Over the past few months, I have spun an unconventional series of discussions about the future of American democracy.
At times, I ventured into histrionic rhetoric -- such as my outrageous question, "Is America dying?"
My purpose, through it all, was to provide a provocative and constructive analysis of our transformational president and our volatile nation.
For the record, I believe that President Barack Obama has the ambition, vision, and perhaps the opportunity to positively transform America; on the other hand, he could lead to radical revision of our Great Experiment!
Accordingly, my hopes are (1) that Barack Obama will lead a rational, national dialogue on democracy, (2) that the American people will embrace constructive civic change, and (3) that we will avoid wayward tendencies inherent in the Great Experiment.
In the previous discussion, I said we are mindlessly drifting toward an uninspired, uninspiring "American Federation." Now I will try to summarize my analysis and make some general suggestions about our transformational road to "New America."
Our Transformational Leader and Uncertain Future.
To summarize my analysis, it is clear that our Great Experiment has been functioning -- or malfunctioning -- unacceptably for some time, due in part to the exaggerated, fragmented demands of democratic distemper in a changing America.
A constrained systemic environment, philosophical civil war, and challenging demographic-economic-technological trends have afflicted us. Simultaneously, the forces of centrifugal democracy -- subculturalism and neopopulism -- are mounting and straining the traditional institutions of federal governance. Vibrant civic energy, significant political power, and related activities are devolving away from central government to other elements of the federal system.
Consequently, American democracy no longer works the way it has in the past and Americans are tiring of the historic experiment.
I applaud Barack Obama for championing the vision of a more perfect union. Perhaps more so than any leader in our past, he claims the mission of fundamentally transforming America for a new century; and he seems to have engendered a spirit of constructive change among the American people.
Furthermore, now -- during this legacy second term -- is prime time for repair of the Great Experiment.
I suspect that eventually Mr. Obama's plans will conflict with the realities of our political system; and at some point, the president will have to decide whether and how to pursue his legacy as a transformational leader or partisan politician. However he decides, President Obama will face a daunting assignment if he continues to pursue the fundamental transformation of America.
My Concern and Suggestions.
I am concerned that we may continue to drift, mindlessly and transitionally, toward a feudal version of America. Or we might lurch dramatically from mindless drift to purposeful, radical transformation of the Great Experiment.
Naturally, I suggest that we pursue "New America" as I have described in this series, a course strengthened through national dialogue about what we want America to mean and how we want American democracy to work.
For President Obama, I have a special message. I challenge him to take responsibility -- boldly and fully -- for transforming the Great Experiment, in keeping with the philosophical vision of his first inaugural address. It is his self-declared job to lead a national dialogue and help bring the American people more civically into our national democratic experiment.
I also have a challenge for the Ameican people: Recommit to a new civic course accommodating change in our socity and systemic environment. Essentially, we all should participate, as responsible citizens, in that national dialogue; we also need to embrace change but resist radical alteration of the historic democratic experiment.
My suggested course for both the president and the people also means foregoing partisan advantage, as much as is humanly possible, in favor of practical democratic progress. Too often, for example, conservatives tend to cling stubbornly to cherished but outdated remnants of the past; and, alternatively, liberals tend to ignore valuable lessons of history. Such tendencies are acceptable when neither side prevails completely in our limited, representative system of governance. However, if one or the other assumes sufficient dominance and pursues wayward tendencies, within an extremely distempered environment, the outcome could threaten the substantive ideals and representative procedures of our historic experiment.
Pursuing Democratic Ideals and Avoiding Destructive Tendencies.
I cannot end this series without returning to the urgent question from my unconventional analysis, a decade ago, about The Future of American Democracy:
Can our nation -- a people of growing cultural diversity, with increasingly divergent values, and dissentient governance inclinations, in a constrained systemic environment -- continue to sustain our collective pursuit of freedom, equality, and justice through the traditional framework of limited, representative government?
Or, to put this idea into more urgent terms: "How far can America pursue the Great Experiment without succumbing to the inherent, destructive tendencies of democracy?"
In ironic essence, President Obama could be the person who restores American democracy; or he could trigger radical revision of our Great Experiment.
An Even Greater Democratic Experiment?
It would serve all of us, and especially President Obama, to re-read Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America (1835) from cover-to-cover; and we should pay particular attention to his final words:
The nations of our time cannot prevent the conditions of men from becoming equal; but it depends upon themselves whether the principle of equality is to lead them to servitude or freedom, to knowledge or barbarism, to prosperity or wretchedness.
America is undergoing a democratic metamorphosis that, for better or worse, is changing our nation and world history. In our hands, in our hearts, in our minds, lie prosperity, and knowledge, and freedom--or wretchedness, and barbarism, and servitude. The future of American democracy demands our attention.
Perhaps -- inspired anew with George Washington's inaugural comments about the "sacred fire of liberty," Abraham Lincoln's call for a "new birth of freedom," and Martin Luther King's "dream" of equality -- we will devise an even more spectacular Great Experiment in future America.
P.S.: Numerous readers have accompanied me throughout this series. I appreciate your comments, questions, and criticisms. I have especially enjoyed discussions about the nature and systemics of the Great Experiment of American democracy, because that dialogue is the main reason why I have written this series. Some have speculated about my background, philosophy, and motives. For those among you who are interested, I will post such information in the "Comments" section accompanying this final discussion.
Author's Note: This post is part of a series of discussions about "Election 2012, Barack Obama, and the future of American democracy." This series includes edited, updated material from my book, The Future of American Democracy: A Former Congressman's Unconventional Analysis (2002). I'm grateful to University Press of America for allowing me to borrow from that publication for my discussions on The Huffington Post.