COLUMN

The trouble with democracy

Allan Fotheringham June 3 1985
COLUMN

The trouble with democracy

Allan Fotheringham June 3 1985

The trouble with democracy

COLUMN

Allan Fotheringham

These are rapidly moving times, the speed of events dazzling and confusing the mind. Each little event whirls and tumbles over the next, causing the memory to go on fast-forward. Perhaps that is why the silly season, which normally does not arrive until the dog-days of summer, has arrived so early this year. The goofies can’t even wait for their proper seasonal cue: they want to get into the act early.

Leading the pack is the strange politician called Ronald Wilson Reagan, master of all he surveys, owner of the greatest landslide in U.S. electoral history. As such, he grows angry and frustrated when he can’t get his way. He is irritated because Congress won’t go along with his plan to ship more military aid to the contra guerrillas in Nicaragua; so irritated that in a meeting with Republican leaders he banged the table with his fist and proclaimed, “We’ve got to get to where we can run a foreign policy without a committee of 535 telling us what to do.”

The 535, of course, just happen to be the 435 members of the House of Representatives and the 100 members of the Senate. In other words, the voters, in their fumblings toward wisdom, elected last fall to keep a check on the President. This thing called democracy is a very cumbersome, inefficient thing. The United States, the most democratic country in the world, purposefully set up counterbalances to the President because the people didn’t like the way an English king was treating his colonials. There is no way the Americans would put up with a system that makes Brian Mulroney, in effect, an elected dictator for the next ÍV2 years. Reagan, now into his fifth year in office and often ridiculed for his rudimentary grasp of what politics is all about, has suddenly come across the amazing discovery of what democracy and his country are all about. That bothersome “committee of 535” is doing exactly what it was elected by the citizenry to do: refusing to let him have his way when he tries to do something dumb,

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

which is the perfect description of his infantile approach to Nicaragua.

It’s a bothersome thing, this beast called democracy. Ask Frank Miller, another man who can’t count. For all his success as a car salesman, he doesn’t seem too swift with mathematics. He can’t seem to comprehend that the voters of Ontario gave more votes to the Liberals than they did to his Regressive Convertibles. He can’t even figure out that the voters piled up 73 seats opposing him, between the Liberals and the NDP, while leaving him only 52. With the verdict clearly against him, he still tries

to cling to power when the public wants change and wants him out on his duff. It’s tough to face reality, as both Reagan and Miller are demonstrating.

There is the problem of poor General Dynamics, the Pentagon’s largest defence contractor. Some of the chaps in that busybody committee of 535 have rooted out the fact that the Pentagon was being charged $434 each for hammers it had ordered. It was discovered it was paying $600 for toilet seats. Plus $2,500 for a coffee maker. General Dynamics chairman David Lewis suddenly announced he was retiring, explaining that he had been planning to do that this year anyhow. Sure.

Moving right along, we have the most inane spectacle of the year with an alleged rapist and his alleged victim becoming a travelling minstrel show. The bizarre farce involving Gary Dotson, who either did or did not rape the dippy born-again Cathleen Crowell Webb some eight years ago, has become a media event, with competing networks

smuggling them into New York, hiding them in taxis that are then pursued around Manhattan by cars from the other networks, a telegenic Keystone Kops caper. To top it off, former Miss America Phyllis George, who flounders every morning as the gilded hope of CBS Morning News, blithely asked the publicity-hungry duo—during her interview—to shake hands and hug. Millions of North Americans looked into their corn flakes and wondered what they were going to do with the rest of their day. Gloria Steinern went back to bed and cried.

As it happens, the elongated heroes of the winter sport of basketball are racing the wool-underwear heroes of the winter sport of hockey as to which can extend their playoff seasons well into the merry month of June and compete with baseball, where the millionaires of the diamond are about to vote to go on strike, thereby moving any ordinary sensible person to give up on the sport pages entirely.

There is, when you think about it, a thread leading from Reagan’s puzzlement o about democracy to the £ $434 hammers and Frank t Miller who can’t count and “ Phyllis George who can’t quit smiling. The thread leads to Philadelphia, where all the best brains in the City of Brotherly Love decided to bring Beirut to America. The surprise of the mayor, the police chief and the fire chief that dropping a bomb on a rowhouse often causes fires ranked right up there with the prize moments of our premature silly season. You might expect the chairman of General Dynamics or some colonel at the Pentagon, or even Phyllis George, to have made such a decision. Instead, it was made by authorities who, we’re now told, have been practising with the bomb for a year. If you have a bomb, you want to use it. Right? Right.

In all the premature goofiness, the only sanity comes from Samuel Frustaci, the helpless chap in Orange, Calif., who found himself the father of six babies and, on being asked if he would have any financial problems, replied, “You never have any financial problems when you don’t have any money.” There sits a wise man.