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The Facade of U.S. Democracy and Election 2006
Only more democracy can save democracy
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2006-11-07 16:25 (KST)   
As the elections of 2006 in the U.S. were heading toward the finish line, the mainstream press was aglow speculating about whether the Democrats or Republicans would win control of the House of Representatives or the Senate.

The Wall Street weekly Barron's predicted a Republican victory in the House and Senate based on the fact that Republican candidates often had almost double the war chests for their campaigns than the funds raised by the Democratic candidates. "We ... based our predictions," Barron's wrote, "on which candidate had the largest campaign war chest..." ("Survivor!: The GOP Victory", by Jim McTague, Monday, Oct. 23, 2006.)

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Other newspapers predicted a Democratic landslide. "Republicans prepare for the worst as disaster looms in midterm elections," wrote Andrew Buncombe in the Independent, a British newspaper. (Nov. 2, 2006) Predicting a Democratic Party victory in the House elections and possibly in the Senate, Buncombe quoted political analyst Charlie Cook's assessment that "in the battle for the House, the only question remaining was the size of the Democratic victory."

Other newspapers reported early problems with voting machines, especially newly installed electronic voting machines. Jason Leopold in an article in Truthout, an online news Web site summarized a report documenting "machine failures, database delays and foul-ups, inconsistent procedures, new rules and new equipment" which could lead to "snafus" or even possibly "chaos" on election day.

The more significant issues, however, were hidden away, often requiring that one be able to read between the lines in the mainstream media articles, "Why Do So Few People Vote in the U.S.?", whose author Calvin Woodward asks why only about 40 percent of U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote, do.

Otherwise it is necessary to find the rare alternative publication, like Counterpunch which could resist speculating on who would make it first to the finish line in Tuesday셲 vote count, and instead consider the broader political issues. (See for example "The GOP Should Lose, the Democrats Don셳 Deserve to Win".)

The bigger question, the question that rarely surfaces in any of the media, is the question raised in a program on "E-government as a Tool for Participation and Inclusion" at the United Nations on Nov. 3.

The opening speaker in the program, Dr. Ann Macintosh explained the need to consider "participatory models of democracy" that make it possible to do more than just vote every few years. Though other speakers on the panel limited their presentations to the description of e-government forms for delivering government services to citizens, the Finnish representative in the audience asked whether citizens had any means of participating in the decisions regarding what government was providing to them.

This question, whether citizens have any means of participating in the decisions of government officials, is critical when it comes to determining whether or not there are any democratic processes available for citizens.

The two party structure in the U.S. is such that one must choose between two candidates who often have very similar positions on the issues and are more like each other than would be someone who has been put forward by the majority of the electorate. How can elections be considered a "fundamental exercise in democracy" as one TV announcer proclaimed, when the people voting have little or no way to influence the choice of who is on the ballot. The primaries, similarly, only allow for voters to choose among candidates chosen by for them by the parties.

The current representative system in the U.S. is one in which the leadership of two political parties which are detached from the majority of the people in the country, make the decisions instead of providing a means for the public to be part of the decision making processes. This is not only true during the election process, but even more so once the election is over. Once the politicians are in office, their allegiance is more likely to be to the lobbyists who wine and dine them and who provide some of the war chests for their future campaigns

What then would be a democratic governing model? There would need to be a means for the public to participate at each step of the governing procedures. The Internet makes it possible to have such participation.

A democratic government would have to find a way to disenfranchise the lobbyists and replace their spheres of influence with a means for citizens to determine what kind of laws are needed, and to have a means to debate and discuss the pros and cons of proposed laws and then a means to participate in helping to put those laws into practice. Utilizing the Internet it would be possible to have discussion groups for citizens to conduct discussions and to speak with political officials.

Instead of the ideas for needed legislation coming from lobbyists, it could be the result of discussion among citizens concerned with specific issues and willing to spend time and effort to determine what form such legislation should take. This process would need to be public so that others could consider what was being proposed and offer their input.

In the U.S. there was an online conference held by a section of the U.S. Department of Commerce in November 1994 before the U.S. portion of the Internet was to be given to corporations in the private sector. The conference demonstrated that it was possible for the public to debate difficult issues and to come to conclusions that were oriented toward a public purpose. During this conference there were some participants who were in support of the U.S. government giving the control over the U.S. portion of the Internet to private entities.

There were others who maintained the importance of government staying involved until there was a plan to make access to the Internet available to all. They argued that there would be areas of the U.S. where it would not be profitable for companies to provide networking access. The companies would favor those areas where there were concentrations of users who could provide them with a substantial profit.

Part of the process by which the illusion of democracy in America is created and spread is by the focus of the mainstream press on the supposed "choice" that is available to citizens in the U.S. because they can choose between two different mainstream parties. The actual distinctions between those in these two parties are very narrow. Since there is no larger spectrum of viewpoints, however, the slight differences between the two different candidates from these parties is presented as substantial.

For example, during the 2004 election, the Republicans planned to stay the course in Iraq, the Democrats said there was a need to send more troops. If one wants to vote for a minor party, like the Greens, for example, one is told that this is "wasting a vote." Hence there is no way within the party structures to extend the spectrum so that, for example, the decision to take U.S. troops out of Iraq immediately, would be part of the public discussion during an election campaign. Thus the campaigns are dominated by the two major parties misrepresenting each other셲 programs so as to avoid debating any real issues.

The U.S. is often portrayed as a model for democracy by the U.S. media. The actual workings of U.S. government functions, however, have less and less connection to democratic processes, as has been demonstrated by laws like the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

While people abroad often recognize the anti democratic ways that the U.S. government behaves in the international arena, they maintain the illusion that citizens within the U.S. can determine what the government does. This fails to recognize that there are large corporations and other powerful and wealthy groups and individuals in the U.S. that can hire lobbyists and influence government activities, so people in the U.S. do not, under normal circumstances wield such power over the U.S. government. The people in the U.S. do want a change in this situation.

How to create such a change, however, requires a process that doesn't depend on the elections that happen every few years. Rather it requires a means of providing the people with a bottom up process for influencing the decisions and practices of the government. The online efforts of netizens to discuss the events and actions of the government, to critique the anti-democratic practices of the U.S. government in a public way, and to create alternative online and offline political processes and institutional forms that are non-hierarchical and that welcome public participation, are a means to begin to build democratic institutional forms and processes.

The creation of such institutional forms like the online club, Nosamo, that made it possible to elect a candidate outside of the mainstream of politics to the presidency in South Korea and the bottom up processes that made it possible to build the Internet, are examples of such democratic forms and structures. While critiquing the anti-democratic forms and structures that dominate U.S. government functions at home and abroad, it is important to be identifying and practicing democratic forms and practices.

It would be a welcome result if it were possible to use an election to say "no" to the Bush Regime policies and practices. But there can only be democracy in America when the American people are able to participate in all aspects of government and in determining what the government policies and practices are that replace those they have rejected.
What do you think will be the key issue for U.S. voters on Nov. 7?  (2006-11-02 ~ 2006-11-08)
North Korea
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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