Historically, the line between voter suffrage and outright stupidity has been a thin one. Although crowds casting their vote may be the ultimate expression of a democratic government, large gatherings of people are also unpredictable, rash in their decision-making, and easy to manipulate.
Even a rather mediocre president was able to extend his term in this country by whipping up rather improbable fears of terrorists under their beds and jihadists in their pantries.
And even more improbably, it worked.
It should come as no surprise that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez won a referendum yesterday on abolishing term limits by using a similar tack. By exploiting fears that social programs might end if someone else were allowed to rule, he was able to secure a third term as president.
Quite frank in his aspirations to rule Venezuela until 2019, the former coup leader has led the nation for more than a decade. During that time, he has made decisions that stretch, bend, and sometimes break the constraints of democratic government.
Rather than step down after two terms and allow a successor unlimited reelection, he basically found a legal way to assume the presidency for life. Chavez has learned a lesson that any up-and-coming autocrats would do well to jot down: If you make it law, then your actions aren't illegal.
Is a TV station highly critical of your policies? Send your goons to shut it down; under Venezuelan law, the government can extend and rescind broadcasting licenses with little explanation.
Does your country's constitution only allow for two consecutive terms but you just have to have that third term? Get a majority to support you and go right ahead and do it.
These actions are legal, but it doesn't make them right.
If a majority of the American public supported a repeal of the First Amendment, and Congress were to vote to repeal it, this would be quite legal. It would be far from just, but it would be quite legal.
At the risk of repeating what so many others have written before, some of the most repressive regimes in the world began their political lives as democratic reformers.
Robert Mugabe was the first black president of Zimbabwe, and his rule was expected to transform that nation from a repressive apartheid system into a model for Africa. Almost 30 years on the results are ghastly, with inflation running high and an ever-increasing death toll.
Leaders such as Chavez and Mugabe, strongmen who bully entire societies, can only get away with these crimes as long as the rest of the world doesn't pay attention. So listen up.