When all the rhetoric, confetti and euphoria (much akin to a circus) of the US Democratic nomination contest is over, the post mortem will reveal whether the United States passed the “democracy” test.
After a long and fierce battle between Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, many people have commented on how marvelous and splendid American democracy is. They have pointed to the large voter turnout in all the contested states; the rapid counting of ballots and early availability of the results and the acceptance of those results by the winners and losers. “This is exactly what democracy is all about,” said one television commentator when discussing the wins on March 4th by Hillary Clinton.
“A model the world should emulate,” he went further. Well, from my perspective I would have to say “wait a minute.”
You see, democracy is a very complicated concept and by no means would I want to trivialize its conception. However, at the most rudimentary level, electoral democracy is premised on the notion that whoever amasses the most votes in an electoral contest should be declared the winner. That simple! But wait a minute; let’s examine the situation in the US Democratic Party contest.
Instead of relying on the will of the majority, the votes are awarded proportionally by geographical constituencies in the form of “delegates.” So, where one candidate might win the popular vote, he or she can still lose the delegates’ race; take Nevada, Clinton won the popular vote, but lost the delegates race to Obama.
We also have a situation where Clinton is arguing that delegates and the popular votes really don’t matter. What matters to her is where you have won. If you win the big states like California, New York, Ohio, etc. then you should be the favorite for the nomination. She is willing to exclude and assign to the dustbin all the votes from the “small” states, even though the combined number of voters of those small states is larger than those in the big ones. Is that a shining example of how democracy is supposed to work?
Another important aspect to examine is the so called “super delegates.” The super delegates leave us with a situation where power is concentrated in the bosom of a small group of dominant party figures. For those serious students of politics, you might remember and aptly term this situation as a manifestation of the “iron law of oligarchy.” Participatory democracy is only used as a disguise at best and window dressing at worst and is overridden by elitist oligarchic group members (whom it is believed are more qualified than ordinary voters).
Another aspect that comes into play is the enormity of money that is required to contest a presidential election in the US. Is democracy only supposed to be for the rich and to those most connected to those with money? The staggering figures being raised and used by both Hillary and Obama to secure the nomination make one blush. You can opt for public financing, but be ready to take a beating by those who secured private financing. Obama got lucky, he raised his profile and popularity with his electrifying speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, otherwise, this would have been a no-contest for Hillary Clinton; hardly, a shining example of democracy at work.
Let’s hope in the end, the post-analysis showed that the “will of the people prevailed.”