My town has a dump with its very own boutique called the “swap shop”.  No one is too proud to rummage around in there to find a rare treasure.  I’ve found three.  A vintage black leather motorcycle jacket, two boxes of original and re-pressed recordings of Delta blues, and a copy of “The Irony of Democracy”. The first two  finds were obvious gems,  the third a casual, last minute grab meant to complete an incomplete civics education.  The  book, I thought, also had a  sexy subtitle – “An Uncommon Introduction to American Politics. .

The book’s premise is that the  irony of democracy lies in a “government by the people, but survival of democracy rests on the shoulders of elites”.

The introduction of the book didn’t teach me much more about elites than I  already knew:  That they’re rich male WASP’s ; that the policies they engender reflect their concerns,  not those of the masses; that there exist both public-minded and self-serving elites.

But one point truly insulted me : That elites view the masses as passive, apathetic, and ignorant.  This  did not sit well with what I’d describe as my own thin-skinned “inner elite”.

What luck then, that I had a chance to experience my position on the political food chain by attending  a  town meeting later that week.  It was to be run by the “elites” of my town.  But in Connecticut (also known as Corrupticut), it is the PEOPLE who “direct the selectmen” to do things.  The power came from the bottom and rose like cream to the top.  At least that was my naive understanding.  Going with that idea, I figured if the masses did not possess something of an elite status in Connecticut, then where did they?

The issue :

The first selectman  (like a mayor),  who was to retire in one month, wanted the town to immediately purchase a $900,000 Victorian  house which stood next to the newly restored capacious Town Hall . He said the town clerk  needed a place to store   “lots of stuff.”   The real estate agent, who was not only going to get the commission and  was to handle the sale, was also the town clerk’s husband.  And what about the price? “ A steal that can’t be passed up –  We need to strike now while the iron is hot”.

The Town Meeting:  Dramatis Personae:

First Selectman, town clerk, her husband ( who is also the Fire Chief , head of our Catastrophe Unit and whose previous job was designing sets for Dolly Parton), the perennially chosen “moderator” complete with handle-bar moustache ( an expert on  Billy the Kid and Gunslingers  of the Old West); the  front row of  what I’d call the “demi-elite” regulars, and  the masses which included myself and a gentleman.

The mildly, but obviously inebriated First Selectman introduced the issue about the house and sale in the briefest and vaguest way imaginable.  Then the  moderator took over and brought the motion before  the public.  On the open floor a number of townspeople expressed they did not know why the town was buying such an expensive house for such unclear reasons.  They questioned the sale outright.

Ha!  I thought. This is where the system works!  We are going to sink this stink -to -high- heavens conspiracy.  The  gentleman of the masses, in lawyerly fashion,  also asked to make a motion to delay the vote until the town had the time to deliberate and get more details.  Townspeople are allowed to suggest  motions at any time during the proceedings.   But the moderator said  “No”, and when asked why, the moderator without so much as a twinkle of self-consciousness said.

“We need to vote on the motion of  the sale BEFORE we can vote on delaying the  vote on the motion of the sale.

A slight electric quiver of incomprehension spread across the room.  When asked again, the moderator riposted with same answer.   You need to vote before you can vote to delayAnd it needs to be voted on right now, without delay! He entoned it again .  And again. And again.  The  gentleman, by now indignant, point-blank accused the moderator of subverting parliamentary procedures in accordance with “Robert’s Rules”.  The moderator explained the town never formally adopted Robert’s Rules.  The gentleman, quick on his feet and bold, rightfully and ethically asserted that the town can then vote to adopt Robert’s Rules right then and there to safeguard the process.  As soon as he said this, a lady sitting in the front row of demi-elites turned around, faced the man, and  with a “STONE HIM!!” tone to her voice hissed:  “You are inappropriate !!! ”.

