No, not the demons that terrorized the Freeling family in Poltergeist II. I am referring to the far more menacing demons who are already wasting the TV lives of sports fans and Idol watchers, the presidential candidates. Barack Obama has already thrown his hat into the ring--though considering his intelligence and manners, it must be a ballcap--and, whether or not Mme Clinton decides to mix it up with the leader of her party and the entire free world, the Republicans are lining up to see who gets to knock the clown off his stool.
Before you read any further, I should warn you. This column is not addressed to party members or children who do not gag or giggle when they hear an expression like "President Michelle Bachman" (giggle), "President Mitt Romney" (gag), or "President Newt Gingrich" (gag and giggle). Admittedly, citizens suffering under the least effective and most illiterate President in our nation's history are justified in clutching at straws. I'd probably vote for even Sarah Palin, if she is the only alternative to Mr. Obama.
There must be a better way of finding leaders than a democratic election process that guarantees us, consistently, the worst of the worst. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that you are unwilling to install a military dictatorship or acknowledge Archduke Karl as the legitimate Holy Roman Emperor and successor to Ferdinand and Isabella and their grandson Charles V, ruler of New Spain. Even without a military coup or royal descent, is there some better way of picking our quadrennial dictators?
Why not try a lottery? The ancient Athenians, a far wiser people than we have ever been, knew that democratic elections are always bought by the rich or well-connected. For that reason, they chose their nine archontes by lot. I'll go into the details later, if anyone wishes to, but in the middle of the fifth century, basically, a pool of candidates was put forward by the tribes, somewhat artificial voting districts, after they had been properly vetted to eliminate the mental defectives, losers, and criminal types who typically seek office. The nine archontes were then chosen by lot.
In the vastly larger United States, we could turn selection of candidates over to the states. There would have to be requirements of course, to prevent someone like John McCain or Bill Clinton from emerging by accident. I think we should disqualify anyone who has received welfare or worked for the government, committed a felony or run for office. Because politicians are parasites who suck the blood of the working classes--I mean physicians and storekeepers, not money-grubbing union workers--we should also make them pay for the privilege. Every candidate should have to put up, say, a billion dollars. If each state contributed a candidate, that would amount to a tidy sum. (I am happy to consider higher payments.)
"Oh, what a terrible idea," exclaims Pollyanna. "That would mean only the very rich or a pawn of the very rich could become President!" Yes, just like now. The difference would be they would really have to pay to play--or rather pay to steal.
I anticipate your objections. Didn't the archontes lose power and dignity for being chosen by lot? Indeed, they did. Since nature abhors a vacuum, the elected board of generals became more powerful. The generalship--along with his popular influence in the assembly--was the basis of Pericles' power. But think. As creepy as our senior officers seem to be, is there any one of the chiefs who have not been less stupid degraded than the past several presidents?
But why go into the details? Virtually any system--monarchy, dictatorship, the oligarchy of the rich--would be better than a system that guarantees the election of an Obama.
"But your system could never be implemented."
Ah, but that is the point. No real change can be made to a system that manufactures presidents out of human garbage. "Then do elections matter at all?" Not really. If we lived a thousand years and had to worry about the long term consequences of our follies, perhaps elections would matter. I'lll be dead before long and so will you, and it will take your children 30-40 years of adult life to reach the same conclusion, by which time it will be too late.
"What a terrible thought."
Why is the truth so terrible? Do you think people who lived through the reign of Caligula or Nero or Elizabeth I did not have enough to do, rearing children, planting and harvesting, singing and praying? It is, of course, worse in a democracy that nourishes the delusion that everyone has a voice worth listening to. Probably you don't, and even if you did, it would not matter because Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have much louder voices.
Years ago, readers either laughed or got angry, when I described democracy as a system by which the prisoners in a concentration camp get to vote for the guards who will torture and kill them. I wonder how many are still laughing.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.