The death of Western democracy

By Gabrielle Pickard
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, November 4, 2009
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As the contest for New York's next mayor became a battle of racialism, finances and bravado, what should be an exemplar of democracy and diplomacy has been replaced by suppression and acrimony.

Racial divisiveness, personal attacks, and an excessively high campaign budget marred the 2009 New York mayoral campaign. What was predicted to be a "sleepy campaign" erupted into an acrimonious battle, which can be said to be "distorting the democratic process". And there is no place quite as "politically hostile" and indecisive at present, as New York City.

Republican Michael Bloomberg, the richest man in New York, is determined to win his third term as mayor of the city. Challenging Bloomberg's eight years in office, is Democrat William Thompson, New York's African-American comptroller and former Board of Education president. But the contest between these deeply different individuals, initially predicted to be "in the bag" for Bloomberg, has recently turned sour. Belligerent undertones, namely from Bloomberg, are devaluing the contestant's political agenda and ironically leading to a more "open" fight.

The Republican's strategies to "bury any opponent" are laced with dishonesty, racial prejudices, and unfair economical advantages. William Thompson's previously quiet and controlled demeanour has been replaced by more fiery and uncharacteristically fighting persona, stressing the severity of the candidates' acrimony towards one another and their opposing political agendas.

These clashing personalities could be said to parallel the make-up of New Yorkers. The city has never been shy of massive egos and self-glorified individuals and is perhaps one of the reasons why Bloomberg's mayoral career spanned over eight years. Bloomberg has remained a popular incumbent, whose estimated $16 billion fortune is a highly respected achievement among many money-orientated and competitive New Yorkers.

In contrast, Thompson has always preferred to shy away from the limelight. Choosing cooperation over conflict, William Thompson can only be described as a rare species of New York politicians.

But Bloomberg's pedestal is gradually being rocked and a third consecutive victory for the mayor is far from imminent. An air of resentment has been growing towards Bloomberg for his sudden "u-turn" on his pledge not to stand for mayor for a third-term running. Despite the fact that Bloomberg himself had supported the two-term limit on elected politicians in New York, his recent backtrack to suspend the rule has naturally ignited anger and Thompson is right in exploiting this widespread disparagement.

In a fiery speech in Manhattan last week, the Democratic candidate announced his disapproval to the retraction, challenged the legitimacy of Bloomberg's campaign and promised to give New Yorkers the opportunity to vote on term limits. "I believe New Yorkers have the right to have their votes respected. And I believe that Michael Bloomberg's complete and utter disregard for the democratic process was a defining moment for us all," he said.

Although the Republican candidate's calculated reprisal on the two-term rule so he may stay in power is not the only discontentment towards Bloomberg, that is threatening his steamroller. In the U.S. there are "no limits" imposed on what a candidate can spend on their campaigns. Whilst some admire Bloomberg's pledge to use as much as $100 million to "bury any opponent," spending such an obscene amount of money to become elected, is blatantly excessive and does not give candidates an equal advantage.

But perhaps what is the most concerning of Bloomberg's aggressive tactics is the racist undercurrent that is beginning to emerge from his campaign. The Republican all but admitted that if Thompson was elected over himself, New York runs the risk of becoming like Detroit, a city struggling under black leadership. According to Bloomberg, "We all know that cities have gone through great boom times and then turned around and collapsed. Take a look at Detroit. Detroit went from a city where it was a great city with lots of good-paying jobs to a city that's basically holding on for dear life."

These attacks on Detroit, which has had black mayors since 1974, together with Bloomberg's personal attacks on his opponent, including dismissing Thompson as a "non-achieving nobody," has unsurprisingly sparked anger and ironically Bloomberg could be the cause of his own demise.

As citizens of New York remain confused, indecisive and angry by brawling mayoral candidates, the same air of discontent that has, for years, been lingering above the mainland and Taiwan of China, is beginning to disperse and is slowly being replaced by diligence and peace. Perhaps New York should take a leaf out of the books of politicians from Asia.

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