I got an interesting comment on one of my recent blog postings that I wanted to highlight for a little more discussion. In response to the line in my post about my New Year’s resolution a few weeks ago, reader saimatabassum wrote:
“Democracy as said government by the people, but it’s not the exact way to define it. We all know in a democratic election, the party who has maximum support governs the country. Suppose a government is established by 60% of majority, that means the remaining 40% population is against the government. The remaining 40% of the society has to bear that government though they don’t like it. They are helpless for that. Isn’t it strange. So better to define democracy as government by the more or equal to 51% society of community.”
First of all, thank you saimatabassum for taking the time to read and comment. Secondly, I think there’s an important distinction to be made though between just holding democratic elections and having a democratic system of government.
Any campaign manager will tell you his or her job is just to get 50% +1 of the vote on Election Day; but democracies don’t end at elections — they start there. The work of governing is non-stop, and democratic governance is designed to make sure the 50% -1, the “losers” at election time, are still treated fairly and respectfully the rest of the time. The 50% -1 may not always get their exact preference, but even small minorities can have a big impact on policymaking in a democracy.
We have a key example of that in the United States right now, in fact. In both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Democratic Party has sizable majorities, and the president is from this party. Yet key pieces of legislation have been difficult to move through Congress over the past year in part because the Republicans have been a strongly unified minority party. This particularly is an issue in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to end debate on a piece of legislation. President Obama addressed this impasse specifically last night in his State of the Union Address. He said:
“To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town — a supermajority — then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well.”
The core principles of a democratic society — among them, freedom of speech, assembly and information — provide the tools for expanding the debate and making a position heard; it’s just up to the minority to use them effectively and responsibly. It’s also the responsibility of the majority party to use those tools to be mindful of the dissenting viewpoints in the country to work together for the betterment of all citizens.
Obama also reminded us of the inherently contentious nature of democracy last night. “I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I could do it alone. Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That’s just how it is.”
So my question to saimatabassum, and everyone reading, is this: is it possible to influence your government when you are in the minority party so that you don’t just have to bear what you don’t like? What other recourse might you have?