"American democracy," writes Posner, "enables the adult population, at very little cost in time, money or distraction from private pursuits commercial or otherwise, to punish at least the flagrant mistakes and misfeasances of officialdom, to assure an orderly succession of at least minimally competent officials, to generate feedback to the officials concerning the consequences of their policies, to prevent officials from (or punish them for) entirely ignoring the interests of the governed, and to prevent serious misalignments between government action and public opinion."
All of which is a little too astringent to me. I prefer the uplift of Jefferson and Lincoln, the Roosevelts and Ronald Reagan (who appointed Posner to the bench). I note that voter turnout rose 16 percent from 2000 to 2004 and Bush's popular vote rose 23 percent: Our polarized politics has increased participation, though not in the way most of the academy and mainstream media would prefer.
But Schumpeter's view has something to say for it. The Republicans may be facing lobbying scandals -- but lobbying is protected by the First Amendment (the Constitution gives us the right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances"), and a government that channels vast sums of money will always be so petitioned. The Democrats may be grievously bifurcated between those who want to see America win and those with what Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington calls a "transnational" allegiance, but the Democratic Party through its long existence has often been split.
A city on a hill is, after all, a city -- and cities are messy places. As are suburbs and farmlands. Americans are busy striving and risking their lives and making the world better, as they have for 60-plus years. There have been few if any pretty seasons in our politics over those years: Go back, and try to find them. Yet the result, pace Posner, is better than what Rome achieved. We'll get through this season, too.