The Future of American Democracy: Reply hazy, try again.

For many people I have spoken to, the most shocking part of Michael Moore's documentary Fareignheit 911 wasn't the part about the connections between the Bushes and Bin Laudens (rich capitalists know eachother - shocking! The well informed know the Bush dynasty goes back to G.W.'s great-grandfather Prescott, who famously openly dealt with the Nazi regime.) Instead, they were surprised by old news: his adroit re-cap of the events of the 2000 election, particularly the massive undemocratic maneuvers perpetrated by the Republican party in Florida. Here it was on display: Bush's campaign manager (Katherine Harris) ordering thousands of African American voters unjustly expunged from the rolls using her power as a public official, and the protestations of Florida members of the house systematically silenced at a joint meeting of congress. More recently, British investigative journalist Greg Palast has reported about how as many of 1.9 million votes in the 2000 election were "spoiled" - 1 million of which were votes by African Americans.

Meanwhile, paranoid conspiracy theorists have been increasingly shrill about their fears the Bush administration will cancel or postpone the election, or win "election" again, the same way Castro, Saddam, Milosovitz, and other dictators won "elections" by such wide margins. This is America, nothing to worry about, right?

Perhaps. Recently, I've found it somewhat disturbing that the hysteria of the libertarian left seemed to mesh nicely with a variety of establishment intellectuals, who have begun ringing the bell for American democracy in their own way: in highly detailed, cautious University-press tomes. One such book is Harvard University's (!) Theda Skocpol's "Diminished Democracy: From Membership to Management in American Civic Life," which openly wonders "What will happen to U.S. democracy if participatory groups and social movements wither, while civic involvement becomes one more occupation rather than every citizen's right and duty?" John Hopkins University Professors Matthew A. Crenson and Bengamin Ginsberg are more forthright in their "Downsizing Democracy: How America Sidelined Its Citizens and Privitized its Public". Try this choice passage:

Americans do not seem to be in immediate danger of losing the formal rights they won in an earlier political epoch. The vestigial organs of citizenship can survive long after their original purposes have evaporated. The Roman Senate, after all, survived long after the death of the Republic that gave it meaning and even after the collapse of the Western Empire that had given it ritualized recognition. Today, the institutions of popular democracy persist and continue to command the obligatory respect of politicians and officials. But they are being displaced by the institutions of personal democracy, and a critical dimension of citizenship is disappearing.

What does all of this have to do with the news? This week, Newsweek magazine is reporting the Department of Homeland Security is investigating how precisely it can get the authority to postpone (or cancel?) the election this November.
> Reuters: "U.S. Mulling How to Delay Nov Vote in Case of Attack"
> CNN.com: "Officials discuss how to postpone election day"

It seems to me the political science question of our lifetime will increasingly be not simply whether we have a democracy, but how much democracy is left, and how it should properly be measured.


Anonymous said...

"milosevic" not "milosovitz."

nice new design, rob!

12:36 PM

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