Skip to main content
Northwestern University
Image of a American flag-patterned van with a flat tire.left

Back Talk

The Weinberg magazine article “Does Democracy Still Work?” (Fall/Winter 2014), featuring research by political scientists Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens, provoked a variety of responses from our readers. Here are a few of their comments.

I have read the Page and Gilens study. Contrary to their conclusions, I was pleased to find evidence that representatives do not vote willy-nilly according to the latest opinion polls. I do not think we want a government that conforms to the latest simplistic surveys of opinion. The issues our representatives have to deal with are often, if not always, more complicated and involved than can be expressed in an opinion-poll question. 

What we do need are representatives who are truly representative of the population they have been chosen to represent, and a well-regulated set of procedures and processes within which the issues they consider can be effectively debated and decided. The threat to the democratic status of our government is that the processes and procedures of our government are not sufficiently democratic. The presidential veto, the Senate filibuster, the Supreme Court veto, and the subordination of the House are all limitations on democracy that we do not need. 

Gary Larsen ’63 

Thanks for this valuable article. I’m circulating it among friends. I won’t try to take on the whole issue here, but I want to say I’m very glad to see the proposal

to make Election Day a federal holiday. In much of Europe and I suppose elsewhere, Election Day is either on a Sunday or is a holiday. I like the suggestion that our new holiday be called “Democracy Day”! We need a movement for this updating of our democratic rights. 

Patrick Story ’63

I had declared that the corporate takeover of America was complete when four Supreme Court justices elected George W. Bush the 43rd president of the United States in 2000. But I was wrong. It took the 2010 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission under Chief Justice John Roberts that declared that corporations are “people” to seal the deal.

Our last best hope is that all this concentrated wealth, power and influence is, in fact, bad for the economy.

Thank you for a well-written and reasoned (albeit disturbing) piece. 

Nancy Sughrue ’72

The paper that was reviewed in the magazine article “Does Democracy Still Work?” did a far better job than the magazine story did of explaining why the “economic elite” are so involved in politics. The magazine summary missed the reasons delineated in the paper why the “economic elite” are so concerned about legislation and regulation — because their interestsare targeted more often than everyone else’s. This is an important element of the whole picture that should have at least been mentioned in the magazine’s summary of the paper.

Mark Lewon ’86

More important than the influence of different economic classes on politicians is the ability of our politicians to make good government decisions. One can note that well over half of the extremely rich are the product of their own personal efforts. Perhaps their knowledge and ideas are such that they are better decision-makers than those in society who are less successful or even unsuccessful.

I hope you also devote significant time to those government [and] economic issues that remain a real risk to the stability of our society. For example, the State of Illinois’ public pension fund is funded at a level that would never be tolerated in the private sector. The last I saw, it was well below 50 percent funded, while all private funds must be at least 80 percent funded. So why are our politicians so fiscally irresponsible? Government financial decisions can also test to see if Democracy Still Works.

Fred Dean ’62 

Back to top