Archive for the ‘democracy’ tag
As protests continued late this week, this street-level videographer was close to the action, where Mousavi supporters were throwing rocks and other objects at the state militia. I’ll leave it someone else to explain the irony of the fellow’s gesture at the end of this video, right before (or after) he tossed a rock toward the police. The point is, the protesters wanted peace and a less dictatorial president by seeming to elect Mousavi over Ahmadinejad. Unless you speak Farsi, you probably won’t understand much at this Iranian protest this blog site, but he has included interesting videos and pictures. Also, here’s some various information and photos gathered from Iranians by The New York Times.
An intriguing, but for the most part, altogether common-sense, article on party identification and what perceived personal and societal shifts in affiliation mean for the body politic suggests that when voters change their minds, it is largely due, not to studying the issues, but to a “vague sense of how things are going with the economy and the presidency”:
They have not shifted because they have calculated that their current party is out-of-synch on some specific policy stand. Others of them have shifted because they simply like Barack Obama. They won’t be able to articulate exactly why they dislike one party and like another, they just ‘know’ they prefer one.
Not to suggest this exhausts the reasons why voters choose certain parties over others, but I would have to agree here, that most of these folks are “nature of the times” voters who likely had no strong party affiliation to begin with, if they had any. In fact, this scenario is quite analogous to religion in some ways. Many churchgoers or religious types (or casual attendees) won’t be able to articulate why they believe in a higher power without running themselves into a tautology or infinite regress or relying solely to ancient texts steeped in mythology and lore without outside validation. Like religious folks, most voters pull the lever based on where they were born or who they were born to without giving the slightest amount of scrutiny to their position, and of course, as this article mentions, relying on opinions that do not challenge, but validate one’s own stance. This, of course, doesn’t describe all, but at this point, we can probably say most, and heck, some even decide based on the likeness of certain candidates to themselves. I thought this quote from the David Brooks column, linked above and here, was telling:
“People often act without knowing why they do what they do,” Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner, noted in an e-mail message to me this week. “The fashion of political writing this year is to suggest that people choose their candidate by their stand on the issues, but this strikes me as highly implausible.” — The New York Times, David Brooks, “How Voters Think”
The map from pollster.com shows the increase in the number of Independents in the country over the course of the last several months,
and I would say that an underlying reason by the surge is, again, what I just mentioned. Folks are disillusioned with the Republican brand, given the general failure of the last administration and the comic book line up of candidates we had in the last election cycle (a soccer mom; war hero; Mormon; former mayor, turned 9/11 hero/advocate, the list goes on) that, since they have (had) a flimsy foundation on which to base their views, they couldn’t slip over to the dastardly left (For, they don’t know why they disagree with that side either), so they just default to the Independents, or worse, the ranks of the apathetic.
Thomas Friedman’s Feb. 24 New York Times column from South Korea read thusly:
For all the talk in recent years about America’s inevitable decline, all eyes are not now on Tokyo, Beijing, Brussels or Moscow — nor on any other pretenders to the world heavyweight crown. All eyes are on Washington to pull the world out of its economic tailspin. At no time in the last 50 years have we ever felt weaker, and at no time in the last 50 years has the world ever seen us as more important.
It seems there comes a price with all those years spent touting America as the world leader in well … everything, from economics to military might to democratic freedoms. Many of our leaders (i.e. Carter, Reagan, Bush version 1 and 2, Clinton) have led the charge in spreading democracy abroad, regardless of whether the people of the receiving countries desired it or not. Since the years following the Great Depression, our country’s pendulum has swung upward economically and in world influence. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing (OK, taking over a country and by brute force leading that country toward democracy when no one asked for our help probably is a bad thing, but I digress …) as long as we are willing and able to meet the challenges that come with such responsibility.
Or as Friedman poignantly quoted in his column a “senior Korean official:”
“No other country can substitute for the U.S. The U.S. is still No. 1 in military, No. 1 in economy, No. 1 in promoting human rights and No. 1 in idealism. Only the U.S. can lead the world. No other country can. China can’t. The E.U. is too divided, and Europe is militarily far behind the U.S. So it is only the United States … We have never had a more unipolar world than we have today.”
Is this a scary thing or a positive? At face value, it’s a touch scary. We aren’t exactly the most progressive country (though we seem to be increasingly headed that way, paragraph 6) in the world if you think about some of our present or past ideals. Some among us, about 49 percent, according to a recent poll, favor a “comprehensive government health care system,” and 10 percent would like to see such a system with “limited” government. The Obama administration, perhaps and finally, may be able to get this done, but what of the last few decades?
Just yesterday, I spoke with a man whose wife was diagnosed about a year ago with ALS. He has liver cancer and chemo was ineffective (and actually made his condition worse). He is waiting on a transplant. He can’t work, can’t pay the bills and he’s taking care of his wife by himself, when someone should be taking care of him. He’s behind on his mortgage and is near foreclosure. Universal health care could help these folks at least be able to not worry about the medical stuff and focus on making the house payment, buying food and the like. Or, perhaps, Obama’s housing plan could provide similar relief. But our love affair with big business, pharmaceutical companies and their lobbying efforts have proven our idealisms are, or at least have been, ill-conceived.
