Jonah Goldberg

American democracy is in sorry shape these days.

Usually, when I hear pronouncements of this sort, my eyes roll and I start counting ceiling tiles. Indeed, as a democracy curmudgeon, I applaud most of the things democracy fetishists complain about. I wish it were harder to vote and that fewer people did it.

The founding fathers understood that voting in itself is value-neutral. A mob can vote to lynch an innocent man, but that doesn't make it moral. Conversely, few things would be more morally admirable than a man of good conscience thwarting the "democratic will" of the mob to save the same innocent man's life.

Democracy must be tempered by not only the rule of law, but by custom, good will, good faith and good character. Whenever I speak to college students I try to explain to them that the "liberal arts" aren't a description of Michael Moore's cinematic skills. The liberal arts describe the bundle of skills and learning necessary for citizens to both deserve and protect their freedom.

Anyway, what's got me grumpier than usual about democracy in America is the candidacy of Alan Keyes. After a comedy of political errors and just plain bad luck, the Illinois GOP found itself without a candidate to challenge the popular African-American Democrat Barack Obama for the open U.S. Senate seat. So Keyes, a former U.N. Ambassador, two-time presidential candidate and a radio show host, accepted an invitation to run. One problem: Keyes is from Maryland - indeed he ran for the Senate once already in that state.

Now, I like Keyes. He's one of the best rhetoricians in America. Off the cuff he can articulate very conservative positions on everything from abortion to the United Nations better than most politicians can in prepared speeches. Indeed, this may turn out to be a great race. Two hyper-educated, successful and civil African-American men with very different philosophies vying for a Senate seat in the land of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. No matter who wins, Illinois will have the only black Senator in Washington. Even better, race won't be much of an issue between the two because, as Keyes puts it, "if you are racist you have no one to vote for."

That's great stuff.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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