02 May 2008

Eeenie, meenie, mini and maybe 'Moe'

If the U.S. presidential election were held tomorrow and Barack Obama wasa candidate, I might vote for him, but would do so without great enthusiasm because I think the Democratic and Republican parties and other entrenched political interests would prevent any president from achieving any meaningful change. But Obama's campaign, as least from my distant vantage point in Central Asia, has been encouraging because it so clearly demonstrates how much a great section of the American public is ready for a fresh approach to politics. McCain and Clinton are, in my opinion, indicators of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of both parties. I don't think either of them would recognize a fresh idea if it smacked them in the head.

Obama and Clinton have already spent about as much money as Bush and Kerry did together four years ago in the most expensive presidential race in U.S. history. The staggering amount of time, energy and cash and the deep dependency on corporate contributions required for a presidential race keeps, perhaps unintentionally, the public focused away from the ways in which they can genuinely make a difference, for instance, by forming broad grassroots coalitions that could force our politicians, regardless of party affiliation, to respond to constituent needs. My understanding of history convinces me that substantive social change almost always works from the bottom up and virtually never from the top down. In many ways, and this warrants its own extended discussion, the U.S. presidential election system has become a substitute, almost a placebo, for democratic participation.

What an Obama presidency could open up--and this is my stubborn optimism rising to the surface--is the space in which the public could recapture some ownership of their responsibility to create a better government. If Obama succeeds, and that's far from guaranteed, I think it shows that the public, without any early support from the kingmakers, pundits or the experts, can even force some life into an institution as bloated and brain-dead as the Democratic Party. Now if we could take some of that time and energy and redirect even half of it towards the development of participatory democracy in our schools, workplaces, labor unions, universities, churches, and neighborhoods, I think there is still time for an emboldened public to move the mountains that are required to save our gasping democracy.

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