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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Thursday, July 29, 2004


Tyranny of the Majority

posted by Brian Ulrich at Thursday, July 29, 2004 permalink View blog reactions
Sagacious Swarthmore professor Tim Burke has written a post which accuses the Bush administration of threatening a "tyranny of the majority," meaning that a majority of the population bend the country to their will while trampling on the rights and sensetivities of the minority:

"This is about more than Bush. One of the reasons I chide people on the left for not seeking dialogue and consensus, one of the reasons I am constantly looking for the presence of reason and the possibility of connection across the political spectrum, is that if we get ourselves into a situation where 51% of the voting population or a narrow majority of electoral votes is imposing a total and coordinated social and political agenda on the almost-as-large minority who has a radically different and equally coordinated social and political vision, we’re staring at the threshold of a very scary future, regardless of whom the 51% is or what they stand for.

"In this respect, we have to see past George Bush and his poor leadership for a moment, and see the people who strongly stand behind him. It is they who really matter, their choice which will shape the next four years. It to them that I make my most desperate, plaintive appeals, my eleventh-hour plea not to pull the trigger. To choose Bush is to choose to impose the starkest, most extreme formulation of the agenda that Bush has come to exemplify on a population of Americans to whom that agenda is repellant. To choose Bush is to choose Tocqueville’s tyranny of the majority (or even, judging from the popular vote in 2000, tyranny of the almost-majority). To choose Bush now—not in 2000, when he plausibly could have been many things--is to aspire to tyranny, to ruling your neighbors and countrymen. That some on the left have had or even achieved similar aspirations from time to time doesn’t change things: it’s wrong whenever it is the driving vision of political engagement, for whomever holds it."

This sort of argument has a troubled history, as it was famously used before the Civil War by southerners defending the right to slavery against the abolitionist north. Against the need to compromise is the need to stand by principle, and the key is perhaps to determine which principles are worth fighting for. Still, Burke's argument in the present context is powerful, and points toward the idea that this election is not merely about "the next four years" but what sort of democracy we might become in the forseeable future.


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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.