Wednesday, November 09, 2011

On Western Democracy

From CounterPunch, Former Reagan economist Paul Craig Roberts meditates on what the EU outrage over the Greek Prime Minister's now aborted decision to submit bailout/austerity plans to a nationwide referendum means for our democracy:

If you need more evidence of this mythical creature called “Western democracy,” consider that Western governments are no longer accountable to law. Contrast, for example, the sexual harassment charges that are plaguing US presidential candidate Herman Cain’s campaign with the pass given to high government officials who clearly violated statutory law.

What follows is not a defense of Cain. I take no position on the charges. The real point is different. In America the only thing that can ruin a politician is his interest in sex. A politician, for example, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, cannot be ruined by violating United States and international law or by treating the US Constitution as a “mere scrap of paper.” Bush and Cheney can take America to wars based entirely on lies and orchestrated deceptions. They can commit war crimes, murdering large numbers of civilians in the cause of “the war on terror,” itself a hoax. They can violate US and international laws against torture simply “because the president said so.” They can throw away habeas corpus, the constitutional requirement that a person cannot be imprisoned without evidence presented to a court. They can deny the right to an attorney. They can violate the law and spy on Americans without obtaining warrants. They can send due process to hell. In fact, they can do whatever they want just like Hitler’s Gestapo and Stalin’s secret police. But if they show undue interest in a woman or proposition a woman, they are dead meat.

Very few commentators have said a word about this. The House of Representatives did not impeach President Bill Clinton for his war crimes against Serbia. They impeached him for lying about a sexual affair with a White House intern. The US Senate, which had too many sexual affairs of its own to defend, didn’t bother to try to convict.

This is Amerika today. A president without any authority whatsoever, not in law and certainly not in the Constitution, can assassinate US citizens based on nothing except an assertion that they are a “threat.” No evidence is required. No conviction. No presentation of evidence in any court. Just a murder. That is now permissible to the Amerikan president. But let him try to get a woman who is not his wife into bed, and he is a cooked goose.

More here.

Something conspicuously missing from our national character is the notion that, rather than being simply a form of government, democracy is both a lifestyle and a way of thinking. While it is true that the United States isn't a democracy in its strictest sense--indeed, the US is a "democratic republic," such that elected representatives ostensibly enact the will of the citizenry--the concept of democracy oozes throughout our nation's symbols, our national narrative, and our self-understanding, and is rhetorically prized above all other concepts. That is, the American ideal is that, even though we don't live out the ancient Athenian notion of citizen-legislators, we get about as close to it as we can, given the massive size of our country and complexity of modern life.

But, of course, we don't get as close to it as we can. Yes, we go through all the formal rituals of "democracy." We watch political debates on television. We inform ourselves on the important issues of the day. We vote, in both primaries and general elections. At least, some of us participate in these formal rituals. But, in the end, concentrations of wealth and power call the shots. Our votes are meaningless in the face of armies of corporate lobbyists and massive wads of campaign cash. The political class, which supposedly represents us, in fact, carries out the collective will these concentrations of wealth and power.

If the American self-understanding of its "democratic" nature included the firm belief that we actually have to do something in order to be citizens, that we must both think and behave as though we run the country, there would be a very good chance that we really would become as close to Athenian style democracy as we can get, that we could call America a democracy and really mean it. Instead, we just vote and bitch--high school civics courses, the only kind of democracy-education we get, tend to reinforce this.

And that's exactly how the powers-that-be want it.