where have our free and fair elections gone?

5 Jalal 165 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head:  Doves, “The Last Broadcast”
Protest Vandalism Riot Danger free and fair elections
viganhajdari / Pixabay

I have grown increasingly dismayed by the tenor and the tone of the Democratic presidential primary elections.  They feel less and less like free and fair elections. It seems like every day has brought a new headline involving one candidate attacking another.  Each day on CNN’s “Situation Room,” Wolf Blitzer moderates yet another verbal scuffle between a Clinton supporter and an Obama supporter.  Lately, the “scuffles” have been a little more civilized, but the attacks continue elsewhere.

Wisconsin recently held an election for the State Supreme Court that was, from the point of view of many citizens, the dirtiest and ugliest in state history.  Reports indicate that outside special interests spent millions on attack ads.  The winner of the election said, “I’m proud of the campaign we ran.”
A couple of weeks ago, I was watching “The Situation Room” right after Michigan joined Florida in failing to come up with a plan to re-run the Democratic primary campaign in those respective states.  James Carville and Tom Daschle were participating in a discussion, with Carville representing the Clinton campaign and Dashcle representing the Obama campaign.  Carville immediately launched an attack on Obama blaming him for the fact that the primaries wouldn’t be re-run and accusing him of disenfranchising millions of voters.  Daschle tried to explain the complexities of the issue, including, for example, who would be considered eligible to vote, but he was cut off by Carville repeating his accusation.  I think Carville knew full well that the issue was complex, but also knew that his soundbites would hit harder than Daschle’s efforts to explain the complexity of the issue.  

As complex as the Michigan and Florida election issues were, it seems to me that both campaigns could have come up compromises in Michigan and Florida that would have been perceived as fair and acceptable.  That they didn’t really says something disturbing about the state of American democracy.

A large number of Americans feel that the 2000 elections were stolen by the Bush family and the Supreme Court.  Serious concerns were also raised about the 2004 presidential elections as well, particularly in Ohio.  Now the Democratic Party seems headed for a potential deadlock in the 2008 elections.  It seems we’ve lost our ability to hold free and fair elections—something I would have never imagined.  It really makes me wonder about the state of American democracy.

It may sound overly idealistic to expect the candidates to engage in a debate that is positive, straightforward, honest, and engages the public in the complexities of the issues.  The political mantra nowadays seems to be, “Negative campaigning works,” and “This is just the way things are.”  But I think something has gone seriously wrong when the primary purpose of campaign statements seems to be to score points, rather than inform the public.  

Let’s think about this.  If someone resorts to soundbites that distort the issues rather enlighten the public, can we really trust such a person to govern honestly, fairly, and on behalf of all people?   Quite frankly, I don’t.  But there seem to be very few campaigns that avoid such tactics these days.  

And as I watched Carville launch into his soundbite-laden attacks on the Obama campaign,  I began to wonder whether I was witnessing another death throe in American democracy–that somehow a point of no return had been passed.  I hope I’m wrong. But if the results of the Democratic primaries end up with a significant number of people feeling that their candidate was cheated out of the nomination, I fear for the future of the Republic.

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