Ronda Hauben on Tue, 7 Nov 2006 20:08:26 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The hoopla over the US election and democracy

The Facade of U.S. Democracy and Election 2006
Only more democracy can save democracy

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.)
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 

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 Tuesday.s vote count, and instead consider the broader political 
issues. (See for example "The GOP Should Lose, the Democrats Don.t Deserve to 

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 

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 other.s 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.

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