Since the origins of this blog spring from my experience with American “democracy promotion” or “support” I want to take a minute to reflect on and appreciate the value of last night’s debate. While most of us who have been around awhile as participants and observers in American campaigns have some disquiet about the state of our democratic process, I think these debates are a great reminder of the “blessings of liberty” reflected in political competition in our constitutional republic.
There are instances where we don’t live up to the ideals that we preach to the rest of the world–for instance we probably would not legally qualify for foreign assistance from ourselves under our own statutes for various reasons I’ll write about someday–but we do have real elections that matter (but don’t matter quite so much that we kill each other about them, or fundamentally reorder our system of government with each new president).
A few personal observations: I think both candidates last night did a credible job and gave the American electorate and the global audience a reasonable sense of their own strengths and weaknesses as leaders and drew out their differences and similarities on a number of important issues. We have a closely divided electorate and this would be a close election regardless of either of the nominees unless one of them really imploded as a candidate–fortunately that hasn’t happened.
I agree with those who feel that our two parties have ossified into positions where they don’t overlap the way they have traditionally, and that this presents problems in actually conducting the business of government and in just getting along constructively and accomplishing things that we can broadly agree on.
Nonetheless, even though the candidates sparred vigorously last night, they are both campaigning to the center in the general election. There are consequential policy differences, but also great limitations built into our system. And in all honesty, I tend to think that in spite of everything, they are both decent men–slippery politicians, but not bad people–and that we will muddle forward however the undecideds in a few swing states break. We have a lot of challenges and a lot of work to do, but the American people will decide the future of our society for better or worse regardless of who wins or loses this election. And that is the way that it should be.
While our present party system may not be something that we would hold out as an exemplar or should seek to “export”, and our campaign finance situation is not something we would want to recommend to others, I am pleased with the world watching our general election debates that we are offering an example of American free speech, open democracy and free journalism. The challenger and the incumbent square off on the same stage on agreed rules and the voters get a fair chance to hear both sides.
Kenya is to have presidential debates this time–I hope this can be a positive way to elevate the campaigns and focus on national issues and the abilities of the candidates.