what if slightly more than half of the population wants something stupid? What if they all vote to ban same-sex marriage, for instance. Do we follow the will of the people, or do the people have to trust the intelligence of the government.
I think the question of how to have the wisest or most intelligent government is unanswerable. Answers that yesterday seemed "stupid" might seem smart today, and vice-versa. Someone might well ask, "What if they all vote to allow same-sex marriage, for instance?" I don't know what's "really" wise and what's "really" foolish. I know what I personally happen to think is wise and foolish, but I don't think that I personally have a privileged position to determine how all of society operates.
There are three things I think we can get from the institutions of government. Wisdom and intelligence are not really among them, especially at the highest level of public policy.
First, we can get a degree of stability and continuity across time and space: things today will be much like they were yesterday or next door, and will be much the same tomorrow. This prevents issues that are "close" from changing public policy back and forth every day.
Second, we can get what I call "elevation to the meta-level." When there are persistently controversial questions the institutions of government can encourage us to think not just about the issue at hand, but about higher-level issues, precisely because they are charged with stability and continuity. For example, we can think about the larger, higher-level issue of the right to marry in general instead of the lower-level question of whether specifically gay people should marry; that's how we resolved the last controversial question about marriage, i.e. interracial marriage.
Finally, the most important point is that our institutions of government can be set up not to provide wisdom, but to make the right kind of mistakes and foolish decisions. If a decision is going to turn out to be foolish, I'd rather it be the foolishness of the people than the foolishness of some privileged elite. We can't get a wise government, but we can, I think, get a government where foolish mistakes are not protected by a privileged elite.
There's an underlying philosophical issue here. I am a strong proponent of real democracy, real rule of the people, as opposed to republicanism, where the people choose their rulers. I am not, however, a proponent of the idea that the majority determines what is "right"; the majority just determines (by and large) what happens. To the extent that right and wrong are meaningful, they can still do what's wrong. Too bad, so sad, shit happens. I'm not aiming for perfection, I'm aiming for the right kind of imperfection.
It is tough, I think, for someone in the middle class to contemplate a true democracy. (I don't want to attribute this attitude towards Sage personally; I don't know her at all. But I suspect the attitude is common in any middle class.) Middle-class people often fancy themselves in the "penumbra" of ruling-class privilege. There are two problems with this attitude.
First, no ruling class has very much special wisdom, especially about high levels of public policy. They usually have better education (and thus may have some expertise as to pragmatic problems), but their approach to public policy has always been first and foremost to maintain their own privilege and status as the ruling class. To the extent that there is such a thing as the "public good", it emerges at best as an unintended consequence of the ruling class's maintenance of their own power, and the happenstance of actual personalities among its members. We went straight from Marcus Aurelius, for example, to Commodus, who arguably began the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
Second, to the extent that the middle class really is at any given time in the penumbra of ruling class privilege, that status is accidental, and the ruling class never feels any principled loyalty to the middle class. The clever ruling class cultivates a stable middle class, but the middle class receives privilege only to the extent that they prop up the power of the ruling class. Start arguing effectively for the "public good" (or your own) to the detriment of the ruling class, and your middle class privilege will quickly vanish. (Witness, for example, the attempts of the feudal ruling class to enlist the people in its struggle against the capitalist/mercantile middle class at the beginning of the bourgeois revolutions.)
I think that the middle class is much better off throwing their lot in with the people and real democracy. Clever members of the middle class with special merit will, if that merit really serves the people, will find a comfortable life for themselves. Only those members of the middle class who know their talents and abilities lie only in supporting the ruling class have anything to fear from democracy.