In the article How Democratic Is America?, Howard Zinn, an idealist and liberal, spars against Sidney Hook, a pragmatic conservative about the current system of democracy set up in the United States. From the first concept of standards for America’s democracy, Zinn and Hook hold conflicting viewpoints. While Zinn believes that we should “measure our democracy against an ideal (if admittedly unachievable) standard”, Hook believes that “the only sensible procedure in determining the absence or presence of equality from a democratic perspective is comparative). Even though I agree with Zinn’s views on the participation in decisions, access to education and the lacking spirit of cooperation in America, Hook is correct in stating that for one to ignore improvements made from the past is unreasonable.
The intricate system of democracy in the United States is all based on this idea of representation. We vote for a representative in congress, who then votes by how he/she believes the people want her to vote. What? Where is the voice of the people? Zinn perfectly states that “no representative can adequately represent another’s needs; the representative tends to become a member of special elite; the elected official develops an expertise which tends toward its own perpetuation.” Hook then counters Zinn’s argument by stating that then no society is democratic, “not even the direct democracies or assemblies of Athens or the New England town meetings.” And indeed, that is the point! There is truly no way to perfectly adhere to the voices of the people; Zinn understands this, but at the same time, he doesn’t want us to settle for one system. Zinn needs the current system of democracy to continue to evolve. One of the most obvious flaws of the current system of representation is the fact that “the two major parties have am monopoly of presidential power, taking turns in the White House.” Even though most Americans do not identify themselves with either party, because the candidates of the minority parties “do not have the access to the financial backing of the major parties, we just have to pick one of the two that best fit our needs. Even worse, “both parties almost always agree on the fundamentals of domestic and foreign policy, despite the election-year rhetoric which attempts to find important differences.” This is obviously true - as I watch Barack Obama and John McCain during debates and rallies, I realize how similar they sound on the issues of energy and Israel. Both candidates wants to use clean coal, offshore drilling, wind turbines, etc, and both want a strong relationship with Israel..
Zinn knows that education is key in determining an individual’s “wealth, political power, social status, leisure, and the ability to work in one’s chosen field”. Unfortunately, as the cost for citizens to attend college exponentially increases, more and more families are finding it impossible to give their children the advantage of a higher education. The injustice is obvious in this situation, “a mediocre student with student can always go to college. [Yet] a mediocre student without money may not be able to go, even to a state college, because he many have to work to support his family.” The equal opportunity to succeed is completely undermined. Hook, however, argues that the “institution of a democratic society should seek to provide an equal opportunity to all its citizens to develop themselves to their full desirable potential.” And that the only way every citizen receives an equal opportunity to succeed and access to education is if they were brought up by the state, because every family is unique with different environments. Hook consistently takes Zinn’s words too literally. Zinn is merely arguing that the government should step in and try its best to reduce the overwhelming disadvantages that families face in the “poor section of the city, whether white or black.” Which is rational in a democratic society that stresses the...
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