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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lessons from Jordon: Democracy's Achilles Heel

In December, 2009, Abdullah II, King of the state of Jordon,dismissed the prime minister and replaced him with a palace aide and loyalist, dissolved Parliament and postponed legislative elections for a year.   For all the defects of a representative democratic system, it is far superior to autocratic rule, especially by one.   It is natural for people to resist preemption. “The nature of humans is they want democracy,” said Ali Dalain, an independent member of the Parliament that was dissolved. “One person cannot solve all problems and cannot make everyone happy, so people must share in determining their fate.”   These quotes are revealing from the standpoint of human nature and political theory.    In reading “one person cannot solve all problems,” I thought of the imperial US presidency—not only at the expense of the governments of the republics within the US, but also of the Congress.   The health-care insurance reform legislation, for example, is said to be Obama’s, even though he is in the executive rather than the legislative branch (having only a veto, which can be overridden, in the latter).   It would seem to me that the Speaker of the US House and the Majority Leader of the US Senate ought to have their own agendas—that the Congress should not simply be led by the president’s agenda.   Foreign policy is perhaps the one area where the Congress ought to defer—but only in terms of agreeing to consider what the president has negotiated abroad.  Had the UN climate talks in Copenhagen produced a treaty in December, 2009, the US President would have asked the US Senate to consider it.  Were the Senate to routinely ignore the President’s negotiations, it would be very difficult for the US to negotiate internationally.   In terms of foreign policy, however, one person does not hold a monopoly of wisdom or truth.  So in general, we could take a lesson from Jordon, even as we pride ourselves on our having a representative democracy rather than a monarchy.  I think perhaps we discount too readily the vestages of one-person rule in the US.  A unified long term vision is nice, but stepping back to see and enunciate it is different than deciding what it shall be and imposing it. 

In terms of the American presidency, there may even be a bit of hero or idol worship that has held on from ancient king-worship, as if eons of practice etched it in the human genome.  It is evinced not just when a president is sworn in, but also when he gives the State of the Union address—should I capitalize this?   Honor in the office, it is said, but the president is just a man.   The media obsesses on his every move, including what he is doing on vacation.  This obession gives us the illusion that we know the person.  Who is that behind the curtain anyway?   Do we really know, as we watch the screen? 

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/23/world/middleeast/23amman.html?ref=world