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The Education Forum

Democracy in the United States

John Simkin

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There is an interesting article by Peter Preston in today’s Guardian about the failings of the political system in the United States.

Preston describes the thesis of Bob Ivie, professor of communication and culture at Indiana University. Ivie believes the problem began with the founding fathers.

“They were nervous about "distempered" democracy, about too many roughnecks rocking their elitist boat. So the constitution - far from being one man, one direct part in the action - was a cautious edifice of checks and balances: a lower house, an upper house, a president, all forced to wheel and deal and, at the end, deliver what the system ordained rather than what the voter crudely demanded.

And the years have not been kind to that constitution. It has frozen in mythic immobility. No ferment about reform, no movement. The alterations to the superstructure of this superpower are external, shifts in context. Consider the explosion in media spending; consider the zillions you need to run for anything; consider the dependence on corporate power. Greenback elitism.

The people have a vote (if registered). They can be, and often are, involved in community politics. But real politics is the preserve of the few. And the few, like Marie Antoinette reaching for the ginger biscuits, are perennially edgy about their authority. Television and radio have given the president the added aura of supreme power. They have helped to free him from the web the founding fathers wove. He has a digital bully pulpit now. But he runs what Ivie calls a "rhetorical presidency" - full of "images, phantasms, tropes and insecurity". That means governance by crisis".


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