from the medicine wagons and step-right-up-theres of the carnival barkers — works to sift out the sure losers (as distinguished from the less-sure ones) and splash the spotlight at last on the best-looking (from a success standpoint).
And from there, on to November.
A vast number of people in 2016 disliked the choices that democracy afforded us — Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald John Trump. I stood among that throng. Eventually most of us came down in one camp or the other. The point was, democracy, as opposed to royal succession, had put these choices before us. There was nothing to do but choose.
Here we go again. The filtering-out process is working its magic. Way back there, we, or anyhow the professed and practicing Democrats, lost Robert Francis O’Rourke, aka Beto. He performed; we examined his teeth, felt his fetlocks. Hmm, not so much here, we concluded. Off to the pasture, Beto. Similarly with Julián Castro and Marianne Williamson and Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and that nice Andrew Yang. Nice to have talked to you. Take care.
In the latest round of filtering, we bid farewell to Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Tom Steyer. None made a large impact on the capital-D Democratic electorate. Each — even Tom Steyer, with his call for (presumably taxpayer-funded) reparations for slavery — had his or her say. The fetlock check failed in each case. I myself lean less toward dismissing them from sight than thanking them for presenting the range of possibilities, in personality and program, that modern politics seems to indicate.
So now: Bernie, Biden, Liz, and Mike. We are getting somewhere. What kind of, and how much, government do the Democrats wish to lay on us? The likelihood is less than many — Republicans and independents included — have lately feared. Bernie, the anti-capitalist warmonger, is wearing us out with his implied promises to take our money and spend it more intelligently than those who earned it could possibly do.
The issue in this election — so our massive and messy media suggest — is how do we get a president who doesn’t tweet and rant every day? I don’t think from following the Democratic campaign that this is really the case. The real case may be, who best respects the right of honest labor, with the right to enjoy the fruits of that labor? Is it the earner, or is it something called “society”?
Not many, if any, Democrats have framed the matter thus. Sure. This is the try-out phase. They’re trying out on us the ideas that government can do more for us than we can do for ourselves — and starting to receive sour looks for it, to the dismay of many party leaders and contributors. This is a helpful, as well as marvelous, thing to see and know.
Joe Biden senses opportunity. He sees Sanders and the angry Left beginning to top out. The need for a sweeter song about opportunity and maybe, Lord knows, even patriotism and honor and personal responsibility comes to mind. Maybe anger and shouts and finger jabs don’t do the job that needs doing.
Hooray for democracy! This is how — theoretically — we strain out bad stuff, like socialism, before it poisons the system. It’s working, it’s working!
William Murchison’s latest book is The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson.
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