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Is the USA democratic or not?

 
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OK, so what's the American's view on this? As a non-American, it seems to me that the most well known part of the USA's foreign relations strategy is to encourage the use of democracy in as many countries as possible - America's message seems to be "Be democratic, just like us!". The question is, just how democratic is that?
Now I don't know many details of how the system in America works, so sorry for any mistakes. It seems to me like the system in America is most definatly not democratic, although not by design. The reason for this is that its only a small subset of people who can actually stand for the higher office. For the role of president, for example, if you are not a middle aged, white, christian man than you don't stand a chance. Agreed there are people high up in the American political structure who don't fit this mould, but it is hard to imagine a president who doesn't. Another problem is money. The only way a person can successfully run for the presidency is by having enough money to do a good campaign. I don't mean to insult the intelligence of the average American by saying that they vote for the person with the best advert, but it seems like unless you can only win an election by having about a million road shows, TV adverts, posters etc to get your policies across. The trouble is that a candidate can probably only do this by getting the backing of the big corporations, who he will then in turn owe a favour. Wether or not this is true, many people here in the UK look slightly suspiciously at the way that oil-backed Bush, just after being elected, allowed oil drilling in a national park and backed out of the Kyoto treaty. Do you think that this is a fair assessment? If so, then the so called democracy has been reduced to picking which one of the (normally two) candidates who represent the corporation's views.
I suppose that the capitalist may support this. After all, they would argue that what is good for the corporations is good for the economy, and a candidate who can help the corporation is a good thing.... but is this really democratic? If not, are there any solutions?
One idea (flawed like most ideas) is to make donations to political parties illegal - each candidate gets a small budget from the government, and has to account for their campaign spending. The trouble with this is what to do about people who just claim that they are candidates to get the money. Perhaps a candidate would have to be nominated by a certain number of people to get around this.
Either way, this also brings up another question - what do we mean by democracy? There are two real sides to it as far as I can tell - 1) that everyone should have a vote (and the US does this bit well) and 2) that every one should be able to stand for office. (This of course does not take into account people like convicts etc who cant vote/stand etc.) Also, do we want a perfect democracy? For me, the only truly democratic system would be the one like they had in the 'original' democracy in Athens, were all of the voters (lets ignore the fact that only some people could vote) voted on every issue - this is clearly unworkable over a large country.
I don't mean to be over critical of the states (its not to much different here in the UK), but I am interested in the American view point on this, and how democratic they see themselves as being.
Ta
 
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For the role of president, for example, if you are not a middle aged, white, christian man than you don't stand a chance.


Not quite true. Hillary Clinton looks like she's running in 2008, and of the identifiable candidates for that year she apparently stands the best chance. Colin Powell would have had an excellent chance had he run in 2000. and Condoleeza Rice may command support as well.

I don't mean to be over critical of the states (its not to much different here in the UK), but I am interested in the American view point on this, and how democratic they see themselves as being.


Quite a bit different, actually. Every voter has a chance to vote for the executive. It's not quite direct (not with the Electoral College in the way), but it's much more direct than the British constitution, where the only direct voters for the PM are the voters in his or her constituency.
Contrast that with Iraq, where every voter was obliged to directly elect President Hussein. Now that's pure democracy! Except for the element of force, of course.....
 
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Eliminating the ability to make dontaions to political parties would make things worse! This would give an enourmous advantage to those who are already in office. The president can get free press any time he wants by giving a speech or calling a press conference. An unknown candidate needs money to get his name in front of the public. He needs to buy TV time and newspaper ads and radio ads and he needs to travel across a very big country. Without money how would he do it? As you said, without money how would he get his policies across to the public?
As far as white, middle-aged, Christians getting elected since that represents the largest voting bloc wouldn't it make sense that in a democracy that the president would come from that group? If Al Gore had won we would have had a Jewish vice president. We did have a woman run for vice president as a democrat a few years back.
The British system is very different. As mentioned, the majority of people in Britian don't get to vote for PM. If you hate the PM but like your MP, you can't vote for your MP and vote for a PM of the other party! In Britian you don't get to vote for people, just parties.
 
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Originally posted by Thomas Paul:
If Al Gore had won we would have had a Jewish vice president.


He was vice president when he run for presidency. wasn't he? May be I am missing something here..
 
Thomas Paul
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Originally posted by Sankar Subbiah:
He was vice president when he run for presidency. wasn't he? May be I am missing something here..


Al Gore is not Jewish but the man who ran as vice president with Gore was Joe Lieberman who is Jewish.
 
