Bill Murchison
It wasn't Tocqueville or Hamilton who said it. Actually, it was Ben Parker in "Spiderman." "With great power comes great responsibility;" it's common sense advice for adaptation in the ongoing war over Obamacare and why Chief Justice John Roberts conspired in upholding that political and economic blunder.

Whatever one's view of Roberts' reasoning, one sentence in the majority opinion rightly affirms and sustains Ben Parker: to wit, "It is not our" -- that is, the Supreme Court's -- "job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices."

That's putting the matter a little curtly. What a lesson, all the same, in the uses and abuses of the greatest worldly power there is -- the power of people living in a democracy to spread the sails of the ship of state or, sometimes, drive the ship on a rock. One may wish the court had knocked down this potentially ruinous law, then stomped on it, lighting Cuban cigars with its pages and scattering the fragments around the chamber. The law is awful. Are we straight on that? Who passed and signed it, nonetheless? The duly elected legislature of the sovereign people and their duly elected chief magistrate.

My brothers, my sisters -- we did this to ourselves, with eyes wide open or else willfully shut. We thought turning over a sixth of the American economy to the tender mercies of big brother was a pretty cool idea. We chose to slough off the great responsibility said to accompany great power. We ignored Ben Parker and common sense alike.

Then, having done so, we wanted nine judges -- five would have done the job -- to get us off the hook? The aspiration, though fitting in certain practical respects, was a little ambitious. We need to get ourselves off the hook, not least for the sake of better understanding the pain that comes of doing stupid things by democratic consent.

Everyone knows Winston Churchill's bon mot about the inferiority of democracy, save when it's compared with the alternatives. We know as guidance for public policy that the ballot box beats a decree from the Central Committee or an improvised explosive device planted in a busy marketplace.

For all that, democratic theory puts the pressure on demos -- the people themselves -- to perform wisely and with justice. It often gets dicey here. Demos can fall asleep at the switch or find itself routed in catastrophic directions by cynical or ambitions agitators (called -- again borrowing the Greek root word -- "demagogues").


Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
 
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