James Madison, was one of the founders of our country. He started out in favor of a strong national government, than switched, preferring a strong state government. I.e. he went from being a liberal to a conservative. He is one of the favorites of the GOP, as opposed to Hamilton, who stayed a Federalist.
He once said, regarding Democracy: "It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury."
But look at today's American politics. Is he right? Has that happened? Nope. Two words there - majority and largess. As per Romney, only 47% of the population gets money. As in a minority. In fact, not a single federal program applies to the majority of the current population (except for things clearly in the national interest, such as the military, roads, etc.). More importantly, that money doesn't come from a single program, it comes from many smaller targeted programs.
The majority is not stupid. We know we can't vote ourselves the largess.
Our current system votes largess to the MINORITIES, not the majorities. Because we know the tax system can do that. It doesn't make sense to give money to the government just to have the government give it back to us. It does make sense for the government to give money back to certain groups.
To convince the majority to grant largess to the minorities, we try to prove they are one of the following two categories: 1) 'good investment' or 2) deserving and needy minorities.
So far, in the US, those categories include the elderly, the poor, and farmers, and oil companies - among other things.
James Madison got it wrong. He warned against the wrong thing, at least for the US. His basic understanding of people underestimated them. We are all smart enough to understand the basic concept that money doesn't grow on trees, that the government's money comes from our taxes.
So the next question, is what if we fix his mistake? Is his concern still valid?
Madison's quote , edited for reality: < It can only exist until all the of minorities, that as a whole make up the majority, discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. >
That is one the GOP claims is going on now. That a bunch of minorities, that make up, to quote Romney, 47% of the population voted themselves largess out of the public treasury. Are we are only hanging on by a slight thread of 4%? Just 4% more minorities voting themselves largess, and as per Madison, out Democracy will cease to exist!
Wait a sec, it sounds fairly strange don't you think? Note the odd phrasing. "all the of minorities, that as a whole make up the majority". Yeah, I know I wrote it that way (straw man), but the concept is accurate and revealing.
What's the difference between a majority and "all the of minorities, that as a whole make up the majority"
Two things. 1) corporations will never be a party of the majority. They aren't American citizens no matter what the courts think, they can't vote, they can't be born. 2) It's a mindset for people. The elderly and the poor think of themselves as elderly and poor - but more importantly other people think of them as elderly and poor. These things count, both to them and to the rest of the electorate. They need the money and we as a culture think they deserve it.
Now for the real question, does the modified Madison quote make any sense? No. It doesn't. Democracies CAN take money and give it to corporations, the elderly and the poor. There is nothing sacred or even unusual about the magic value of 50% - there is just shame. Shame that over 50% of the country is thought of as either a good investment or a deserving and needy minority.
But shame doesn't bring down governments.
Madison was 100% wrong. Government's job is to take money from us all and spend it on important things. Sometimes it needs to buy stuff with that money, other times it just needs to give it away. Because Sometimes the goal is not to get something back for the money, but instead to obtain things that money can't buy. Things like a world where children and grandparents don't die of starvation or exposure. Another thing that money can't buy is a safe world, where radical extremists can't gather and revolt against the cruelties and injustices that our system can generate if we remove the safe guards. These things are important not just to me, not just to Democrats, but to all Americans.