Has American democracy lost its way?

By Tylor Claggett
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, November 7, 2012
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Pinocchio's bane [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]

 Pinocchio's bane [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]

This US election cycle has been long, ugly and, in many ways, counter-productive. Elections should give the public an opportunity to hear mature conversations about a group of national issues that need to be addressed in the near future. Unfortunately, mature conversations have been all but nonexistent as the strategy during the 2012 US election has been for candidates to focus on out-of-context statements, meaningless positions and embarrassing circumstances associated with their opponent. These tactics never lead to constructive ideas, conversations and dialogue which are so badly needed to solve complex national problems. Instead, such distractions make politicians much too cautious in everything they say, both on and off the record.

Consequently, each election cycle sees a growing number of voters tune out election-related news and stop participating in the election process. The 2012 election is perhaps the most extreme in this sense. The negative political ads in many swing vote states became so negative that restaurants and other places of business simply turned off their in-house televisions in fear of losing customers. For many, disgust with the political process simply overwhelms their desire to have their voice heard. And, to add to their apathy, many potential voters are unable to see meaningful differences between the candidates, despite the obscene amounts of money, time and effort spent during the campaign.

A 2010 US Supreme Court ruling took the allowable amount of money spent during campaigns to a new level – no limit. Specifically, the ruling allows corporations, labor unions and other organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money during campaigns to champion their agendas, with or without candidate approval. This ruling was not unanimous, but was five to four. The argument in favor was based on the first amendment: freedom of speech. However, in my opinion the nation’s founding fathers intended freedom of speech to apply to people, not organizations. The air ways are now jammed with an almost unbearable amount of political ads, making it difficult for conscientious voters to sort fact from fiction and make informed decisions. It is almost as if the election cycle is an exercise in disinformation.

The forecast for this presidential election is a very tight contest with no clear winner. This is symptomatic of a nation that has become ever more polarized across a broad set of issues. As partisanship becomes more entrenched in our political environment, there is less appetite for compromise, something that is essential for solving complex problems. The grid-lock in our political system is the most disturbing attribute of recent election cycles. Without meaningful action across many fronts, ours is a nation that will suffer from sustained paralysis, and will fade as the global community passes us by. That is the tragedy of what we are witnessing in our electoral politics.

I am not advocating the abandonment of spirited political contests. However, candidates must take the high road by working hard to describe their plans and programs for the future. Furthermore, they should encourage, with words and deeds, an atmosphere of compromise. They must not reject otherwise good ideas just because they came from the other side. Politicians must reject the low road when temped to attack the reputations of opposing candidates with innuendos, half-truths and, in some cases, falsehoods. Unless the direction of future election campaigns is turned toward these values, I fear for American democracy.

The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.


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