San Su
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Originally posted by Thomas Paul:

Al Gore is not Jewish but the man who ran as vice president with Gore was Joe Lieberman who is Jewish.


Got it.. thanks..
 
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IMHO, fixing a maximum spending limit to individual candidate’s election campaign would give everyone a chance, irrespective of how rich one particular candidate is. But, I think its already in practice there in the USA where systems work much better than in India, where this rule already in practice, but so far they have had a tough time trying to impose the it!
 
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Al Gore's running-mate was Joe Lieberman, who is Jewish. Thus if Gore had become President, we would have had a Jewish Vice-President.
This whole discussion is a little confusing to me. The original poster asks whether the U.S. is a democracy, and offers the white-Christian-male thing as a counterpoint. Democracy has nothing at all to do with who can be elected President, or to any other office; it has to do with two things:
  • who can vote in elections;
  • whether the elected officials, in their daily business, represent the will and interests of the people.


  • By point #1, the U.S. is indeed a democracy, because virtually every adult can vote. But by point #2, given the events of the last few years, I'm starting to seriously doubt that it is.
    [ September 02, 2003: Message edited by: Ernest Friedman-Hill ]
     
    Thomas Paul
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    Originally posted by Ashok Krishnan:
    IMHO, fixing a maximum spending limit to individual candidate’s election campaign would give everyone a chance...

    Actually it gives the incumbenet a better chance. He is already known. He has run before and he gets his name in the paper. Along comes someone who is unknown. It will obviously take a lot more money for him to become as known as the other candidate. The mayor of NYC is a good example. Bloomberg spent millions getting his name and policy ideas out to the public. He was a Republican running in a city where the vast majority of the people are Democrats. He won because once the public got to know him they liked him and thought he would do a good job. Without spending millions he would not have had the opportunity to compete against well known Democrats.
     
    Al Newman
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    The only way a person can successfully run for the presidency is by having enough money to do a good campaign.


    One more comment. This is superficially true, and there are years when it isn't realistic for a challenger from an incumbent's party to challenge him or her. 1996 and 2004 being good examples.
    The most successful candidates will always get funding. This is opposed to the candidates who would (in theory) make the best President, of course. The current leader in the Democaratic nomination fight is a perfect example. Six months ago Howard Dean was widely thought to be the least likely of the 'serious' candidates and likely the first out of the race. Today he is the leader both in the polls and in funding. Dean reminds me of Clinton a good deal. He's the ex-governor of a very small state, has a bouncy demeanor and a big smile. It remains to be seen whether he has the other qualities, good and bad.
    In Clinton's case the money followed the man, not the resume. Same with Dean. In 2000 I rated Bush and McCain about even. McCain was more magnetic and a late starter, Bush was the superior manager and better prepared. Money and organization won out. But McCain had a real chance, never doubt that. Enough money was there for him to win had he been better-organized.
     
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    Joe,
    Your points are way off. They have nothing to do with the US being a democracy. You are also off on your money for elections comments. There is a limit on how much can be given to a candidate.
    There also was no "National Forest" that was allowed to be drilled in. First it never passed. Second it wasn't a forest. It is tundra in northern Alaska. The whole OIL COMPANY bull is really getting old. As can be seen by the rise in prices caused by the Ven. situation, we are too dependent on foreign oil. We have oil but the not in my backyard mentality forces us to remain dependent on foreign oil.
    You also only mention corporations as buying influence. Here is a list that has also bought politcal interest. Unions, trial lawyers, AARP, environmental groups, small business groups, AMA, ADA,
    Corporations tend to give money to the party that controls the purse strings only slighty more than the party out. They tend to try to hedge their bets.
     
    Joe King
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    Agreed, the UK system is not perfectly democratic - not least because out head of state (the queen) is not elected at all. Worse, in my view (as the queen is unlikely to ever use her veto), is the fact that out upper house (the House Of Lords) is completely unelected, and they do have and regularly use their veto. A recent case was when the Commons voted to ban fox hunting, but the Lords vetoed it.
    As for the fact that the PM is chosen from the majority party (and btw this is only a tradition - technically the queen can, better never would, choose an MP of her choice), it does mean that voters end up voting for a party rather then a person to lead the country. Is it that different in the states though? Although you vote for a president, doesn't the president stick to party lines and policies anyway (as they've made them most of the time...)? Therefore, when you vote for a democrat president you are voting in the democrats into power.... this kind of the same as when if you vote labour in the UK you are voting labour into power.
    If democracy has nothing to do with who can stand for office, then was Iraq, where everyone voted but could only vote for one person, a democracy? Obviously not, but this does raise the interesting point that there is no exact definition of democracy that everyone agrees to.
    Oh, and I never said "forest", I said "park"
     
    Ashok Mash
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    Originally posted by Thomas Paul:
    Actually it gives the incumbenet a better chance. He is already known.


