Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Proves Himself Civically Illiterate
Abdul El-Sayed proved on Firday that he completely misunderstands the nature of American government when he decided to tweet about money in politics. El-Sayed, former Detroit Health Department Director and candidate for Governor, tweeted out, “More than 90% of Americans want to reduce the role of money in politics. Last time I checked, democracies are supposed to follow the will of the people. So why haven’t we taken big action against the big money in politics?”
In this tweet, El-Sayed demonstrated a factually incorrect view of government in several ways. Let’s break it down.
El-Sayed’s biggest error is in the second sentence. “Last time I checked,” he says, “democracies are supposed to follow the will of the people.” Well, last time I checked, America isn’t a democracy. The United States of America is a constitutional federalist republic with some democratic processes. Sure, El-Sayed’s error is a common one. Many people use democracy and republic interchangeably or misunderstand the meaning of the terms. However, El-Sayed actually uses the correct definition for a democracy, in which the will of the people is supreme.
As I said, America is not a democracy, and the Constitution is supreme. Advocates for limits on money on politics would argue, of course, that such limits are Constitutional. Advocates against such restrictions argue that money for political candidates is a means of executing one’s right to free speech. I adhere to this second argument. Of course, if campaign donations do fall under free speech protections, then the Constitution is right, and “the will of the people” is irrelevant (unless the people want to call a Convention of States and amend the Constitution).
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that campaign donations are not protected by the First Amendment, and the government can place caps on those donations. Abdul El-Sayed still has another grave misunderstanding of American government. In his tweet, he claims, “More than 90% of Americans want to reduce the role of money in politics.” I’m not sure what El-Sayed’s source is for this, but let’s assume that this statistic is correct.
Abdul El-Sayed is running for Michigan Governor, in an election run by the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, under campaign finance laws established by the Michigan legislature. Since this is the case, why should we care what 90% of Americans think? We should care what Michiganders think! America is a constitutional federalist republic. “Federalist” means that the states control state affairs, and the federal government only controls a small handful of policy issues. Even if restricting campaign donations is Constitutional, the federal government has no say over campaign finance in state races.
Maybe El-Sayed was just calling for campaign finance reform on the federal and state levels, and the statistic was just a reference point, but I tend to think he doesn’t care either way. Campaign donations must be restricted (even more than they already are) and he’ll use whatever means necessary to do so.
No, Mr. El-Sayed, America is not a democracy. The Constitution matters a lot more than “the will of the people.” National opinion polls should not affect state election laws. I’m appalled that a candidate for Governor shows such civic ignorance, but you’re a Democrat, so I’m not surprised.