Thu May 25th, 2006 at 04:06:39 PM EST
Questions to the gallery ( in aid of my avoiding erroneous pictures of US political history in a diary I am writing up.)
The diary concerns these essential points--
In it I seek to argue that there are two very important aspects in which the Bush administration represents one of the most radical and dangerous departures from ordinary American political practice. Second, it's an appeal for Europeans and their governments to recognize this state of affairs and do two things in response: 1) offer themselves as counter-examples to the American public and its government and 2) speak up and out about the dangerousness of these features of Bush's regime and what they mean for liberal democracies in the old-fashioned sense of liberal democracies--i.e. open societies based on the rule of law as administered through transparent and accountable institutions.
So, what are the two main dangerous departures I have in mind?
More below the fold --
One is that the Bush administration represents, if not an unprecedented break with the practice of government by lawful and open institutional means, his is at least one of the worst examples of the replacement of institutional government by arbitrary and, thus, personal unchecked, non-institutional power that the US has seen since, well, since when, does it seem, in your opinion?
One of the essential features of democracy, I'll argue--and perhaps the least well appreciated among too many Americans--is that healthy democratic government requires regular, formal, institutional means, and not government by fiat and whim. This is because democratic rule must be regular, predictable and accountable; law and policy must be developed by open and accountable means. That means that institutions--and the elected representatives or their appointed officers who people them must fulfill their due role in the process. Without it, the system's legitimacy is undermined or completely forfeited.
Of course, the presidency is an institution and it's (typically) occupied by a duly-elected official. But, when the president takes upon himself the prerogatives of various other peer branches of government, the authority of which was deliberately intended to serve as a check upon one-man rule, then the proper institutional functioning of the government is necessarily corrupted with potentially disastrous consequences if not soon corrected, if the proper authority is not soon restored to working order.
The other aspect in which Bush has broken so starkly with what is at least recent modern practice is in the vastly more secretive operation of government generally. While Clinton reversed the previous secretive tendencies of the first President Bush, ordering that things were to be made public unless there was a compelling reason to classify them as secret, George W. Bush has reversed this, making everything classified secret unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.
In each of these--the arbitrary personal exercise of power rather than institutional; and the excessive secrecy-- the Bush administrations represent one of the most dangerous and direct attacks on the foundations of open, democatic government that the nation has, perhaps ever, seen.
Thus, by these measures, Bush's much-repeated claims to be a champion of democracy at home and abroad are clearly discredited and not to be believed. By the objective measure of his practices of arbitrary, secretive rule, he makes his one of the worst, least democratic administrations. He is, indeed, one of democracy's most flagrant opponents for a leader of a supposedly modern democratic nation.
On with some questions:
I premise my diary with a look at pre-World War II American political life, in which I picture a public which is far, far less ideologically driven and motivated. One in which the public took little notice of the ideological profiles of the Republicans and Democrats, indeed, in which these two parties were ideologically far less distinct. Instead, my picture presents the average voter as interested, if at all, in the classic "bread and butter" issues which conventional press and school text-books relate as the general prevailing set of interests. Are taxes insupportable? Are the roads maintained? Do the schools educate? Is there an economy in which businesses and farms can prosper? These sorts of issures and not "Who is is "defense" candidate? " "Which party is soft on Communism?" "Which one can be trusted to fight international terrorism?" etc.
My thesis is that this level of partisan ideological divide is something that has arisen particularly in the wake of World War II --with the obsession for "containment of Communism", the McCarthy red-baiting and all that went with it.
Does all of this square with your views the pre-war American public? of less ideologically interested people?
Should I, need I refer to historical campaigns of the mid-1800s to mid-1900s in order to show what sort of issues were the focus of electoral campaigns? The gold standard in the 1890s? The Spanish-American war and the relations with Spanish carribbean? The farm tariffs and issues of the early Progressive Party of the 1920s? Or, is all that superfluous? Or, is it essential to the story in your view?
In brief, have Americans always been highly ideological? Always deeply interested in the theoretical part of politics in your view of it? And, again, have they always--or generally-- been so deeply divided?
I'm not posing these question in the form of a poll--(unless some think that is better or needed, if so, then in that case, maybe I shall. We'll see how this goes.)
Later, I'll try and develop the European aspect of these issues and how Europe can or might act as a counter-weight to these trends which I see as very dangerous.