Obama’s Problem with Democracy

United States Capitol

Barack Obama threatening to manipulate public opinion against congressional leaders who refuse to change things his way with the debt ceiling:

I’m going to the American people with this.

James Madison explaining in The Federalist papers how tradition set forth by the founders intends for members of Congress to lead, according to the will of the American people they represent:

It is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self-defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.

Walter Lippmann describing this “basic problem of democracy” with Obama:

“Decisions in the modern state” are no longer made as a result of the interaction of the legislature and the executive, of Congress and the White House, but rather “of public opinion and . . . executive [power].” The legislature can obstruct, but through the press the executive branch can go directly to the people.

At first glance this would seem to enhance the beneficial role of public opinion. But in effect what does the public really know? In large part it knows that which it learns from the press. This exalts the role of the press. But it also intensifies the need for accurate, unbiased reporting. For a democratic system to have real meaning, the news must be kept free of manipulation and pollution. Otherwise the “will of the people” becomes stripped of moral meaning.