Friday, October 22, 2004

American Democracy (10 - Conclusion)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 & Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9 & Going Political all need to be read first.

To quickly rob the boss. Well, as we have seen, various factors link in to distort the 'popular will' in the choice of president. You could say, a series of filters exist which systematically constrict the choice. Herein the unfurling of my governing metaphor. America is the land of freedom and democracy - the place where local communities hold referendums on whether to have bond isues in order to fund local library services. Where even the borough engineer is an elected officer - and where real campaigns are run for such posts. It's a land of mind numbing complexity, where popular referendum is a means of setting law - direct democracy exists.

And yet, and yet, it is the land that has the almighty Presidency, a single human being charged with sole authority over both government and military, who, through the use of the presidential veto, has real legislative power - in ordinary circumstances, no law will even be proposed in the knowledge that the president will veto it.
Section 1. Clause 1: The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America...Section. 2. Clause 1: The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment....Section. 3.
He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States...Clause 2: Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it
Now, that is one mighty tranch of power.

As I discussed below, we may measure the level of democracy in terms of the more people within a community having a say in it's functions. Under the terms above, the president alone has the legislative, judicial and military functions all within their pocket. One man. So, while the country is spread among so many districts, franchises, local bodies, an bewildering array of different political landscapes, the free ranging President rises above it all like a collossus. Just so as in the full game of Go, the board ranges around in complex demi-battles in the corner, so when you play the 9x9 game do you find you have to race for the centre, with no manoeuvering room allowed.

Even were political groupings to develop locally outside the democrat/republican birfucation, they would need to decide to take sides in the presidential race, which can go to a real 50/50 split. Unlike parliamentary democracy, splitting the vote doesn't work, you have to build that 50% coalition. While the lib-dems here can have a real shot at power by building local bases, any chalenger yanklander side would have to consider their presidential alignment carefully.

To recap, and add a few more links. There are a series of filters. Starting with money - you need moullah in order to even stand. You need a party - obviously - and they may use their local control of political machinery to assist their candidate. After that, you need to win the biggest vote in the various districts - you can of course achieve this with a minority of the vote (and do that repeadedly in the majority of the districts). With that vote, you then may take the electoral votes of the state, and with them perhaps, a majority of votes in the electoral college. Of course, the number of votes you could win with a minority of votes in each district and a minority of votes in each state may not bear a close relation to the number of voters in each state because of apportionment distortions, and the constitutional weighting given to small states.

What we have in reality is a bureaucratic battle played out to arcane rules between rival oligarchs - the voters are the apssive witnesses to the chicanery of ruling élites, and they are far removed from the decision to appoint that almighty president.

The prospects for change? Well, I don't think the presidency is going to disappear anytime soon. It's unlikely, given the entrenched nature of the American constitution, that a change will be easilly forthcoming, any group that has the power to change the constitution must feel they are doing well enough under the current rules.

Perhaps a second minority Bush win will impel the Republicans to make changes to legitimise their rule - perhaps not.

Anyway, I'll watch the events with clsoe interest, and I'll close this series down now, so I can post occaisionally on different topics. Ten is enough.


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