    If a person is already known by his/her own good work in the past, he or she deserves the publicity. But as your example clearly shows, that wouldnt work as media interests determine a person's public image. Now, since corporate giants takes sides for return-favours, what if the person is not allowed to do any favours to any one once he/she assumes the position? I think what we are talking about is a more transparent system with more active and bold opposition.
     
    Paul Stevens
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    It isn't a Park either.
     
    Thomas Paul
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    Originally posted by Ashok Krishnan:
    If a person is already known by his/her own good work in the past, he or she deserves the publicity. But as your example clearly shows, that wouldnt work as media interests determine a person's public image. Now, since corporate giants takes sides for return-favours, what if the person is not allowed to do any favours to any one once he/she assumes the position? I think what we are talking about is a more transparent system with more active and bold opposition.


    But that is silly! What if I run saying that the oil companies should be deregulated. The oil conmpanies think that is a great idea so they help funbd my campaign. No I get elected and I can't do what I promoised because they oil companies gave me money!!! In most cases money is given because you like the candidate not to bribe the candidate. You support someone who thinks the way you do, not because you want to change their thinking. I am sure some of the latter happens but that is far rarer (and probably doesn't work anyway).
     
    Thomas Paul
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    Originally posted by Joe King:
    Although you vote for a president, doesn't the president stick to party lines and policies anyway (as they've made them most of the time...)? Therefore, when you vote for a democrat president you are voting in the democrats into power.... this kind of the same as when if you vote labour in the UK you are voting labour into power.


    Responding to your two comments:
    First, presidents don't always stick to party lines. Clinton, for example, supported NAFTA against his own party.
    Second, electing a president doesn't put that party "into power". It only gives them control of one branch of government. Having the presidency held by one party and the Congress held by another party is very common in American politics. And even when both are held by the same party, they can still disagree on many policies. Voting on straight party lines is not nearly as common in the US as it is in the UK.
     
    Ashok Mash
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    Originally posted by Thomas Paul:

    What if I run saying that the oil companies should be deregulated. The oil conmpanies think that is a great idea so they help funbd my campaign. No I get elected and I can't do what I promoised because they oil companies gave me money!!!


    Well, again, I think the whole scenario of Oil companies helping to fund a campaign shouldn't happen in the first place!
    You should win an election because the public thinks your ideas to deregulate oil industry will bring good to them, not because Oil companies or other corporate giants think it will! That is, first of all, try to think the idea of corporate-interests funding the election; Now, they wont pump in any money because they wont get favours! And, they could spend money if they find a candidates idea interesting, but what if the candidate can not accept their favours, as his spending (or spending own his behalf by others) will be monitored? I think this will give everyone a fair chance to contest! (Now, I know its too unreal to be practical, but somehow there should be a limit on the capaign funding, and any spending over should be banned - as its easy to buy votes if one is allowed to spend money!)
    Now, if corporate giants cant help (with money), and cant expect any favours. Still they can still take sides with a particular candidate, but they will have to just stay quite and do nothing to try to influence public's opinion with their own!
    I know its easier said than done, especially in 200% capitalistic set-up that like USA where success in business (or how rich a person is) determines how good a President he/she will make.
    [ September 02, 2003: Message edited by: Ashok Krishnan ]
     
    Thomas Paul
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    Originally posted by Ashok Krishnan:
    Well, again, I think the whole scenario of Oil companies helping to fund a campaign shouldn't happen in the first place!


    It isn't actually the oil company but the CEO and the Board of Directors and the other officers who each donate money. And, of course, it is the union president and the union members who donate their time and money to their candidates.
     
    Paul Stevens
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    Originally posted by Thomas Paul:

    It isn't actually the oil company but the CEO and the Board of Directors and the other officers who each donate money. And, of course, it is the union president and the union members who donate their time and money to their candidates.


    Exactly. There is a limit on the amount an individual can donate.
     
    I've read about this kind of thing at the checkout counter. That's where I met this tiny ad:
    Building a Better World in your Backyard by Paul Wheaton and Shawn Klassen-Koop
    https://coderanch.com/wiki/718759/books/Building-World-Backyard-Paul-Wheaton
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