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Essay/Term paper: Constitutional democracy

Essay, term paper, research paper:  History Essays

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Constitutional Democracy

The basic premise of a constitutional democracy is that government has
rules and all of the people have voices. Through free and fair elections we
elect candidates to represent us. The Constitution of the United States
guarantees us the right to do this, and to live democratically. The framers
attacked tyrannical government and advanced the following ideas: that government
comes from below, not from above, and that it derives its powers from the
consent of the governed; that men have certain natural, inalienable rights; that
it is wise and feasible to distribute and balance powers within government,
giving local powers to local governments, and general powers to the national
government; that men are born equal and should be treated as equal before the
law. The framers of the U. S. Constitution sought to make these ideas the
governing principles of a nation. Constitutional democracy has three basic
elements. Those being interacting values, interrelated political processes and
interdependent political structures.
The first idea of interacting values is popular consent. Popular
consent means that government must obtain consent for its actions from the
people it governs. It is similar to majority rule, a political process, in that
the most popular acts or ideas of the people will be adopted by our government.
There must be an allowance or willingness on behalf of the unpopular group to
Popular consent may provide a means for judging parental consent laws
for minors seeking abortion. Since minors are not legally allowed to be
competent to engage in sex, to enter into contracts, or to form sufficient
"informed consent" to agree to their own medical treatment, it is incredible
that they would be regarded as competent to make a life and death decision about
something that later in life they might themselves regard as a real person, with
individual rights
Drawing on several major contributions of the enlightenment, including
the political theory of John Locke and the economic ideas of Adam Smith,
individualism posts the individual human being as the basic unit out of which
all larger social groups are constructed and grants priority to his or her
rights and interests over those of the state or social group.
Individualism in its original form means looking at people as discrete
but whole units, without all the impressions of his social standing, the make of
his car or his postal code. It is a way of deliberation, to tune out the clink
of money in the background when you talk to somebody, so that you can
concentrate on that person's message and judge it on its own merits.
It means looking at someone and not saying to yourself, "That's my aunt"
or "That's my boss," but rather, that is someone with his or her own
inclinations and desires, in other words, a true Individual who incidentally
happens to have this relation to me, as a relative or a superior.
On a grander scale, individualism is putting the individual above the
state and country. In those countries that have always been proud of their
traditional values of emphasis on the family or the country above self they see
Individualism as a direct attack on these values. However, we live in a
democratic country and we believe in individualism and equal opportunity for all
Equal opportunity for everyone is idealistic. Roosevelt outlined a
second bill of rights which the book states answers the question, "what kind of
equality?" This second bill of rights was four freedoms. They were freedom
from want, freedom from fear, freedom of speech & expression and freedom of
worship. There are laws and acts to guarantee equal opportunity. For example,
the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which requires equal pay for equal work and the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination in programs receiving Federal
But on a more personal level, we don't all start at the same line. What
about children beared with AIDS, or children born to the poor? Is it believable
that they have the same opportunities as a child born to middle class parents
who are still married? While every American can be denied almost nothing
because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or
disability, a lot of Americans aren't in the position to be discriminated
against. This means that many Americans do not have the opportunity to fully
exercise their liberty. Personal liberty is freedom. It means all persons must
be given the opportunity to realize their own goals. It translates to self-
The Constitution states all people have the right to life, liberty and
freedom. This is a bit idealistic because one person's liberty may infringe
upon another person's freedom. Take abortion for example. Although it is legal
and feminists consider it liberty, it takes away another persons freedom to life.
The Constitution did not provide protection of rights to the unborn. Another
issue, if a person has a right to life and self-determination, do they have a
right to end their life if they are in severe pain and suffrage? Dr. Jack
Kevorkian provides assisted suicide, but it is not legal. Why is it deemed
legal to kill an innocent child on a whim or for any reason, but illegal to kill
yourself if you are in constant turmoil?
There are conflicts that will not be resolved for a long time, but one
political process which is not in controversy is the right to vote in free and
fair elections. They are held with the premise that opposition will be loyal.
The winning party will not interfere with the defeater's attempts to regroup for
next election and vice versa. Election officials shoulder the great
