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Thursday, November 06, 2003

Voting Against Democracy

I hesitated to put this up, because my last post was about discussions on a forum, and I'm working on another post along the same lines. This might get tedious. But then I remembered this was the BBC, which it is my sworn duty to bash whenever possible, until such time as it ceases to suck.

The Belgravia Dispatch points to this BBC comments forum on "Bush's version of democracy". The intro says:

President Bush has made a speech calling for democracy and freedom across the Middle East...He also spoke of the need for democracy in countries such as Syria, Iran, Burma and China.


But is western-style democracy good for the world or is it just another example of cultural imperialism?


What does democracy mean to you where you live? Is flawed democracy better than none at all? Has the west created the ideal model, the liberal democracy? Or is the democratic process unworkable as a universal model?

Naturally an overwhelming number of the responses posted (which, as you know, "reflect the balance of the views we have received") conclude that democracy is not workable everywhere, that democracies have to grow internally, and that to suggest otherwise is cultural imperialism.

Many comments, naturally, are knee-jerk responses to nasty American imperialism. (The imperialist Americans want to set up an Iraqi democracy? Then democracy must be a tool of imperialism!) Some are slightly more thoughtful, noting that democracy can't just be plastered on, but will only thrive if the people have a democratic mindset. Those people might mean that it won't be instantaneous, but few of them qualify their remarks. They may mean that it's forever impossible for the dar---er---poor little brown people.

I can't decide if this is the soft racism of the left, or the old-fashioned racism of the right.

It's amusing and dismaying to read the foreigners' denials of the existence of American democracy (it's much more dismaying to read them from Americans), such as this gem from Mark MacCallum of New Zealand:

The American people, by-and-large, do seem to have a genuinely democratic outlook. But as democracies go their own system of government is very, very deeply flawed. From the electoral college and the two-senators-per-state rule, both of which give disproportionate weight to less populous and usually more conservative states, through to the laughable election campaign finance rules, which give politicians representing the wealthy such a huge spending advantage over their rivals, Americans are ruled by a system of government that often frustrates the will of the people, rather than implements it.

It's true that the Constitution gives the less populous states more power than their populations would warrant in some areas, but that was sort of the point, so that the majority does not ride roughshod over the minority. I suspect Mr. MacCallum's chief argument against this is that it gives power to conservative states.

The BBC liked Mr. MacCallum's comment so well it posted it twice. The comment above is on the first page of comments. Another, almost identical, comment is on the second page:

Most American people do seem to have a genuinely democratic outlook. But the US system of government is very deeply flawed. It gives disproportionate weight to less populous and usually more conservative states and gives politicians representing the wealthy a huge spending advantage over their rivals. Americans are ruled by a system of government that often frustrates the will of the people, rather than implementing it..

Did he send in two letters and they didn't realize they'd published the first? Or is one of these an edited version of the letter he sent in?

I don't suppose that pointing out that we've had the same system for 200 years---so that those small "conservative" states have had this "disproportionate" power all this time---would do any good. After all, as Hamed Al Mahruqy of Oman so wisely points out:

Western democracy died with the election of the current US president.

So true.

Then there's this scathing indictment of Western democracy:

Just what is "western-styled" democracy? Hierarchically arranged rule by a coalition of big business interests, and party bosses? An oligarchy with a sneering acceptance of the "peoples' right" to cast meaningless ballots for cardboard cut out candidates who are carefully selected by their party machines to have similar ranges of views and interests? Western "Democracy" isn't actually democracy at all, it is just an illusion of democracy, based on this ludicrous idea of "free election" that gives people the impression that they are living in a "free society". Whoever gets into power in western countries is essentially the same as the last person who got into power. In that respect it is no different from a totalitarian system where the same leader always gets elected. We may elect different leaders but they all act in the same way once elected. It makes no difference whether you live in the west or the east. Any system where one person is in charge of a country basically revolves around power, and nobody is going to want to do that job unless they crave power.

He signs himself "Simon Moore, EU", which I think explains that.

All in all, the BBC debate is best summed up by Jim of New Jersey:

I can't believe the mental gymnastics people go through to be original, thought-provoking, and completely wrong.