This Strange Foreign Democracy

The more I dig into the U.S. presidential election, the more I must admit my ignorance of its mechanics and, at least, my sheer astonishment in front of this foreign conception of democracy (pun intended).

For example, saying that having judges naming president the guy who received the less popular votes is not how I feel an election should work in a democracy, is an understatement.

Just when I started to get some sense of the candidate selection process, caucuses etc. comes this polemic regarding Ralf Nader.

Cory Doctorow reports:

Ralph Nader is soliciting comments on whether he should run for the presidency this coming fall. Ralphdontrun is a site put together by "progressive Democrats and independents" urging Nader not to run on the grounds that he could act as a spoiler, handing another four years to Bush. They've put up a powerful and effective Flash movie stating this case, and they're urging the public to contact Nader and politely, forcefully urge him to not run.

In short, if Bush is where he is, it's Nader's fault. Lawrence Lessig thinks so too.

It just doesn't compute with me. Blame my ignorance of the political duopoly that reigns in America, I've been raised in a country where the multiparty system is as obvious and natural as it is to cast a paper bulletin in an election ballot.

On what democratic values is anyone entitled to ask someone else not to run for an election on the sole basis that it may influence the outcome unfavorably for another candidate? What does it tell about the respect some have for others voice? There are only five comments on Prof. Lessig's entry at the time of this writing, and already four are dissenting. To summarize one in particular that resonates with me: may voters who do not consider either of the major parties representative of their interests vote for a party that they believe does represent those interests, or should they merely accept their voicelessness, understand that they should expect nothing better, and cease to participate in the political process?

I myself do not play with dissenting vote to suddenly make a 180-degrees turnaround at the last moment and vote for the one I really think should get the job, but as much as I'd love to rewrite history for France just before April 21, 2002, and wish someone would have convinced Le Pen not to run, preventing someone who can legally run from running is more akin to countries like Iran than to democracies.

Campaigning to get your candidate elected by convincing people to vote for them seems a much better way forward, isn't it?

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On watching the upcoming American election and the tough choices I don't have to make. Read More

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P.S.: I just found this article apropos of the gay marriages happening in SF, where George W Bush is quoted saying:

“People need to be involved in this decision,” Bush said. “Marriage ought to be defined by the people, not by the courts.”

Oh, irony!

Nader talks about these attempts to stop him running as an affront to freedom of speech. I think he's right.

On the other hand, here's a quote to think about.

To most [UK] Labour supporters - indeed it would not be an exaggeration to say to most people in Europe - the prospect of President Kerry is almost too good to be true. The ameliorative possibilities for international affairs from a Kerry victory are immense. If ever there was a US presidential election that exposes the lazy lie that it does not matter which man wins, it is this one.

In this context, can you really blame people for wanting to keep it a two horse race, even if both horses embody pluto-aristocracy?

> can you really blame people for wanting to keep it a two horse race

Can't I? As I said, the bi-partisan system is strange for me. So if I challenge this duopole, can't I blame tactics that fight any attempt to get away from it?

The way presidential elections work in France may look like a two horse race too, except that all candidates run in front of the people at the same time, two of them emerge after the first ballot, then we pick a winner in a second round two weeks later. I much prefer this kind of choice.

"If ever there was a US presidential election that exposes the lazy lie that it does not matter which man wins, it is this one."

Very true, and sadly applicable to more than the U.S. Why would that campaign be followed all over the world if it didn't matter?

Can't I? As I said, the bi-partisan system is strange for me. So if I challenge this duopole, can't I blame tactics that fight any attempt to get away from it?

It was a rhetorical statement François, of course I'm not suggesting you should keep out of it. As Gore Vidal once said, "It's a one-party system, with two right wings", and I think Nader should do what he likes. To clarify, I do believe the American election affects everybody in the known Universe, therefore, it is fine to criticise it.

I was there for the 2000 election and it was a calamity, an absolute mess, and I was urging people to vote Nader and my friends were against the concept because they believed it would let Bush squeak in. Oh well. This time round, I don't think he'll get that many votes and he will take a lot of shit. And, throughout all of this, most Democrats shouldn't forget that Gore did win the last election, Bush was appointed by the highest court in their land, by political appointees.

As for France, I was here during the last election. In my arguably tainted opinion, the fragmented nature of the left and Jospin being a real bore didn't help very much. It was painful to see friends voting for Chirac because of this unfortunate turn of events.

In both cases I was not an active participant because I was not a citizen, so like my ruminations on elections, it's a spectator sport.

I can understand how this might sound strange to anybody not used to the US restriction on bipartisan system (as you might now, this is merely a by-product of an antiquated constitution totally unfit for modern US politics, not an actual restriction in the text). It is a very serious problem that a lot of pol sci experts have raised many times in the past. It's far from being the only issue with the American political system, though.
But what is important here is to fully appreciate the practical impact of Nader's candidacy. It's goes in an array of directions at a time, namely:
a) It will most likely kill Nader's political life: of the small but meaningfull minority who supported him in 2000, quite a few people have been beating themselves over the head for contributing in the slightest way to GW's election. These people are unlikely to repeat themselves.
But seeing Nader run this time again despite the warnings and numerous pleas he received is likely to anger an even wider share of his sympathisers and utterly piss-off many a potential left-leaning voter.
b) Further more, it should be pointed out that Nader is *not* running as a Green Party nominee this time around: as an independent candidate running on a one-man platform, not only does he skip on the chance to gather the slightest amount of vote, but he also contradict his own argument of wanting to develop a serious third alternative party in America.
c) Although it is unlikely his run will have the same weight this time, there's still a small chance he will tip the ever-so-fragile equilibrium in the direction of dubya's reelection; and I think we can all agree this is not a good thing.

In short, while the idealist humanistic thinker in me full-heartedly concur at any attempt to challenge the inept status-quo that is US federal politics, I must say I'm much more concerned about the world enduring another 4 years of US republican madness for now. I might be short-sighted, but I think, for once here, the end justifies the means... Especially given the fact that this rather vain act of bravado will hurt any alternate party efforts to change things in the near future (if Bush wins again: you can cross out any chance of a third party ever getting any public attention for the next 20 years)...

Sad but I think we need to be realistic every once in a while...

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