Saturday, November 01, 2008

America is not Voting

I came across this on the BBC. Now why on earth in the richest country on the planet are people queuing for hours just to exercise their right to vote? I am living in the US right now and watching the election as an outside spectator is very interesting.

Traditionally around a third of Americans bother to vote. In fact one of the biggest grass roots issues over here has been voter registration. So why the apathy? This time around voter turn out is expected to reach record levels. So it looks like the silent majority have finally found their voice.

Central to the idea of democracy is the responsible citizen making an informed choice. In the UK we take our voting responsibility very seriously indeed. Which is as it should be given that people have died defending our right to vote. The whole ethos of our (free) education system and our public service cultural institutions like the BBC is geared to producing well rounded and well informed citizens able to utilise their vote intelligently. Over the years this has led to consensus politics, where there is broad cross party agreement on a number of major issues. When you have vice presidential candidates who can't tell you which newspapers they read, doesn't that say something about the strength of your democracy? If the politicians aren't informed, what are the chances of the electorate being informed? Isn't this the root cause of the polarisation that is so self evident in US politics today? The informed versus the uninformed rather than left versus right?

I picked up this quote from a documentary I once saw on the plight of the American Indian. An old Indian chief on a reservation was asked what he thought of the white man:

"The white man has many great things, but he cares not whether his people are wise".

Apt words, which still have relevance today. Living here now, I can say that Americans are wonderful people and worthy of the claim to be the greatest nation on earth. With any luck they will make the right choices and begin to address the weaknesses in their democracy and become even greater still.

The defining moment in the election so far for me was Colin Powells contribution. Colin Powells America is a country I would be proud to be a citizen of.

1 comment:

ncloud said...

Interesting to hear thoughts from someone who has lived over-the-pond. I didn't vote this election, not because I don't care about electing wise leaders, but precisely because I *do* care. Here is my reasoning on the subject.