Fletcher: A perfectly imperfect process

“Democracy is direct self-government over all the people, for all the people, by all the people.”

This wording, paraphrased by President Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address, is not in the Constitution as former President Bill Clinton recently indicated. Theodore Parker, an abolitionist preacher, first coined that phrase on July 4, 1858, in Boston.

Regardless of who originated the phrase, everyone pretty much accepts the fact that this was what the Founding Fathers intended for our future. To me it means that we, as citizens, elect other citizens to make rules under which we will abide for the common good. But therein lies the problem – what constitutes the common good?

If we look back to the original services provided by government in 1776 we find things like the Post Office for communication, military for defense and national currency for trade. There were three of the first common services.

Today, our various layers of government provide multitudinous services. Some of these offerings are those that were previously offered, in part, by religious organizations. Back in the early part of the last century the churches started to lobby government to take over some of the poor houses, orphanages, hospitals, and retiree homes. Government has just about accomplished that transformation as the social services that were once ubiquitous religious organizations are now but a small percentage of such facilities.

For certain, local churches are feeding many people and we do have parochial retirement homes in our community, but the government is doing much more than it was in the 18th and early 19th centuries to also meet the needs in these areas.

Maybe the transformation is due to the efforts of the great German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who basically started Social Security as a retirement supplement. Incidentally, the original age for benefits was 70 years old.

The United States has been refining systems for years. Originally, the Social Security system never would be subject to income tax and the funds would be accounted for in a trust fund. Of course, the trust fund still exists, it just doesn’t have any money in it. I started taking the partial payout of my money invested in the system when I passed the full retirement threshold because if I waited until age 70, then I would have to live until age 84 to reach the break even point. I paid in enough over the years that I can never recoup the total investment. I’m still working so I’m still paying in.

The point of all of this is that it is the “common good” that is trying to be met. As the melting pot of the world, we have hundreds or even thousands of viewpoints from which our elected officials must consider.

How do they achieve that without some disagreement along the way, even if it seems as if sometimes all we as citizens want is for our politicians to be holding hands in a ’60s love fest singing “Kumbaya.”

In the early days of our republic some political disagreements were settled by duels. We are rancorous in our political disagreements and isn’t it great that at least that tradition is still upheld.

Just read the letters to the editor. Hardly anyone knows how to disagree … agreeably.

This democratic process is messy and noisy. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.