responsibility of making sure that the election process is conducted under free
and fair conditions without any regard to the influence of individuals, factions
and groups. The elections for the legislative body in any country are
considered crucial for laying the foundation of a genuine democracy. In any
country, if the credibility of elections becomes suspect, the entire political
fabric of that country will break down. Free and fair elections are the only
means to maintain and enhance the credit and prestige of the country's
prevailing system -- not the victory of this or that faction or group.
The electorate with the most votes wins the election. This process is
known as majority rule, but it is not a clear-cut process. Some would say
majority is 50 + one, but votes can be so staggered that the winner may not have
had 50% of the votes, but only the highest percentage. The framers took care to
foresee that some groups may take advantage of the plurality rule and have their
way. When there is an issue, it is debated, compromised and then a decision is
made after the majority and minority have spoken.
In order for people to become educated to cast their votes they must
have access to information about and from the candidates. A good deal of this
information is obtained from the media. The media must exist without government
regulations to be unbiased. To achieve that, freedom of expression must exist.
It is one of the most fundamental of our freedoms summarized by the First
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Freedom of expression includes everything listed in the First Amendment
-- freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of
petition and freedom of assembly. Unfortunately the founding fathers couldn't
see into the future, and so omitted an equally important aspect of freedom of
expression: freedom of communication in any form, including broadcast and
On February 8, President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Reform
Bill which took away our basic rights to free speech and freedom of expression
on the Internet. Our E-mail letters are now wide open for the U.S. Government
to read and they will imprison us if the content is deemed "indecent.". While
child pornography and national security interests should be subject to
censorship, our correspondence should not. The Internet has always enjoyed the
freedom of democracy. This may be another issue that we will have to fight for
to be regarded as an unalienable right.
If we gathered and fought for this right, we would be exercising our
right to assemble and protest. A recent occurrence was in April, in Los Angeles
where there were two reactions to the beating of several undocumented immigrants
by Riverside County sheriffs. On the city's west side 200 middle-aged and older
white people gathered in front of the Westwood Federal Building to cheer in
support of the police and opposition to immigration. Simultaneously, downtown,
more than 6,000 marchers -- mostly Latinos, with Black and Asian contingents,
chanted through the streets of City Hall.
So, even within our rights we exhibit opposing views. The right to
assemble & protest can conflict with individualism. We live in a constitutional
democracy and we believe in individualism. Every person has the right to
assemble and protest, but what if they are interfering or disrupting the lives
of other individuals? Whose right comes first? The protester or the burdened?
The U.S. Constitution leaves that decision to the states.
Beyond our values and process, political structures exist. Among these
structures is federalism. The framers of the U. S. Constitution were strongly
influenced by the advantages of separation of powers and of checks and balances.
These theories had been in practice in the governments of the American colonies,
and they underlie the fundamental laws of the United States. The Constitution
distinctly separates the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of
The doctrine of the separation of powers means that in a free society,
the liberty of citizens is secured by separating Parliament's power to make laws,
from the Executive's power to administer laws, and from the Judiciary's power to
hear and determine disputes according to the law. It is crucial that Judges
know they can apply the law without political intimidation.
The creation of three separate branches within the federal structure,
each in numerous ways dependent upon the others for its healthy functioning,
afforded another way to ensure that federal power would not be used
indiscriminately. The extensive powers of the president likewise were
proscribed in a number of places by designated responsibilities. The judicial
power was to be wielded by judges. Explicit jurisdiction of the courts was
subject to congressional definition.
Checks and balances are the constitutional controls whereby separate
branches of government have limiting powers over each other so that no branch
will become supreme. Perhaps the best known system of checks and balances
operates in the U.S. government under provisions of the federal constitution.
The operation of checks and balances in the federal government is spelled out in
the Constitution.
The Constitution of the United States has afforded us many rights. At
times, those rights are in contention. At others, we would be in anarchy
without them. Constitutional democracy is a beautiful thing. Although we may
not all have the same amount of wealth, we have the liberty to. We have the
right to be heard. And how is this right anymore exemplified than voting? Our
representatives will do what we want, and if they don't give us a couple of
years and we'll find someone else who will promise to. AMEN.


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