Paul Jacob

Does anybody want to adopt as a "central tenet" of living one's life responsibly and with accountability that one may never correct one's screw-ups in the immediate present? In fact, of course, the opposite is true: the refusal to admit and fix one's screw-ups in a timely way is proof of deficit, not surplus, of accountability and self-responsibility. True, the recall power should not be deployed at the drop of a hat. But that's not how it has been deployed in California. The recall provision has been on the books for a century and until now no governor has been recalled. Yet more than a million people signed the recall petition for the present governor. And their causes are not light causes.

Davis-enabler Goldberg isn't joking, and he's not sorry. But that's not to say that he himself would decline to vote in favor of firing Davis if Goldberg himself happened to be stuck living in California. After all, why should Goldberg be willy-nilly punished for the blunders and crimes of other voters?

"Even though I'm against the recall, if I lived in California I would vote for the recall and try to run Gray Davis out on a rail. Why the double-standard? Because if I lived in California, I would have to vote for my immediate interests. And, besides, I never would have voted for Davis in the first place."

Here, suddenly, the Goldbergian "argument" against democratic corrective alludes again to discrete individuals. There's those Other Guys, who deserve to be punished for re-installing Davis (whether they voted for him or not); and then there's Goldberg, who does not deserve to be punished, not even if he were living in California. Or perhaps Goldberg's view is that he would indeed deserve to be punished for living in California if he were living there, but that, being human, he would act self-interestedly anyway. Hard to know, because Goldberg neither observes nor defends the implications of his own ethical-political contentions. He merely asserts that the people of California deserve to get Gray Davis good and hard.

There are theories of democracy, and there are institutions of democracy. It is true enough that some theorists regard democracy as a mere offshoot and instrument of collectivism, as if society were a kind of organism that could periodically express a unitary "will" via opinion polls and the ballot box. But this is baloney, so we have to go with another theory.

Democracy is a means of exercising control over government, and it is premised on the basic rationality (at least potential rationality) of the human beings entrusted with the power to vote. But the process is not perfect. Voters generally are obliged to choose among imperfect alternatives in imperfect circumstances. The voters are not perfect either, of course.

Democracy is a means, not an end. That end is not to "teach the voters a lesson" but to preserve and protect individual freedom and individual rights. When that end is jeopardized, it may be appropriate for citizens to ask their fellow citizens to try again.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.