For years, the residents of oxford, Massachusetts, seethed with anger at the company that controlled the local water supply. The company, locals complained, charged inflated prices and provided terrible service. But unless the town’s residents wanted to get by without running water, they had to pay up, again and again.
The people of Oxford resolved to buy the company out. At a town meeting in the local high-school auditorium, an overwhelming majority of residents voted to raise the millions of dollars that would be required for the purchase. It took years, but in May 2014, the deal was nearly done: One last vote stood between the small town and its long-awaited goal.
The company, however, was not going down without a fight. It mounted a campaign against the buyout. On the day of the crucial vote, the high-school auditorium swelled to capacity. Locals who had toiled on the issue for years noticed many newcomers—residents who hadn’t showed up to previous town meetings about the buyout. When the vote was called, the measure failed—the company, called Aquarion, would remain the town’s water supplier. Supporters of the buyout mounted a last-ditch effort to take a second vote, but before it could be organized, a lobbyist for Aquarion pulled a fire alarm. The building had to be evacuated, and the meeting adjourned. Aquarion retains control of Oxford’s water system to this day.
The company denied that the lobbyist was acting on its behalf when he pulled the alarm; it also denies that its rates were abnormally high or that it provides poor service. Some Oxford residents supported Aquarion, and others opposed the buyout because they feared the cost and complication of the town running its own water company. But many residents, liberal and conservative, were frustrated by the process. The vote, they felt, hadn’t taken place on a level playing field.
“It was a violation of the sanctity of our local government by big money,” Jen Caissie, a former chairman of the board of selectmen in Oxford, told me. “Their messiah is their bottom line, not the health of the local community. And I say that as a Republican, someone who is in favor of local business.”
A New England town meeting would seem to be one of the oldest and purest expressions of the American style of government. Yet even in this bastion of deliberation and direct democracy, a nasty suspicion had taken hold: that the levers of power are not controlled by the people.
И, собственно говоря, вот что подразумевали основатели США в государственном устройстве страны:
To some degree, of course, the unresponsiveness of America’s political system is by design. The United States was founded as a republic, not a democracy. As Alexander Hamilton and James Madison made clear in the Federalist Papers, the essence of this republic would consist—their emphasis—“IN THE TOTAL EXCLUSION OF THE PEOPLE, IN THEIR COLLECTIVE CAPACITY, from any share” in the government. Instead, popular views would be translated into public policy through the election of representatives “whose wisdom may,” in Madison’s words, “best discern the true interest of their country.” That this radically curtailed the degree to which the people could directly influence the government was no accident.