The Devaluation of Democracy
Jude Wanniski
February 27, 2005


Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Bush & Putin

In my 1978 book, “The Way the World Works,” I presented the notion that the history of civilization has been a quest by the masses to find superior means of finding political leaders. The masses of people in the aggregation of the political market have the wisdom to know which direction they should move in order to enhance their lives. All they lack is a mechanism, a process, by which to select out of their number the individual or individuals who know how to give voice to that collective wisdom.

In Chapter I of the book, “The Political Model,” I made the further argument that if the electorate is given the information it needs to make an informed judgment, it will always choose correctly between candidates for leadership positions. If this were not true, the constitutional democracy arranged by our Founders would not hold up over time. If the voters were fully informed about the choices available, and still chose the worst on the ballot, our form of democracy would not work and we would be vulnerable from dark forces at home or by a superior system of leadership selection elsewhere in the world.

I’d been thinking about this as I watched President Bush in his tour of Europe deliver lectures on democracy to his hosts, leaning most heavily on Russian President Vladimir Putin. When I wrote “The Political Model,” I was a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in early 1977, having been sponsored by Irving Kristol, who I came to call “Don Corleone,” the godfather of our neo-conservative movement. Irving actually tried to dissuade me from writing about my political model and getting right to the supply-side economics in the book. His warning caused me to put off writing through 1976, but I bet the ranch on my insight on the outcome of an election in Puerto Rico. I’d met with the mayor of San Juan, Carlos Romero Barceló, in early ’76 and told him that if he ran against the tax policy of the governor, Rafael Hernandez Colon, he could win. Carlos bought my idea, made tax cuts the centerpiece of his campaign, and not only won the governorship, but carried his party to power in the legislature for the first time since 1938. It’s all there in Chapter XII of my book, “Experiment in Puerto Rico.”

President Bush, I’m afraid, does not fully appreciate the political model, which, by the way led to President Reagan’s “Democracy Project” in 1981. In a real sense, my insight at the AEI in 1977 put into motion the ideas that led to the President’s lecture of Vladimir Putin. Critically missing, though, were my warnings that a candidate for leadership had to follow through on his promises to the electorate. Elections don’t amount to a hill of beans if political parties and presidents or prime ministers ask the voters for approval to move in one direction, but as soon as they have won, announce that reality dictates they move in another direction. Nor does democracy work if the electorate is not fully informed when it makes its choices at the ballot box. It works even less well when the electorate hears deliberate “misinformation” and the political opposition does not challenge the misinformation…. and when the national press corps doesn’t either.

In other words, I do have some sympathy for President Putin. I’m so far away from Moscow and the Kremlin that I can’t begin to understand the problems that he has been confronting these last few years and in these current days. Russia has what amounts to a nascent democracy, a long way from where it was in the USSR, and as far as I can tell very few people had shed blood in his realm as a result of his actions. At least there have been very few casualties, military and civilian, relative to the number in Iraq on all sides who have died or been wounded because of the now obvious errors of our political leadership.

The neo-cons who lied us into the war in Iraq are now celebrating that there has been a positive outcome, in that President Bush has put democracy into play in the Middle East. There has to be an excuse for the enormous blunder, a totally unnecessary war that has no end in sight. The neo-cons have now decided that what Mr. Bush has done will be seen by the historians as a brilliant move, the equivalent of Napoleon’s occupation of Egypt 200 years ago – as Thomas L. Friedman of the NYTimes enthused Sunday on “Meet the Press.” Hmmm. Well, we can assume there will be some historian that will be willing to write that story, but it will be the minority view.