Is health care reform advocated by the Democratic majority of Congress and the President of the United States a threat to the nature of democracy in America?
Leave aside that there is no one health care proposal from congressional Democrats. These are the cats that President Obama is trying to herd. It is not going well. Between the Blue Dogs and the progressives, it is hard to understand how anyone would reasonably think that President Obama and the congressional majority are initiating any one plan, much less a nefarious plan to undermine our constitutional freedoms.
Nevertheless, there are those pictures of President Obama with Hitler's mustache.
And there is an editorial by associate professor of history at Concordia University Wisconsin, Jim Burkee.
For Dr. Burkee the important and ignored question is, "…what happens to democratic society when non-producers can vote themselves benefits at the expense of the producing class?" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 9, 2009)
Is it possible, a class struggle in our republic? Yes, according to Dr. Burkee, but the struggle is not between the working class and capitalists. It is between the producers and the non-producers. It is between those who are dependent on government and those who are independent.
Keep this distinction in mind as we give Dr. Burkee the floor to make his case with history.
Our nation's founding generation was profoundly aware of the relationship between economic independence and democratic participation. In classical Athens, Aristotle had argued that political participation required property ownership, since those who did not own property "have no share in the state." Likewise, our founders largely restricted voting rights to those who owned property, believing that a voter's independence of judgment and desire for liberal self-government was found only in those not economically dependent on others.
This is an odd reading of American history for a professor of history.
The founding generation did not have any consensus on the question of property ownership as a qualification for suffrage. This qualification was indeed popular with some of the founding fathers. It certainly was not supported among the Revolutionary War veterans who did not own property. They felt that their participation in the war to establish this nation earned them the right to participate in its governance.
The Constitution never had property ownership as a qualification for suffrage because there was a diversity of opinion on this question.
Indeed our republic has thrived, not on the restriction of suffrage, but on the broadening of the right to vote, first to freed slaves, then to women, and eventually to eighteen-year-olds.
History professor Burkee should review the history of the amendments to the constitution.
The founding fathers bequeathed to us an amazing founding document in the Constitution that we should be grateful for as long as this country endures. It is a work of genius. However, it is not a divine proclamation.
The founding fathers were mortals with all the flaws of mortals.
Among the landowning founding fathers were men who were dependent on the work of slaves. They were hardly the liberal, independent, enlightened property owners depicted by Dr. Burkee. They were not the high-minded producers that he exalts. Their slaves produced, they profited.
This country has profited from what the founding fathers did right. It also suffered a bloody civil war from what they did wrong.
This brings us to the simplistic distinction Dr. Burkee makes between producers and non-producers.
Dr. Burkee is not too clear on whom he considers the producers to be. He has a list of non-producers. The non-producers, remember, as the non-landowners who "have no share in the state," will undermine democracy in America.
The non-producers are recipients of Social Security checks, recipients of payroll checks from the Federal government, recipients of payroll checks from the State government, recipients of payroll checks from local governments. These, by Dr. Burkee's reckoning, are dependent voters. He has figures for each category for which he cites no source.
It is startling to see how many citizens of our country are dependent non-producers, until one queries just whom Dr. Burkee is fingering as the agents of the downfall of democracy in America.
Begin with Social Security recipients. These are workers, people who have labored throughout their lives to give us the goods and services we enjoy and now are retired. Can these people be justly termed "non-producers"?
Many like to take shots at Federal government employees, as Dr. Burkee does. This broad category includes, naming just one group, the men and women of the armed forces who defend us and the free world. Moreover, among the local government employees are the law enforcement personnel who serve and protect our property and persons.
The retiree, the soldier, the police officer – these are among the agents of big government that Dr. Burkee views as the non-producer threats to our democratic way of life.
On the other hand, there are the producers, like the entrepreneur who is constantly spamming you with the promised benefits of colon cleansers. He is to be valued above the retiree, the soldier, the police officer. He is a producer in a free market economy.
Dr. Burkee admits to one resource for his opinion, "political philosopher Isabel Paterson."
Isabel Paterson had no credentials in political science or philosophy. She had only a couple of years of formal education and no high school degree. Her biography is not in the Britannica. She is not referenced in Macmillan's Encyclopedia of Philosophy. She was an amazing autodidact, to be sure, making her living as a novelist and critic.
Isabel Paterson is regarded as a "political philosopher" only among radical libertarians. She was an influence and once friend of the atheist Ayn Rand.
This is the point at which we should worry about democracy in America. President Obama with a Hitler mustache is the product of those who look upon our time as a struggle between a producer elite and the non-producing masses.
We have little to fear from the Democrats, President Obama, and the reform to health care. We should be wary, however, from the fear-mongers who paint mustaches on the President and make facile distinctions between so-called producers and non-producers.