I  glanced  over at my fellow townspeople who, by now,  looked as if they had inhaled too many of the  Mummy’s “tanna” leaves.  They sat slumped, slack-jawed and mutely entranced. The moderator kept clucking his inanities as I next looked over at the outspoken gentleman, who silently communicated to me the outrageous quality of the situation with his eyes.

Were he and I to have been in a Twilight Zone episode, I think it would have been the kind where the man and woman flee through an existentially dusty, red brick Mid-Western town;  running away from hollow- eyed locals  needing the couple’s “cooperation” for some sort of bizarre, annual, politically motivated Garden of Eden ritual.  Feeling I had absolutely nothing to lose and with my “inner elite” pounding away in my chest,  I did what any red-blooded American girl would do:

I stood up and got Patrick Henry on their asses.

I harangued, preached, polemicized, pleaded, swore, and explained .  When I finished, somewhat drunk on my own language, the town was hastily pressed to vote on the issue by the moderator.  The town passed the motion to buy the house.  I was stunned.

That week’s paper included an editorial written by the heroic gentleman and a picture of me.  Below my picture was the caption “Woman gives impassioned speech”.  But the picture was not of me standing up, but sitting down, my head in my hands, and my hair covering my face in defeat.

I lost touch with the man from that meeting.  But I’ll never forget the time we spent together in the Town Hall of mirrors , in the Twilight Zone of democracy.

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choiceladyKQµårk 死神KhiradQuestiniakesmarn Recent comment authors
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Futility walks hand in hand with success in the democratic process. The fickle pendulum of majority vote can swing between “the masses are asses” to electing the first African American president.

What you so artfully recount is another familiar victory of deference to those in power (who are corrupt) over reason and the welfare of the majority.

All one can do is what you and the other gentleman did, sometimes reason breaks through ignorance, sometimes, not so much.

But if we didn’t try, reason would prevail far less often…and we’d be suffering through a second Great Depression right now under President McCain and VP Palin.

KQµårk 死神

Everything Tocqueville had warned about in “Democracy in America” has come to fruition.

First our relative obsession with religion is different than most Wester nations.

Moreover, almost all the sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same. In the United States the sovereign authority is religious, and consequently hypocrisy must be common; but there is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.

The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other; and with them this conviction does not spring from that barren traditionary faith which seems to vegetate in the soul rather than to live.

Second we do have a “tyranny of the majority” and unfortunately an ignorant majority. I’m not talking about the makeup of government but the electorate. Anytime the Democratic party is in the majority it’s almost a nominal majority because the right center majority will fights any progress.

Why are Dems caving on tax cuts?

Because average middle class and working class Americans think the Obama compromise will affect them when it won’t. They see the tax cuts ending as a tax increase now even for them.

The worst part I see is the development of ignorance on the left who think sitting on their hands during this election will somehow result in a more progressive government down the road. The biggest ignorance among progressives is always how they don’t understand they are outnumbered 2-1 by conservatives in this country so center left is the best we can get.


Well, hey there! The man who put the “q” in quark! Good to see you, friend.
It is extraordinary how easily read like a book we were by Tocqueville all those many years ago. Even with all the changes technology, and power, have brought since then (I wonder what he would have made of this whole “superpower” thing) the character of the nation appears not to have changed all that much.


Maher recently showed a clip from “Politically Incorrect” where Christine O’Donnel says, “You know what? Evolution is a myth.” To support her ludicrous statement (can we have U.S. senators who don’t even know what the word “theory” means?) she asks, with laser-like precision, why aren’t monkeys STILL evolving into humans?”
I think her goose is cooked with that, but still, it is frightening to imagine that she, for the reasons Tocqueville states above, has a chance to attain one of the highest offices in the country.


Thanks for bringing one of my favorite writers into the discussion, KQ. de Tocqueville was such a lucid thinker and writer.

But I think that if he saw the religious obsessions that drive the Tea Party of today, he wouldn’t even recognize that it was a part of the same country or the same religious element he wrote about all those years ago.

