The telephone rings. It's the President. He wants to know how things are coming along. He's expecting your report in two weeks, on the 9th of December to be exact. You reassure him that you have all the work of the members of the committee and that you will be pulling their contributions into a single report by the 9th as promised. "Please," you say, "not to worry."
"I am not worried," says the President in that somewhat impatient way of his, making you wonder if , perhaps, he expected the "thing" to be done already.
"No. no," says the President, as if he has read your mind, "I don't even expect you to have given too much thought to your final report and recommendations at this stage. I was just calling to say 'hello' and to see how you were doing. Holding up, are you?"
Several months ago you were appointed to Chair a Special Commission established by the President to look into the promise and reality of the democratic process, in particular that process as it is currently constructed and functioning here at home.
"If we are going to promote democracy throughout the world," the President had said in a speech he gave in Amarillo, Texas, during a bull-riding contest in August, "we have to be confident that our own democracy is not only in order, but repesents the full potential of its promise and possibilities. Any success we may hope to gain by setting ourselves up as a model, will surely depend on the effectiveness of our own democracy as well as its capacity to live up to its full potential."
Many had applauded the President's remarks which were televised nationally and debated further on the Sunday morning talk shows and on the Cable Channels 24-7. The following week the President established a Presidential Commission with you as Chair to address a series of questions about how best to improve the democracy, in particular to look into the prospect that a "more wide- open and inclusive method of democratic discourse" could lead to an improvement in the democracy itself. When the President gave the Commission its "charge," he stressed the importance of exploring the value and significance of greater deliberation. Therefore the first question the commission needed to address was: "What are the defining ideas of a deliberative democratic approach to politics?" Once some thought was given to how deliberative democracy might best be conceived, the next questions to ask are "What will deliberative democracy do for us? What good is it? What's wrong with it?"
These questions include, but were not intended to exhaust the questions that the Commission might address. You were encouraged, as Chair of the Commission, to select what you believed were the most pressing questions to address, what you believed were the "key" questions.
To fulfill the mission you were given by the President of the United States you had asked a number of experts in the field to prepare preliminary reports addressing just these questions. You have asked for these reports by November 25th, so you would have two weeks to look them over, digest what they had to say, and offer your own conclusion and answers to these questions in the final report which you shall draft and hand to the President on December 9th, 2002.
But it is time to pull together the final report. You have a wonderful team that has been assembled and that has now completed the preliminary work of drawing their own conclusions and placed those conclusions "on your desk" before you. Indeed you have given eachof your fellow committee members a special assignment. Tou have asked Stephen MacEdo to write a short introduction, laying out the issue before the Commission, to say a few words about what it might mean for the democracy to be more deliberative, to say something, very briefly, about what deliberative democracy looks like, and then perhaps to say something, briefly about each of the submissions of the other members. You remember when you talked with Macedo, you had stressed the words "brief" and "briefly" and "short" and you remember Macedo had responded by saying: "I get it; you want me to be brief" and you had both laughed. "Yes, brief," you said, "I want a brief overview from you."
Then you asked Frederick Schauer, Ian Shapiro, William A. Galston, William H. Simon, Michael Walzer, Daniel A. Bell, Stanley Fish, and Russell Hardin to write about the challenges facing a deliberative democracy, to spell out some of the traps and pitfalls of pushing the democracy in that direction.
And you asked Cass R. Sunstein, Iris Marion Young, Jack Knight, Alan Wertheimer, Robert P. George, Norman Daniels, Jane Mansbridge to say how they thought making the democacry more deliberative would make it better, indeed how bringing more opportunities for "deliberation" into our politics would make it more democratic. And finally you asked Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson to sum all this up in light of their understanding of the meaning and value of deliberative democracy. Also see Notes on their view of what a more deliberative politics requires. From Peter Levine you asked for a "short" essay giving some examples of deliberative democrqacy in action. They have now all turned in their work. It is hard to imagine a more far-reaching and thoughtful examination of deliberative democracy by a more qualified group of experts.
Your job is two-fold: to describe deliberatrive democracy and defend it or not against some of the more common criticisms that have been raised against it, identified and discussed by members of the Commission and, then, having detailed the process, to make the case for deliberative democracy as a "prescription for the future," both at home and abroad, to identify and respond to the most compelling objections to making the democratic process more deliberatrive and to holding it up as a prescription for the future, and to respond to those objections.
And the contribution,
Getting Practical about Deliberative Democracy," by Peter Levinehas been conveniently put online.
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November 26, 2002
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