February 03, 2010

The Health of Democracy

by Chris Zacharia

For those who believed, back in late 2008, that the victory secured by Barack Obama in the Presidential elections signalled how far America had come as a nation in loosening their obstinate prejudices, the fierce rebellion against the President’s healthcare reform programme must have come as a nasty shock. Rarely can a single disagreement over welfare have uniquely displayed the huge dichotomy that forms the heart of American society and threatens to extinguish it as a functioning entity. Protestors against Obama’s welfare plan have rallied behind public figures such as Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter and Michele Bachman (a director’s cut version of Palin), rising up across the nation to defeat what these social conservatives consider to be a Draconian encroachment of their personal liberties. Bachman, a Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, demanded that all conservative activists who wanted to stop Obama’s dark intentions should descend upon the capital and make their voices heard. One Republican supporter at the protest in Washington D.C. held aloft a horrific photograph of Jewish corpses in Dachau concentration camp with the caption, “National Socialist Healthcare”[1]. Evidently, these pundits of the extreme right are a dab hand at rabble-rousing.

What strikes me as most disappointing is the fundamental paradox that lies at the heart of every Republican assertion. They claim Obama will create a ‘big brother’ state – despite the fact that the Republicans seem solely interested in intensifying that very process, having organised the COINTELPRO operation in the 1960 and 1970s which gave the FBI extra-constitutional powers to criminalise non-mainstream groups, not to mention founding the Guantanamo Bay prison and initialising the micro-chip revolution, which saw the first American implanted with a sophisticated piece of technology which tracks each movement2. Republicans claim that the healthcare system will impinge on their freedom – despite the 35 million people who have no healthcare insurance and thus cannot be labelled as ‘free’ – for how can you be free if you cannot even afford the most basic healthcare procedures for you and your family? They claim to want small government and individual freedom – but refuse to accept the validity of personal choice in morally contetious issues such as abortion. They claim that a healthcare system would be too expensive – when various Republican governments have spent in excess of £300bn a year on military investment3.

Yet this is only the surface-level observation; it merely indicates the level to which right-wing media organisations have mastered the ‘doublethink’ propaganda that George Orwell frightfully foresaw before the mid-twentieth century. The healthcare ‘debate’ also tells us a great deal about the state of democracy in America, and the value of democracy as an agent of change. When Obama was elected President in November 2008, he summarised why people should vote for him in his manifesto – a manifesto which made his supporters several pledges, one of which was to reform the healthcare system in the United States to help the disadvantaged. The democratic system of elections relies on this ideal4. Rational voters examine each manifesto carefully, deciding which one they believe to be most advantageous to themselves and the nation and cast their vote correspondingly. If a voter’s preferred candidate does not succeed, and all procedures were followed correctly, then he or she must accept the defeat and wait until the next election; the democratic system relies on this principle.

What democracies ask us to do, in short, is to place our belief in our personal moralities and ethical judgements below a belief in democracy. We must hold the democratic ideal – rule by the majority as the only just method of government – above our ‘subjective’ moral views and face the consequences if our candidate is defeated. For instance, if I believe in the depths of my soul that going to war with Iran is morally wrong, but a candidate who wants such a war to go ahead is elected by my peers, I must accept this for the democratic system to function5. Unfortunately, people do not work in this way. You only have to have a discussion about religion, or politics, or war, even with just a small group of individuals to gain an understanding of how important these issues are to people. Asking a populace to submit these cherished beliefs that guide our souls and edify our minds to a managerialist practicality to favour democracy is wholly foolish.

What we see in America is not just a disagreement over healthcare policy, but a faltering of the democratic system. Upon the victory of Obama, the Republicans had to accept that although they did not (for whatever confused reason) believe in healthcare reform, the majority of American voters wanted not only Obama but his policies. Yet despite this, grassroots conservatives have if anything become even more emboldened against such a development, pressurising the ruling party to abandon a crucial portion of its election manifesto and thus let down the majority of voters, an outcome that would surely diminish belief in the democratic process itself. Now, I’m not claiming that civil disobedience or protest is wrong or counter-productive. Instead, it is the democratic system which relies on this fundamentally flawed conception of human nature which fails to engender a harmony that is conducive to good government6. Democracy, in its current representative guise, is flawed in its demands of human beings, and undermines itself as societal goods become more and more incommensurable. And as the democratic system chokes and slowly falls, the alliance of corporate unfreedom and vested interests, those dealers of war and suffering, seeps back into the public domain.

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/15/michele-bachmann-president-sarah-palin

[2] http://www.icdc.com/%7Epaulwolf/cointelpro/churchfinalreportIIIa.htm

[4] Bhikhu Parekh, “Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity & Political Theory”, 2002

[5] Michael Freeden, “Liberal Languages”, 2005

[6] Herbert Marcuse, “One-Dimensional Man”, 1964

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. J

    Beautiful, i’d love to know the reforms you’d impose

    27 Mar 2010, 22:03

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