Thoughts about Democracy in America
There’s a place in de Tocqueville where he talks about America’s civic strength coming from the way we organize: those voluntary organizations which come together to solve a problem as a community. He pointed out that what we got from that was not merely that particular problem solved, but a sense of community and a willingness to solve problems without the heavy hand of government.
I am tremendously inspired by stories like “Daughter of slave votes for Obama.” There’s real progress for our country, within the course of a lifetime.
I’ve watched as a number of my friends have gone all out for Obama, some traveling on their own dime to knock on doors in states less blue than their own. I’m glad to see that level of enthusiasm: a politics of petty attacks is very likely to lose tomorrow, where a McCain who had been “the McCain of 2000” might well have won.
I worry about Obama’s views on national service, including his goal of 50 hours of community service from every middle and high school student, and his goal of federalizing non-profits. I think that the value of non-profits comes from their volunteer nature, and from their diverse goals. Federal dollars will be alluring for their sheer scale. They will also be distracting for many non-profits, forced, like many churches to strangely bifurcate their activity to allow for federal dollars to flow in. As de Tocqueville understood, much of the value of volunteerism — including volunteering for a political candidate — is that it brings us together as a civic society.
As I watch the outpouring of enthusiasm and of hope, I am hopeful that Obama is smart enough to understand that the real strength of our nation is not in Washington, and it’s not in directives from Washington. It’s from hundreds of millions of people pursuing their hopes and dreams. America is a diverse set of people with different hopes and different dreams, and the value of our democracy is that is has embraced and promoted the freedom of each of us to pursue our own dreams, chaotic though that may be.