Tag Archives: democracy

Deluded Democracy

23 Dec

A Year in Reverse, Part One.

Over the next week, I shall be putting up collections of things I wrote this year that haven’t made it to this blog yet. Pre-bogey readers, all ten of you, will remember I blogged for Himal SouthAsian earlier in 2010, and these were mostly written to that end. They are ‘political’ reportage, if you will be generous with your definition. Mostly, I talk about news I find interesting. This year that happened more often than is usual, as Chaosbogey’s Politics will tell you. Here is me covering other elections from the year.

The second part of the reversal was Playing Cassandra.

Antique Wine in an Antique Bottle.

June, 2010

The recent demolition of the West Bengal CPI (M) in Calcutta municipality elections brokered many fates. In a country where some form of election is a daily occurrence, municipal elections inevitably get the short shrift. Not so here.  Newspapers and pundits portend that it marks a turned tide, that 2011 assembly elections shall see the party in the bay rather than in Bengal. Writers’ Building (in Calcutta, even administration must have a booksy air) might finally see new occupation: Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress.

Writers Building

The party in present form is evidently just the Lady, a few trusted deputies, and her unwavering agenda of uprooting the CPI (M). One wonders how this party will cope with the delegation of government. To the facile observer, Banerjee’s Didi might echo that other formidable and self-reliant Lady CM: Mayawati’s Behenji (even their honorifics collide). An important difference remains. Mayawati has had spells of power to considerably enrich herself, while Mamata is that rare mystery: an impecunious politico. She is currently Union Railway Minister, an easy route to padded bank accounts. Perhaps her restraint was just prudence: what is a ministry compared to the treasury of an entire state? Will she stay uncorrupted by power once her crusade is accomplished? It is a wager Bengal appears willing to take.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Lady Dragon.

10 Oct

This is the second of the mylaw.net articles on the American midterms. As usual, please head thither for links to the articles on which my analysis is based- I do believe in credit, but setting up two sets of hyperlinks is my idea of too much work. Unless I have directly quoted from the article, or otherwise think you cannot live without reading it, I have omitted the reference in this version of the essay.

I’m still glad I supported Obama over Hillary Clinton. If Hillary had won the election, every single day would be a festival of misogyny. We would hear constantly about her voice, her laugh, her wrinkles, her marriage and what a heartless, evil bitch she is for doing something – whatever! – men have done since the Stone Age. Each week would bring its quotient of pieces by fancy women writers explaining why they were right not to have liked her in the first place. Liberal pundits would blame her for discouraging the armies of hope and change, for bringing back the same-old same-old cronies and advisers, for letting healthcare reform get bogged down in inside deals, for failing to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan – which would be attributed to her being a woman and needing to show toughness – for cozying up to Wall Street, deferring to the Republicans and ignoring the cries of the people. In other words, for doing pretty much what Obama is doing. This way I get to think, Whew, at least you can’t blame this on a woman.

Whatever Happened to Candidate Obama? Katha Pollitt.

One day in 2008, we all woke up to the news that the long-suffering Hilary Clinton was capable of such gymnastics as public weeping. I am not now, and I certainly was not then, a news junkie. All the flap about Obama had passed me by entirely: wasn’t he the guy who declared his desire for the presidency on a talk show? I had assumed that Clinton was a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, that she would probably win, and the world would trundle on heedless. Washington is united when it comes to ‘security’ wonks: Blackwater, for instance, was defended by a firm run by Clinton strategist Mark Penn. In the corner of the globe that most of us inhabit, that simple truth is often all that matters.

Yet here she was, whimpering, and the election was close to a year away. India’s Indira and Germany’s Angela, it appeared, didn’t translate into America’s Hillary.

That was the day I swallowed my pride and sought education from sundry politics nerds: the mystifying distinction between primaries and caucuses, conventions and their delegations; and how, exactly, did colleges get to elect the president of a country? Most began with an admirably concise answer to the first question: they’re both dogfights for the nomination. Unfortunately, I was then at the height of my elections-are-gimmicks-and-circuses phase (which I am yet to fully recover from); and there was the predictable flame-out before the conversation could turn to other foundations of American Civics 101. The profusion of talking heads obsessed with Ms. Clinton did, however, get me interested in the interplay between feminism and electoral politics: what, really, is the price worth paying for a woman in power?

Continue reading

Via Media

4 Jul

I was once asked to comment on a paper called “How to Subvert Democracy: Montesinos in Peru” in law school.

Montesinos was the Head of Intelligence in Peru in the ‘90s, when Fujimori was in power. Via SIN (how’s that for evocative language?), he bribed his bosses’ way into power. He paid off parliament members, judges, newspapers, and news television channels – this last he paid the most money of all. The authors provide several  explanations:

  • Television channel owners are generally richer than the average politician. In an endemically corrupt system, they get box seats.
  • Channels  influence public perception more than individual judges and senators do.
  • He had to buy all the news channels in order for his control to be effective, while he just needed “enough” judges and politicians.

Finally, they argue the fourth estate — gagging the press amounts bypasses democratic institutions, and thus a democracy produced a dictator. All fine points that miss something basic. Fujimori wasn’t a dictator.  He was formally elected, and not by a banana republic margin, even if he did wrangle himself a third term in power.  Once Peruvians found out about the scandal, he obligingly ran away. Besides, tyrants don’t pussyfoot around buying off television channels. They kill offensive journalists.

The capture of the media isn’t something Montesinos dreamt up, and it isn’t a symptom of corruption. It is a symptom of governance in sufficiently “evolved” societies. It undermines democracy, but that’s only relevant if one separates the idea of democracy from the working of democracies. Fujimori wasn’t a dictator, he was Eco’s Man from Television, an early model Clegg or Obama.

This is a president intent on charming the pants off the gullible, and the tragedy is that so many of these people exist. Democracy was to free us of the personality cult and encourage debate on policy. So where did all the skeptics of the liberals’ fond imagination go? Where are all those American people who should be wondering right about now why their country has such mystifying foreign policy? Why aren’t there more? Cos they’re all watching Gossip Girl and Survivor: Tiny Island. What about all the Indians who should be wondering why our government puts people into ghettos? We, too, are watching Gossip Girl, but then we live within an empire, so ’tis to be expected.

For decades, people like Guy Debord have warned us of the difference between spectacle and symbol, of the inhumanity in being an audience to suffering. I won’t go into the whole capitalism-alienation-apathy argument here, but surely tis evident that the mass media isn’t geared for a thinking citizenry. If a thinking citizenry is what democracy demands, we doom ourselves to failure. This isn’t subversion of democracy, it is annihilation, and it happens everywhere.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: