There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Like many who purport to revere democracy, Hendrik Hertzberg reveals a good deal of contempt for the common citizen in his essay collection, Politics. In “Labor’s China Syndrome,” for example, he ascribes the precipitous decline in American union membership to illegal suppression by companies. Hertzberg doesn’t seem to consider it possible that anyone could decide a union doesn’t serve his or her interests, and he doesn’t offer any explanation for the inconvenient fact that 249 unions were decertified by their members in 2003. Likewise, ordinary voters shouldn’t be troubled by confusing ideas: He argues in “Five Percenter” that Ralph Nader should not be allowed to participate in presidential debates because he has no chance of winning. “Nor is the debates’ purpose to present the most interesting possible discussion of the issues,” he writes. To Hertzberg, the purpose of debates is to choose a president, and he wants them to remain a smattery pageant of sound bites and telegenesis. In “Framed Up,” Hertzberg agrees with Robert A. Dahl’s thesis that the government defined by the Constitution is not democratic enough, because small states are too powerful and popular initiatives such as nationalized health care have not become law. Neither man seems to recognize, however, the most stunningly democratic feature of our Constitution—that almost all power is denied to government and specifically reserved to the people, making us a nation of 294 million sovereigns. Love him or hate him, you’ll want to debate him when Hertzberg speaks at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Janet Hopf)