When you break down what de Tocqueville was saying in your citation regarding religion in America, it wasn’t really negative.

…there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.

Basically that’s saying (if I’m reading his meaning correctly) that if it’s good enough for “the most enlightened and free nation of the earth,” it’s pretty damn good.

And he says that American’s tendency to associate liberty and faith comes not from dead tradition, but from living faith. I’m okay with that!

The American religious scene of de Tocqueville’s day, for all its quirkiness, looked positively healthy and benign, though, compared to the monstrosity that the TP embraces. This bullying, belligerent, intolerant freak of an alleged faith makes even the Know Nothings look open-minded.

As Questinia noted on another thread: religion, entertainment and politics have now merged. To nobody’s advantage. The religion of the far right is probably more akin to the spirit of the Inquisition than to that of 19th century America.

And — when it comes to uninformed voters — what can anyone say? There were many fewer college grads (percentage-wise) in the 1930s and the 1950s, but I’d bet that most people who voted were considerably better informed. I’ve seen archived periodicals of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, including magazines for women, for teens and even elementary school kids. Their fall editions always included articles about the issues and candidates in the upcoming elections. Check out mags for women and teens now (or even for general adult audiences)… Nada.


Hi KQ – nice to see you!

I do believe this is true, and the utter zealots have worked tirelessly since the Scopes trial to turn this into a nation of one view of Christianity coupled with liberty for – some. I don’t see too much evidence elsewhere, unless the missionaries of these zealots have been present, where such fervor abounds.

I am really aware as a trained historian and sociologist that these movements and phenomena have existed in this country several times over without getting much hold on the nation. However, I think it’s never been as large before – not that the majority by any means are zealots but that coupled with the desire to have a life of non-commitment, of material gain, and of someone else solving all the problems, the indifference to Christian zealotry is growing as fast as the problem. People don’t see – won’t see – that their lives are being curtailed by these people who work hand in glove with the most heinous of corporate interests. Why do these two function together? They both rest on the premise of utterly personal gain (money and souls). Then they support each other:You Christians can harvest souls, and while you’re doing it, we’ll take all the money and give some back to you to keep harvesting souls while we take the material wealth without your saying a thing. Of course there is overlap – Pat Robertson has the largest diamond mine in the Congo and profits from enslaving people, creating the rape culture and wars fueled by blood diamonds so he can circle around and use his diamond wealth to proselytize and “save” the people he has victimized. Neat!

I despair of this nation. Indifference and self interest are the dominant issues, and those with greed in their bellies seem too often to trump the honest citizens’ concerns. I’m sorry Questinia that you were so clear and they were so indifferent. Their greed and entrenched power outstripped your values. But if you have the stomach for it – keep at it. I do think good ultimately triumphs – but it’s sort of like water dripping on stone. Takes a lot of time.

Thank you for trying so well and so hard!


This sorta reminds me of the idiocy I just saw over the YouTubes this week from my old hometown – albeit without the New England blue blood flair.

I’ll think up something more profound to write later. A few hazy quotes are elusively and inconsiderately not coming to mind now. 😉


Khirad, it was a mention of the Vancouver town hall meeting vid you posted that got the discussion on this topic going last night on Vox Pop. That Jeanne Harris is really a little firecracker! Finally someone who knows how to handle conversations with dining room tables.


Oh, dear Questinia! You probably felt like anything BUT this:

If it’s any consolation, the Washington Post of about a year ago echoes your sentiments and experience:

H. L. Mencken is quoted therein:

“Some of the most idiotic decisions ever come to by mortal man were made by the New England town meetings.”


I love it. It’s too perfect. We have to do these things in ORDER, which means since the motion to buy the house or not came up BEFORE someone suggested delaying voting on buying it until everybody understands the issue better, we have to vote whether to buy it or not before we can vote about putting off voting to buy it or not. No ditching in line!
Makes perfect sense to me…..not.


In Vox Populi now and will comment at more length later but another wonderful piece, Q!