Thursday, April 16, 2015

It Can't Possibly Come Down to a Bush-Clinton Fight, Can It?

The dance of the seven veils has begun. No, I'm not talking about Salome's performance for Herod Antipas, I'm referring to the drawn-out unveiling of candidacies for next year's US presidential elections. On the red side, we have confirmed candidacy announcements from Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio; and euphemistic 'exploratory committee' announcements from Jeb Bush and neophyte former doctor Ben Carson. Jeb Bush is the frontrunner in the early polls. On the blue side, we have...well, Hillary Clinton. If you're anything like me, and take an interest in US politics, you're probably already groaning, "No, no, no, it can't possibly be coming down to a Bush-Clinton fight, can it? Hasn't this country of more than 300 million people got two decent presidential candidates who don't belong to one or other of these two families?"

I think it is unseemly in a democracy to be ruled by political dynasties. It's unseemly because it demonstrates democracy is not working. It is the sort of thing that happens in countries that are democratic in name only, countries like the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The frequency with which dynasties have arisen, even in democracies are that are worthy of the name, can only be down to two factors - either the name recognition is, in itself, sufficient reason to attract voters to the candidate, or there is some form of favouritism or nepotism built into the political system. If it just comes down to name recognition, that suggests the voters are too shallow to consider real political issues. If it is favouritism, that means the voters don't really get a choice between the best candidates. Either way, it indicates democracy is not working.

Now, it may surprise you to learn I'm not a doctrinaire democrat. I believe, like Winston Churchill, that democracy is the least bad system for selecting our political leaders, and like Thomas Jefferson, I believe democracy only works effectively when it is tightly constrained. The unconstrained will of the majority is nothing but mob rule and the tendency towards this must be tempered with strong constitutional checks and balanced with strong protection for individual rights. One of the important constitutional checks in most Western nations is regular, fair and openly contested elections. The growth of political dynasties suggests that the 'fair' and 'open' criteria are not being met.

The United States desperately needs fresh political blood. That great nation is, I believe, on a path towards mediocrity. It is the most heavily indebted nation in absolute terms and has the biggest government expenditure deficit. Even in relative terms it is one of the most heavily indebted nations in the world. Unlike similarly indebted countries like Greece, the United States gets away with it because its dollar is the world's reserve currency, which means the value of its currency is inflated by demand for it as a unit of exchange. This suppresses the effect of all that debt on other economic indicators like interest rates and inflation and that means the US Government can continue to fund those deficits by borrowing and printing (electronically) more and more money to pay its debts. But sooner or later reality will catch up with America and that comparison with Greece will start to look a whole lot more real. At that point, or hopefully before it gets to that stage, Americans should hope they have better political leaders than the current crop.

And I really don't think they will be wanting a president named Bush or Clinton.

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