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David Broder – “A Republic Subverted” Essay

The thesis of A Republic Subverted was that the initiative process circumvents constitutional requirements and disrupts the careful poise of checks and balances. The initiative process was originally meant to stop rich people and interest groups from gaining power. Now it is one of their main tools. It has turned the Unites States Government into one without laws and threatens to subvert the American system of government. Broder says that even though the complex procedures invented by the founding father in order to ensure separation of powers have proven themselves over and over again, the American people have become more and more impatient. Some people argue that the constitution is outdated. Also, peoples anger at the government is spurred by journalists reports of scandals in the private lives and many government officials. Also, political campaigns have become competitions where even the winner comes out with a tarnished reputation.

Since the Cold War, power has been shifted to the states. Less and less decisions about our lives and character are made in Washington. State governments have grown exponentially. Medicare and social security aside, state governments spend more than the federal government. Only 13% of public employees are in the service of the federal government. States have also become innovators of new legislation, including programs such as welfare to work. Now, people are using the initiative process to easily amend state constitutions in order to achieve a variety of goals. They have raised minimum wage, ended affirmative action, banned billboards, and decriminalized many drugs.

State initiatives have allowed people to gain access to medical marijuana, casinos, restricted campaign funds, banned hunting and certain types of abortion, and allowed adopted children to take on the name of their biological parents. Out of 226 initiatives on ballots, 163 were approved. Many issues about new ballparks for major league teams were also put on ballots. Initiatives have become the new way to amend state constitutions without difficulty. In 1999 there was an initiative in California that tried to make all fur shops put warning labels on their items that said many animals were brutally killed in order to make this product. This initiative failed because the fur industry was able to spend more money than the backers of the initiative.

These were not republican or federalist decisions. None of these initiatives went through the process of being signed into law by a Congress that ensuresĀ a true republican form of government. These were decisions made by mob rule. The reason the United States was made into a republic and not a democracy was because of the many dangers of a direct democracy. According to Fisher Ames said that a direct democracy would be very burdensome, subject to factions and violence; decisions would often be made by surprise, in the precipitancy of passion. . . . It would be a government not by laws but by men.

We view our lawmakers as selfish and corrupt individuals. Instead of trying to rule the country by mob rule through initiatives, we should clean house in Congress. Broder says we should vote out the politicians that arent properly representing us. We should not try to write the laws ourselves. The constitution is clear about direct democracy and it is obvious that the founding father did not want regular citizens writing the laws. We should follow a republican form of government and use our representatives to get what we need done, done.

I agree with Broder on most of his points. I think that these initiatives are a form of mob rule and should be prohibited. On the other hand, our political system is incredibly corrupt. It would be nearly impossible to elect a majority of model representatives. There just arent enough people with the ability to run that are, in fact, first-class delegates. It is good that the people have the option to pass initiatives, but the privilege is being abused. It is happening too often and is allowed the American public to be detached from Congress and not be as concerned as they should be about the caliber of its members.

If people can pass legislation through initiatives, there interest in other politic will dwindle. Then, when there is a matter of national importance, the Congress will be ill equipped to deal with it. We must try to uphold our republican form of government and try to salvage what we can from our political leaders. The government has not because so bad that we have to tear down the system and start again. If the imitate process is allowed to continue as it is, the destruction of the American system of government will be imminent.


Woll, Peter. American Government: Readings and Cases. 16th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006.

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