A Message to the Michigan Department of Education: We are All Democrats


What a mess.

It looks like some conservatives in Michigan still don’t understand that the United States is both a democracy and a republic.  Here is a taste of Dana Goldstien’s piece at The New York Times:

The changes were made after a group of prominent conservatives helped revise the standards. They drew attention to a long-simmering debate over whether “republic” is a better term than “democracy” to describe the American form of government.

That the two sides in that tussle tend to fall along party lines, each preferring the term that resembles their party name, plays no small part in the debate. But members of the conservative group also brought to the table the argument that K-12 social studies should be based on a close, originalist reading of the United States’ founding documents.

Read the entire piece here.

What is a republic? I tell my students that a republic is a representative government.  But in order for a republic to survive, the founders believed that men and women had to sacrifice their own self-interest for the greater good of the republic.  The founders called this virtue.  I find it odd that today’s conservatives, politicians who insist the United States was founded as a “republic,” are the same people who celebrate self-interest and individualism, especially as it relates to what John Paul II called “savage capitalism.”

Frankly, Barack Obama was one of the most “republican” presidents we have had in a long time.  He called for sacrifice, especially in terms of health care and his promotion of the common good.  I also think Jimmy Carter made a similar republican plea in his “Crisis of Confidence” speech in 1979. (I talk about this in Episode 49 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast).  Interestingly enough, it was Ronald Reagan, the favorite of today’s conservatives, who celebrated the kind of individualism that the founders believed always threatened republics.  (See Daniel T. Rodgers’s award winning book The Age of Fracture).

This does not mean that Democrats are not also driven by self-interest.  The left’s embrace of identity politics is one illustration of this.  In the end, neither political party really embraces the founders’ republican vision.  That vision was co-opted with the rise of democratic individualism in the early 19th century and we never looked back.

It seems as if conservatives in Michigan want to teach children that we are a “republic” without really considering the kind of communal commitment and sacrifice that such a form of government demands.  My guess is that they are not willing to exercise the moral capital necessary to be true “originalists” on this front.

We are all democrats.

Also, it is probably not a good idea that Michigan conservatives are getting their understanding of American history from Dinesh D’Souza.