american society, politics, USA

Watching America’s Game

IowaPolitics.comObama Campaigning in Iowa

It’s chaos. It’s a circus. It’s a money parade. It’s undemocratic. It’s pointless. It’s cheap drama. It’s the real American Idol.

That’s right everyone, it’s the middle of America’s presidential politicking season.

I could make a list, but I doubt I need to. You know that many people–in America, but especially in stable parliamentary systems–find this whole mess in which America is now submerged mildly absurd. Myself, I fluctuate between hearty agreement with their bafflement and tut-tutting consternation with the foolishness of the critique.

First, a few points. The way the Democratic party’s contest is held in Iowa is absurd, perhaps even undemocratic. The priority given to Iowa, New Hampshire, (now) Nevada, and South Carolina is, at best, unfair. The rush to have the earliest nominating contest has, this year, been harmfully chaotic but is a direct consequence of the truth of the last sentence. Too much money is raised and spent in the quest for a party’s nomination.

Having made all the necessary concessions to critiques, I’ll now heartily and blindly defend America’s system.

The most important point is that the system I defend is open. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim it’s always democratic, but it usually is. And open and democratic are better than most parliamentary systems can claim in nominating their candidates for leadership.

It’s no secret that Gordon Brown was to be Tony Blair’s successor from the first day that Labour took power in Britain. And it’s also no secret that only politicians determined that point. Lay members of the party had no say in who would lead the party. It’s like the way American Vice Presidents are selected–behind closed doors with unknown calculations being made.

But that’s also the way that parliamentary parties pick their leaders, and thus their analog of President. In America, a candidate has to win the support of a plurality of his party’s members, and then a plurality of the country’s electoral college voters (a chastisable system in itself, but not our topic here). This seems to me far more democratic than a system whose candidates are selected by a small group of full-time politicians whose party is than approved by the people.

In America’s system, a candidate must be liked and chosen by normal people. They can’t merely call in a small number of favors within the party, they must be chosen as the best candidate by a lot of non-politicians. And I don’t see how that’s a bad thing. This circus may be a dislikable result of a system that tries to give people–normal people–a say, but it gives people a say.

And then there’s this: I find this game we’re playing–however over-moneyed, shallow, and pointless–at least a little bit exhilarating. The result may not always be perfect, but it’s more exciting and democratic than any other system I’ve seen.

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