July 04, 2009

The 3.6% Accident

On this July 4th, we should contemplate the fragile experiment of American Democracy. There is a very fine line between the likes of Lincoln, FDR, and Jefferson on one side, and democratically-elected calamities such as Ahmadinejad or Marcos or Mugabe on the other.

Our system is unlikely and precious, and its strength does not just come from the presence of democratic voting. Today we should all take a moment to wonder why America happens to be so successful.

Think about the huge difference between Obama and Palin. Imagine if Palin had been the one to steer us through negotiations at G8, in the Middle East, or in the banking crisis. Recall Obama's 284-word impromptu answer on American Exceptionalism or the way he responded to the Wright disaster with a landmark speech on race. Contrast that to Palin's thoughts on Putin rearing his head in the air over Alaska or yesterdays bizarre abandonment of the Alaskan governorship in response to rough political waters.

And think about this blunt instrument of governance called democracy. Remember that in the end, 45.7 percent of American voters believed that Palin was qualified to hold the nuclear codes, and only 52.9% decided to trust Obama. Our world hangs in the balance: if a mere 3.6% of voters had chosen the other way, a disastrous team would have controlled the most powerful office on earth.

Now ask yourself: what makes American Democracy possible?

What can we do to strengthen this fragile system of ours?

Posted by David at July 4, 2009 07:36 AM

Wouldn't it be more fair to compare Palin to Biden than Palin to Obama?

BTW I read Obama's remarks to say that he actually *didn't* believe in American Exceptionalism, or at least that he was trying to redefine it. The whole point of A.E.-based thinking is that we are not the same as the British or the Greeks.

In any case, a great point that the quality of leaders we choose ultimately shape the nation.

I wonder - is the idea of direct election via popular vote better than the original intention of the electoral college? The original intention was to send delegates to go to a place, spend some time, listen to candidates, learn about and debate issues, and pick the best candidate. Is direct election by a populace -- most of whom engage in little study or debate -- really better? Sometimes I get so tired of demagoguing (on both sides) that I think we should give the original electoral college design another try.

Posted by: Peter H at July 4, 2009 10:00 PM

Crowds of Rs were not moved by McCain any more than Ds were inspired by Biden. Palin and Obama controlled the polls in 2008.

Republicans not only gave Palin a pass, but found her inspiring - "she's great," was the general attitude of my R friends. Which I find both puzzling and frightening.

Palin brings out the worst in democracy. 'Obama is a terrorist' is no better than 'Mousavi is a criminal': http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2008/10/06/in_fla_palin_goes_for_the_roug.html

Yet I don't think we'd be better off leaving elections to a deliberative body. Imagine what kind of president would be chosen by boneheaded Bachman-R-MN or corrupt-to-the-bone Jefferson-D-(ex)-LA.

Obama's exceptionalism remarks are an example of what we need to protect ourselves from electing the next Hitler or Stalin.

We need to be able to keep two things in our head at once: our own uncompromising beliefs, and our recognition of the beliefs of others. Pride and humility at the same time. Our problem - and this is why Palin moves the needle in polls - is that too many Americans have lost this basic way of thinking about both ourselves and others.

Respect for others is the fundamental lesson of civics, and it is our best defense against democratic self-immolation.

Posted by: David at July 5, 2009 06:31 AM

Dave, I read you words, calling us to "keep two things in our head at once: our own uncompromising beliefs, and our recognition of the beliefs of others." But I ask you check that log in your own eye. Out of 40 posts on Obama, only one is critical of him, and that was of a early campaign speech. Of you references to Republicans, according to you, they are only doing well when they vote with the democrats.

Still humbly reading you thoughts. And thanks for your help with my speck.

Posted by: Roger at July 7, 2009 02:15 AM

Maybe it's because Obama is objectively doing quite well?

You have to admit that there is a whole crowd of thoughtful Republicans who think that Obama is doing well also. Kissinger today:


Posted by: David at July 7, 2009 06:37 AM

So by your logic, Edwards was the real candidate in 2004 (he had more charisma than Kerry, I think).

Just for the record, I am one of your R friends who is no fan of Palin. I find Bill Maher snide, but his "retarded flight attendant" comment does not fell that far off after watching the Couric interview.

The republican party - and the fiscal conservative movement - have no clear leader. (I voted for Ron Paul, btw)

But I am not sure, however, that there is agreement that Obama is doing a good job. Objectively, his numbers are falling:


I think it is far far too early to tell what the result of his policies will be. As a fiscal conservative - I am very discouraged by the changes he is bringing. My belief is they will punish successful people and reward losers in a way that limits growth and reduces standard of living over time. But that's just me.

Posted by: Peter H at July 7, 2009 01:17 PM

Overall, where we can agree, is the system of picking a president is very flawed. It is not clear that great candidates are even willing to run in this system ... much less that the best candidate is reliably chosen...

Posted by: Peter H at July 7, 2009 01:19 PM

Dave, I'm guessing your response to me was tongue-in-cheek?

Both of your assertions are confirming indicators of the bias I was pointing out.

Posted by: Roger at July 7, 2009 08:12 PM
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