US Election Cannot Hide Underlying Problems with American Democracy
By Shan Chu
Present-day American democracy cannot evade the nature of oligarchic manipulation.
Translated By Mollie Gossage
24 December 2012
Edited by Mary Young
China - Huanqiu - Original Article (Chinese)
The 2012 U.S. presidential election has reached a conclusion. As the world’s exclusive superpower, the U.S. has always devoted itself to promoting its own influence and implementing American democracy abroad in every possible form. But this year’s U.S. election exposed all kinds of perplexing, underlying problems with the American system of democracy.
Present-day American democracy violates the founding fathers’ original intention of a condensed federal electoral system. With time, the American system of democracy, with individualism and competition at its core, has slipped more and more toward self-destruction, into an abyss of non-accommodation. The U.S. has already changed from a democratic regime to a “veto regime,” from a system designed to prevent the concentration of too much power among those in authority to a system in which it is impossible to concentrate enough power anywhere to settle important decisions. Life-and-death, black-and-white, politically polarized partisanship not only drains social resources; it also misleads and incites public discontent. Even though we are in the age of television network elections, this year’s U.S. presidential candidates’ presentation skills, ability to arouse emotion and personal charm — already molded, packaged up to perfection and not at all inferior to a big blockbuster film — still failed to fully mobilize the public’s interest. The media referred to the Republican Party primary as the “ugliest, most dividing, and dullest”* primary in history. A columnist for The New York Times evaluated the presidential election as endless, arduous, numbing and boring. ABC News said the U.S. is trending toward “the divided states of America.” The vicious campaigning atmosphere, questionable polling results and empty campaign slogans even caused up to 40 percent of voters to call themselves “independents not belonging to any political party,” setting a new record in U.S. presidential election history.
Present-day American democracy has become money politics. In the 1960s, American Democrat Jesse Marvin Unruh had a famous saying: “Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” illustrating the increasingly close relationship between U.S. politics and money. In the 1860 election, President Lincoln spent $100,000; in 1952, when Eisenhower was campaigning for the presidency, he and his opponent together spent $11 million; in the 1996 U.S. presidential election, spending ballooned to $900 million. According to the calculations of the Center for Responsive Politics, a U.S. think tank, this year’s general elections — including the presidential election and local congressional elections — cost an astronomical sum of $6 billion in total, constituting the most “money-burning” election in U.S. history. Two years ago, arguing that “an independent expenditure is political speech,” the U.S.’ highest court abolished the upper limit for individual and corporate donations to political action committees (PACs), further strengthening money’s power in deciding the election. Money not only supports candidates’ various expenditures, but also leads to the manipulation of public opinion through all forms of media. Instability ensues due to the marginalization of the middle class, and the poor even more so are forced into supporting roles as spectators. Many American scholars believe elections are a farce: Obama and Romney are “two sides of the same coin,” and Democrats and Republicans are equally ruled by money. Nowadays, society’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a tiny number of people; American democracy can be described by the phrase “unworthy of a great reputation.”
Present-day American democracy cannot evade the nature of oligarchic manipulation. From the president down to the decision-making levels of state, county and city, most officials are produced by campaigns. Whether or not these candidates are elected seems, on the surface, to be decided by the voters, but in reality it’s the result of a compromise between capitalist monopolies and political alliance transactions. The rich either heavily subsidize their chosen candidate or they hedge bets, investing in both political parties simultaneously. In this year’s election, Texas oil tycoon Simmons supported Romney with at least $15.74 million, and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson went even further, raising $100 million for the Romney campaign. Though of humble origins, and having once called upon “politics to break free from interest group control,”** incumbent president Obama is still no exception. American political scientist Francis Fukuyama also has to admit: “America is in a sense an oligarchy. Interest groups influence the political arena and distort the political options before us. This is the common crisis facing all modern democracies.”
Present-day American democracy does not embody the principle of equality. Due to the implementation of the Electoral College and most states’ “winner-take-all” system, even if candidates receive the majority of popular support and the majority of votes nationwide, if they do not win half of the national electoral votes, they still cannot be elected as president. This was originally a stopgap measure, adopted because the transmission of information was not advanced enough for timely, accurate vote-counting. Nowadays, there are not the same problems, but the phenomenon of filling the same vote with different weights still openly exists. The system for dividing electoral districts is also recognized as a big stain on the American system of democracy. Most state officials may select the boundaries of state electoral districts themselves, and to ensure a sufficient approval rating, incumbents will draw the most bizarre electoral districts. Thus they create ring- or sandwich-shaped districts in order to put their supporters within their district and keep those who don’t support them outside of it. Many electoral registration systems are complicated. Many people — especially those who have not received high levels of education, those from the lower rungs of society or those living in difficulty — don’t know how to participate in voting. In fact, they are deprived of their right to vote before the election even begins.
To ”perfect” a political system, it must move forward with the times, push out the old to bring in the new; only then can the vitality of prosperous development be maintained. “American democracy” is no exception.
* This quote and all others in this paragraph, while accurately translated, could not be verified.
** This quote and the Fukuyama quote that follows, while accurately translated, could not be verified.
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