Participating in Our Democracy
David M. Kennedy is the Donald J. McLachian Professor of History at Stanford University. His scholarship is notable for its integration of economic analysis with social history and political history. Kennedy has written over ten books; his first, Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger (1970), won the John Gilmary Shea Prize in 1970 and the Bancroft Prize in 1971. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Over Here: The First World War and American Society (1980) and won the Pulitzer in 2000 for his 1999 book Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. Other awards include the Francis Parkman Prize, the Ambassador's Prize and the California Gold Medal for Literature, all of which he received in the year 2000. Kennedy was educated at Stanford and Yale. The author of many articles, he has also penned a textbook, The American Pageant: A History of the Republic, now in its thirteenth edition. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
David Kennedy: Well I think individually, if we believe in the notion of democracy, as I do hope and trust citizens of this country do, I think what we must do is be well informed and engaged in the deliberative process that gives us the policies, and the practices, and the habits that we will all adopt going forward. And they’ll either be adopted with our participation, or without. And I have to believe that the policy . . . At the end of the day that we’re going to do better the more people are well informed, and the more engaged we all are. So to live in a country that is the historic home of mass participatory democracy – that is the United States – we invented the institutions, and the practices, and the values of democracy practice on the scale of millions of voters. More than a million people voted for Andrew Jackson in 1828 at a time when other societies that called themselves democratic – like Britain and France – had fewer than 100,000 voters in countries that were then quite a bit larger than we were. So we invented this thing called modern democracy; and yet in this society, only about half the people who are eligible actually exercise their right to vote. There’s something fundamentally, pathologically wrong about that. So that’s one place to start, is to get more people engaged in the delivery processes from their most local – school board, sewer district, irrigation district – that go right up to the federal level in the making of decisions that will affect us all
Recorded on: 7/4/07
A million people voted for Andrew Jackson in 1828.
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