Bret, as a champion of direct democracy, do you think that the citizens of the United States would have voted to go to war in Iraq?
Let's imagine that, before this Iraq War, a referendum was put forth as follows:
Yes or No: Should the U.S. government conduct a military invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and his government, and spend the funds necessary, estimated to be in excess of $100 billion, to build a stable democracy there?
Let's now imagine that such a referendum was posed then voted upon across the two-month period over the past eighteen months in which a "Yes" outcome was most likely. What would the outcome have been?
I contend that it would have been "No," by a large margin.
If you want direct democracy, you may need to settle for a world in which both the boldly progressive and the boldly deceptive are decapitated by details that emerge in a democratic dialogue. I'm quite sure Bush would not want direct democracy. Are you sure you do? If so, then you may wish to reconsider your support for the Iraq War as I doubt that it would have happened within your ideal system.
So long as leaders make the decisions, bold moves, rather than incremental improvements, will be the primary currency of political power. Americans, especially, will support the decisions of a bold leader, and most will maintain their support even when confronted with uncomfortable information about the premises on which the decision is made (the screaming partisans on both sides notwithstanding). Why? Because once a bold decision is made, the country is already committed -- there's no going back without great pain (think Vietnam). However, give the responsibility for decision-making to the citizenry, then, except for local issues, decisions will be framed in terms of gradual and tentative changes. This is the way the U.N. works, and that's what Bush hates about it.
In a direct democracy, I think pre-emptive war would be a very rare occurrence, and would be supported by a mountain of evidence of imminent threat. But perhaps you would exempt this area of government from the rule of the ballot?