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SCOTT DREYER: Democracy Is Messy, But It Beats Dictatorship

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…(emphasis mine) –Winston Churchill, UK House of Commons, November 11, 1947 (source)

Even as a child, I was given a love of history and in particular liked reading books and seeing movies about WWII.  Common images were of the mass, choreographed Nazi rallies at Nuremburg; Hitler ranting at the Reichstag (Parliament) in Berlin; and Soviet dictator Stalin flanked by other members of the Politburo atop Lenin’s tomb observing military parades on Moscow’s Red Square. A common thread from those scenes of tyranny was the uniformity.  Everyone marched, spoke, and moved identically.

During the 11 years I taught at Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke City, I often showed my students a PBS show “The Democrat and the Dictator,” a contrast of Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) and Hitler. Even though both came to power just days apart in early 1933 and died within days of each other in early 1945, the contrast was huge. Some clips showed Nazi soldiers goose-stepping while Hitler watched, while other clips showed a smiling FDR visiting a Boy Scout camp and putting on an Indian chief’s headdress while the boys merrily shouted and waved sticks in the air.  The narrator explained, “the US way” was one of many voices, while “the dictatorship way” was everyone marching to the same drumbeat.

Although the situations are vastly different in terms of degree, the issue of “many voices” vs. “one drumbeat” keeps coming to mind this week as drama unfolds in the US House of Representatives.

As reported here, January 3 was historic in that the US Capitol reopened to the public for the first time since the early Covid lockdowns of March 2020. The event also turned out to be historic in another way: it’s the first time in 100 years there was a messy, protracted fight over choosing the Speaker of the House, who according to the Constitution is the third-highest elected official in the land.

“Elections have consequences,” whether we like them or not, and whether those consequences are smooth or messy. Last November the GOP picked up a total of nine House seats, giving them a narrow 222-212 majority and forcing former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to give up the speaker’s gavel.

The majority party gets the power to choose the speaker. However, it takes 218 votes to do so. Thus, with only 222 GOP members, the Republicans have little room to maneuver. Shortly after the November elections, five GOP House members declared their opposition to then Minority-leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) becoming speaker. Among those five was Rep. Bob Good, who represents Virginia’s 5th District that goes from the North Carolina line, up to Lynchburg and Charlottesville, all the way to the Northern Virginia exurbs.

When the new 118th Congress gaveled in at noon on January 3, they held a series of three votes to choose a new speaker. McCarthy failed to reach 218; he lost three more votes on January 4, and is currently losing the seventh vote as this column is being written. Each time, about 202 Republicans–including Reps. Ben Cline (VA6) and Morgan Griffith (VA9)– vote for McCarthy while about 20 vote for someone else. Until 218 can agree on one candidate, the issue remains deadlocked.

Some thoughts:

  1. Some act like “the sky is falling!” Actually, this has happened before, although it’s been awhile. In 1923, it took the House a series of nine ballots to agree on a speaker.
  2. Some claim: “Congress is in chaos!” Well, were we upset by the chaos of cities and businesses torched in the summer 2020 riots? Or the chaos of police assaulted, insulted, and killed? Or the chaos of an open border allowing deadly drugs, illegal immigrants, and possibly terrorists into our country? Or the chaos of a $31 trillion national debt that drives up prices and makes financial planning harder?
  3. Democracy is messy and slow, but it beats dictatorship. Having one tyrant in power who makes all the decisions and can imprison or execute anyone who dares to disagree is “fast,” but it’s doubtful anyone among us would like to live in such a system. Democracy is sloppy, as “we the people” have to work things out, make deals, and compromise. It’s a little-known fact, but the Founding Fathers “baked in” gridlock into the Constitution. By setting up a cumbersome system of checks and balances and separation of powers, different individuals and branches of the government are, by design, in opposition to each other. The idea is, by intentionally slowing the process down, we’re more likely to winnow out bad ideas and keep a tyrant from coming to power.
  4. When I taught public speaking at Patrick Henry and wanted to impress upon my students the importance of free dialogue, I shared with them this gem from Joseph Joubert: “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” Important issues take time to be resolved. When successful business leaders are asked “What have been some of your biggest mistakes or regrets?” a common answer is: “I hired the wrong person for the wrong job too quickly.”
  5. The Democrats and their allies in the corporate media are gleeful that Republicans are struggling. What else is new? President Biden addressed the issue with: “I just think it’s a little embarrassing that it’s taking so long.” Well, he’s a fine one to talk.
  6. Someone asked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) why Republicans often have so much in-fighting while Democrats usually vote in lockstep. His answer, in essence, was that Democrats are statists. That is, they are inclined to believe in centralized government control over the economy and our lives and as such, are more likely to obey party bosses, conform, and vote as they’re told. In contrast, Republicans by nature believe more in individual rights and free expression. So, almost by definition, they will encompass a wider range of thought and thus disagreement is more common.
  7. The pejorative term “helicopter parent” came into popular use in the late 1980s. In contrast, most folks believe healthy parenting involves letting siblings sort out their differences without mom or dad stepping into settle every little issue. Wise parents know when to tell their squabbling children “Stay in your room until you can work it out.” That may be our best course of action now. Work it out.

–Scott Dreyer

Scott Dreyer at Bryce Canyon
Scott Dreyer M.A. of Roanoke has been a licensed teacher since 1987 and now leads a team of educators teaching English and ESL to a global audience. Photo at Utah’s iconic Bryce Canyon. Learn more at



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