Eyman followers to Permanent Defense: A republic is not a democracy

Rethinking and Reframing

A week ago, we published a report (Voters Want More Choices begins 2011 with no wealthy benefactor in sight), which affirmed a point that we’ve been trying to make to the press and to the people of Washington for years – namely, that without big money, Tim Eyman’s initiative factory simply could not exist.

Naturally, Tim Eyman read this report, since he’s a regular Permanent Defense visitor. Not long after seeing it, he decided to make it the centerpiece of a fundraising email, which he sent out last Friday. His email included the entirety of our report, and was followed by (what else?) a shameless appeal for funds, along with instructions to his followers to send emails to Permanent Defense’s founder and Olympia city council candidate Brian Tomlinson, who recently expressed his frustration with Eyman’s mischief-making at a public forum.

A tiny fraction of Eyman’s followers subsequently wrote in. Many butchered his last name – among the spellings we saw were “Eyeman”, “Eiman”, and “Iman” . One supporter even butchered his hero’s first name, despite getting the last name correct (Time Eyman). But what was more interesting than the misspellings was the contention that several of these people made: that a republic is not a democracy.

Here’s an example:

Our form of government is a republic – not a democracy. The difference is that in a republic the individual retains personal rights and freedoms where in a democracy the rights and freedoms of the individual are controlled by the majority rule.

And here’s another:

By the way, last time I checked, we are a republic (a government in which supreme power is held by the citizens entitled to vote), not a democracy.

And still another:

Your contempt for the initiative process and lack of knowledge about what type of government the constitution directs us to abide by,
(Representative Republic) not democracy, has confirmed the need to continue to support Mr. Eiman in his future initiative drives.

These people sure do seem confused, don’t they? (Note, names are withheld because, unlike Tim Eyman, we believe in respecting people’s privacy as much as possible).

Let’s consult American Heritage’s Cultural Dictionary:

re·pub·lic noun. A form of government in which power is explicitly vested in the people, who in turn exercise their power through elected representatives. Today, the terms republic and democracy are virtually interchangeable, but historically the two differed. Democracy implied direct rule by the people, all of whom were equal, whereas republic implied a system of government in which the will of the people was mediated by representatives, who might be wiser and better educated than the average person. In the early American republic, for example, the requirement that voters own property and the establishment of institutions such as the Electoral College were intended to cushion the government from the direct expression of the popular will.

Our plan of government, as Permanent Defense’s supporters know, is a constitutional republic. Most state constitutions, particularly those that had no other roots (for instance, colonial charters), were modeled after the Constitution of the United States of America, which does not provide for an initiative or referendum process. Initially, Washington’s Constitution didn’t either, but it was amended in the 1900s by progressives to give citizens the power to make laws directly.

Washington still has a representative government elected by its people, but since it also has the initiative and referendum (as well as the recall), it is unquestionably a democracy in a broader sense as well.

The modern definition of democracy is any system of government in which rule is by the people. A republic is thus a democracy – although not every democracy is a republic (the United Kingdom, for example, is a constitutional monarchy).

This really isn’t that hard to understand. Anybody who paid attention in their high school civics class should know that a republic is a democracy. Unfortunately, it appears that many of Tim Eyman’s s followers either didn’t pay close attention in their high school civics course, or didn’t take one at all.

No wonder, then, that they don’t have a problem with getting rid of our cherished tradition of majority rule. They don’t understand what democracy is truly all about (individual liberty, majority rule with minority rights, free elections, competing political parties) because they don’t think Washington is a democracy.

Ironically, by displaying their ignorance, Tim Eyman’s followers are providing compelling evidence in favor of the argument that we need stronger, better-funded public schools with a more robust civics curriculum.

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