People like to play with semantics a lot. I believe many people think they are English barristers who debate the meaning of life through words, and then think they have changed the world.
I ran into one of those people one day in a small coffee shop in Salt Lake. He and I struck up a conversation that began with the weather (where else to start with a stranger) and ended up with me walking out thinking how lucky I am. Although in the middle of the conversation I thought that someone had killed me and I had gone to hell but just didn't know it.
The crux of the discussion came down to the words republic and democracy. Somehow we got into this debate about what those terms meant to us as Americans. I think it was a discussion about how the government should be set up and what kind of representation we should have that led to it. I some how mentioned the word republic and that set him off on a course of discussion, the path of which I didn't want to go down, but was dragged along anyway. After that I was trying find every way possible to get out of Dodge City.
I have often complained that Americans are not precise enough with the words they use, not that I am any good at it either. However, this guy had the whole thing down to crafted art. He told me that we didn't live in a republic, but in a democracy. I told him I thought the words were interchangeable, and that is when his flight to the moon really began.
He lectured me on all the different meanings of republic and democracy. He began talking about democratic republics and how the issue of political decisions made by some of the people for all of the people just wasn't right. He also went on about that he thought a true democracy is not only political, but also rests on economic factors and that if the country divided its wealth more equally, we would truly live a free society.
It was then that I realized I was seated at the counter with a coffee shop socialist. Now in my life I have politically slanted that way at times myself, more often in my younger years when I had absolutely nothing material assigned to my name. Of course, as I have grown older I realized how silly that notion is, since I am now one of the haves instead of the have nots. It's interesting how years of hard work doing things you often don't like to do to build a life and raising kids on limited amounts of money while they sit around the house (where your wealth is shared with everyone else) playing video games makes you less likely to join groups like the Socialists for Dividing All My Money Up.
I told him that in a true democracy citizens would vote on everything from going to war to who would be the next part time hire in the Department of the Interior. I pointed out that if all the power to make all decisions for the country were in the peoples hands all the time, we wouldn't get anything else done, like importing coffee and running a small business so he could sit in this shop and complain. He of course took exception to that.
I also pointed out that the United States was formed as a Republic, which meant that it was not headed by a monarch, something our founding fathers loathed, or at least did after they realized how much money they owed the king of England, and that we were represented in that government by those elected from a widely based group of citizenry.
At that point I was bailed out of the merry-go-round kind of conversation I had gotten myself into by another guy sitting at the end of the counter.
"I'm glad you brought that up with this commie pinko," he said sneering at what had been up to that point my conversational sparing partner. "That's always been my argument for being a Republican. We live in a republic so we should vote Republican and get rid of all the leftist liberals that run this country."
I stared at him and my mouth open so wide that Joe McCarthy could have hid in there. Now I was talking to Mr. Complex and Mr. Simple at the same time. At that point the man at the end of the counters colorful cold war terms for my discussion partner started a conversation that can't and shouldn't be repeated in this column.
As I listened I really did want to interject that when Thomas Jefferson founded the Democratic party it was called the Democratic Republican party but the two of them were so happily beating each over the head with 1950's rhetoric that I was able to pay my bill and sneak out the door before I could be pinned against the wall and asked to take sides. For all I know they are still sitting there after 10,000 cups of coffee, arguing.
For me I left that day thinking I was lucky to live in a country where such a discussion could go on without being arrested or shot. I also went down the week after and made sure I was registered to vote in the next election, because someone has to offset guys that have brains that work like that.
And I hope that when all of you go to the polls next week, you too will reflect on the idiots you have known, and vote appropriately.