Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) did his best to defend the anti-47-percent strategy adopted by much of his party this week, writing a MarketWatch op-ed making his case. Most of it is pretty boilerplate, except for the intro.
More than 170 years ago, the French political thinker and writer, Alexis de Tocqueville saw this coming, and warned of its dangers in his most famous writing, Democracy in America. Here is an excerpt below:
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship."
Our public treasury cannot sustain further "largesse."
Now, it's tempting to note that the public's appetite for services and public institutions is hardly outrageous, and as recently as 2000 -- hardly ancient history -- the deficit was gone and the nation was on track to eliminate the national debt in its entirety. The notion that voters will make increasingly extravagant demands, indefinitely, to the point of ruin and "dictatorship" reflects a misunderstanding of who Americans are and what the electorate expects.
But there's another, more obvious problem: Alexis de Tocqueville never wrote what West says he wrote. The congressman probably saw this on some conservative website, assumed it was true, and included it in a published piece, not realizing that it never happened.
Other than the substance, the policy, and the history, though, Allen West's piece is fine.