We were one of the last to jump off the “slavery” ship (Most developed European nations abolished it before us, including Russia, France, Denmark, Sweden, the British Empire [except in some colonies], etc.) After that, the country limped through Reconstruction, the Black Codes, Jim Crow, lynchings and segregation before finally deciding that our black fellow-countrymen were actually, and not just in writing, our equals. Further, it’s well documented that we aren’t exactly trailblazers when it comes to education either.
So, I think there’s many areas in which, in fact, we aren’t leading and have lagged behind ideologically. Militarily, of course, we are leading, and maybe this is the area that matters most. Or, perhaps our one-month sojourn under a new administration has made folks forget about the last eight years of failed policies. Lest we forget, with the exception of George Bush and his administration, many of those folks who supported those ideologies (Sanford, Perdue, Palin, Jindal and the like) are still in Congress; they just don’t hold the majority.
Make no mistake, today, this is a great nation, regardless of our previous moral lapses. But if one measures greatness by the average life span of the populous or by quality of living or by educational achievement, etc., we simply have a long way to go. Because of our military might and our insistence on carrying the world banner, folks look to us. And that’s fine. Obama seems to be up to the task. I just think it’s peculiar that given our many shortfalls, the eyes are still all on us. And perhaps that speaks even more to our standing, and in turn, our immense responsibility.
Because we here in the South have few listening options when it comes to talk radio, I tuned in to Sean Hannity’s radio program on the way to work yesterday, which is aired on one of the few talk radio stations in town, with conservative voices being the only options to which one can listen.
Anyway, he was talking about the election and specifically, about how the Republican Party had slipped off the track in seemingly losing the excitement and support of its formative years. In part, he suggested McCain and company, and the party in general, had failed to represent the most important American ideal, which was to spread democracy and freedom throughout the world.
And this is where I want to camp out for a minute. Regardless of whether he said “spread” or “promote” (“spread” carrying a more active connotation) matters less because the premise is largely the same: folks like Hannity seem to support us taking an active role in helping create as many democracies around the world as possible.
But why? Why should this be the highest calling of our country? Should not helping our own people have better lives be the highest calling? Or perhaps throwing more money into medical research? Or research into clean technologies to help quell climate change, which would truly benefit humanity since we produce 1/4 of the world’s greenhouse gases.
Historically, one can see that it’s quite ironic that many think spreading democracy should be this country’s clarion call, when this country was one of the late bloomers in abolishing slavery among the industrialized nations. (England abolished it in 1772, and in 1883 in the colonies, while France did away with it in 1793 on the mainland and 1794 in its colonies. America: 1865) That said, I don’t want to undercut the importance of the election of Barack Obama in coming closer to healing our still-lingering racial divides. Though, clearly, he’s not wholly black, it was a momentous step, one in which Britain has not yet taken. Chalk that up to another ironic twist.
But back on point, why this march to the sea for democracy? Clearly, every civilization of the world is not dead-set on obtaining democracy for itself. If those countries were, they would take the necessary steps to raise up coups and overthrow their oppressors. In nearly every case of tyranny on this planet, the oppressed always, always outnumber the oppressors (except, perhaps, in the case of Nazi Germany, where Hitler was brilliant in his attempts to propagandize the entire movement so as to enlist supporters from the bulk of society) and by vast majorities. It would take massive mobilization techniques, but no one can convince me that if the Russian people during the Communist years really wanted to overthrow the government, 100 million people (current census estimates are at 141 million) marching on Moscow couldn’t do the job. The city’s government would be laid to waste, even if the forces amounted to men with basic rifles and ball bats. Or, people unhappy with a country’s leadership could simply leave en masse. Not only would that amount of people be an impossible force to stop, but by their very absence, the infrastructure of the government would fail to sustain itself. I’m not suggesting or advocating that any of this should take place, but simply pointing out that the American government talks a lot about helping those who are oppressed in other countries out of tyrannical situations. But I argue there is much that those folks could do to help themselves (A government army would be no match for an entire country’s population rising up against it.), but they simply don’t do it, for whatever reasons. In these regards, we often give petty dictators too much credit. Against the mass of an entire country, they could be rendered obsolete.
Regardless, this notion that we are to be the beacons of freedom and democracy for the entire world is absurd because some peoples don’t want the type of democracy we enjoy. If some do, they don’t take the steps to make it happen. Moreover, our bombastic imperialism has gone a long way in eroding our favor with the rest of the world. John McCain and Sarah Palin may have described themselves as mavericks and would have supported the spread of democracy, but in world affairs, being a maverick means being a Yahoo (race of brutes), which means being the typical, gung-ho, manifest destiny American, bent on penning our signature on everything good and right with the world. When in fact, much that is bad, self-destructive and not right with the world also bears our shiny John Hancock. Who woulda thunk it?