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Commentary

Mob rules: too much democracy

From the IBP (Imaginary But Plausible) wire service:

WASHINGTON - In response to a popular outcry, Congress — is rushing to enact a family protection law this week, one that will force — Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt to reconcile their differences and have — at least three children.

"This is a time for all Americans to stand up and take — control of their lives," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. "And by — 'their lives,' I mean Brad and Jennifer's lives. My own ethical lapses — pale in comparison to the egregious dissipation of one of America's most — recognizable marriages."

In light of recent surveys revealing that 53 percent of — Americans favor quick action to keep Hollywood bombshell Angelina Jolie — from further home-wrecking, it is believed that President Bush will soon — propose a bill to preempt any such efforts on Jolie's part.

In slightly related news, San Franciscans are lining up — at polling booths to vote on which substances Barry Bonds should be able — to use.

Question: What is the common denominator in the following — scenarios?

o Congress meddles in the Schiavo family melodrama.

o Millions of Americans believe that, regardless of what — a genuine record industry expert such as Simon Cowell believes, it's their — prerogative to decide who America's next idol should be.

o The upcoming Miss USA pageant will for the first time — invite in the general public to help crown a winner.

Answer: It is all too much democracy. At this stage in — Western civilization, the only thing that appears to matter is how the — public feels. At any particular moment.

This is not simply people power; it is a cancerous explosion — of democracy. Foreign affairs analyst Fareed Zakaria wrote about the matter — a few years ago in a book titled "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy — at Home and Abroad." In a chapter titled "The Death of Authority," Zakaria — provocatively noted that American society exalts the fleeting and flitting — opinions of the public as past generations would have treated an oracle — from the gods.

The arbiter of good taste was once an expert or critic — of some training, Zakaria noted; now the arbiter is solely the public. — Once a person could be a success if a few experts whose opinions mattered — judged his work to be substantial; now all opinions are equal, and one's — worth is based on how many opinions are in your favor.

This is very populist and very American in nature. But — is a mildly interested Eddie Lunchpail always the best person to judge — another's work and ultimate worth? Is Edna Lunchpail truly fit to rule — on matters of life and death involving layers of data and nuance she could — not hope to fathom?

Polls show that the majority of Americans felt Congress — was merely trying to impress them in the Schiavo affair. Yet what is really — telling that we even take polls on this sort of thing in the first place.

Yes, it is wonderful that we are not subjected night and — day to the oppressive pontificating of snobby experts. How refreshing — that we believe in the people, all the people, rather than entrusting — all matters to guilds of elitists. But we have forgotten that the pendulum — can swing too far in the opposite direction. And it has.

Illiberal democracy was Zakaria's term for democracy run — amok, a public that was more interested in its own whims than in what — might be best, a public that has to be restrained through bills of rights — and constitutional protections.

Are you and I, Joe and Jane Sixpack, fit to overthrow — tyrants? More often than not, yes. Are we able to judge which wine has — the finest topnotes? More often than not, no. Can we judge which opera — singer is the most skilled? Nope. Do we understand the complexities of — a euthanasia case as well as professional judges trained in the nuances — of the constitution? No chance in hell.

The first step toward making an illiberal democracy liberal — again is to encourage humility on the part of its bosses: the general — public. It needs to stop taking its pulse so constantly. It needs to begin — to place at least a small amount of trust in its designated experts - — judges, wine critics, the whole snobby lot of them - and stop believing — that majority opinion is the only measure of decency or success.