Thursday, October 2, 2008

American Progress Report: Many Still Favor Bush

The prospects are not good, for democracy as we know it. I know how it is supposed to work, and I like that vision. But we are now looking at our third election in a row where people would elect someone like George W. Bush or John McCain. McCain is indubitably smarter and more experienced. But he does appear to agree with Bush on the large majority of issues. Bush has been disastrous and McCain would likely be damaging at best. This is, unfortunately, not the first time this has happened in recent years. People liked Ronald Reagan for his personality and his leadership. It's understandable. But he imperiled the national economy and, with his deregulation, gave us the savings & loan collapse. It cost us about $160 billion, I believe was the final figure. Nonetheless, people looked back fondly to his two terms and to that of the smarter, more experienced, and yet goofier George H. W. Bush, Sr., who followed him. For decades, many Soviets wistfully recalled the days of Joseph Stalin, who murdered tens of millions of their countrymen. For that matter, in Germany, people elected Adolf Hitler. We, ourselves, have elected people in Congress and elsewhere, term after term, despite our bitter complaints about them and the many ways in which they have proceeded to squander our resources and opportunities. It doesn't matter whether you agree with me. I'm not arguing that this or that should happen next. I'm predicting what *will* happen next. If you disagree, maybe your prediction will turn out to be correct, instead of mine. My prediction is that democracy, as we know it, will increasingly go out of fashion. I hope Barack Obama makes me very wrong. But when half the country (give or take) is prepared to elect people like John McCain and Sarah Palin -- or, before them, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, or Reagan and Bush -- there is a serious problem. Over time, this kind of pattern seems likely to lose supporters. Much depends on what happens in other countries -- China, Russia, and so forth -- where autocratic leadership may be perceived as producing superior results. That is how it looks in the short term. If we go through another Obama bump, like the Clinton years, there will apparently nevertheless remain a hard core of angry Americans who will want yet another clueless Republican president. So in 2012 or 2016, we will again face the prospect of another eight to twelve years of leadership in the wrong direction. We don't presently know what will happen to our economy. Extended hard times and resentment over national humiliation brought Hitler to power in Germany. If we should find ourselves in the basement for a number of years, that portion of society that would admire a strong leader like Reagan or Stalin may well clamor for stronger leadership from our president. It certainly is possible that we could continue the Bush legacy of an overreaching presidency. Even if our own form of democracy endures more or less unchanged -- and I would think it would take many years to achieve a constitutional amendment by popular vote -- it does appear likely that American government will not provide a compelling example of democracy for people in other countries. Even if Obama does a fantastic job, that will only serve to enhance the impression that the American government boils down to a president of greater or lesser quality, plus an enormous and frequently inefficient bureaucracy. Again, I hope I am wrong. But I do find it discouraging to imagine that so many people would so frequently elect this sort of president. The idea that people can make good decisions without adequate knowledge just does not make sense; and to the extent that our democracy is based upon that principle, it does not produce superior results. You can't have this kind of government with uninformed voters -- and, for that matter, with uninformed congresspeople, who cannot hope to understand more than a fraction of the bills they are voting on. Perhaps the best we can hope for, given the prevailing pattern, is that power will devolve from government centers to more local governmental and community units, with centralized quality control checkers. Voters stand a better chance of understanding and voting sensibly on smaller and more localized issues. Progress in this direction could reduce the trend toward placing so much power in a central leader. At this moment, it seems like a superior alternative.