08 January 2008

The brief quadrennial Fame of NH

I think it was Andy Warhol who coined the phrase that in future everyone will be famous at least once, but only for 15 minutes. By now we all know how right he was with his prediction, as the world is full of virtual nobodies who have been "famous" or at least noticed by some part of the media for a few minutes.

What goes for people also applies - with only slight alterations - to places. The French seaside resort of Cannes, otherwise a rather quiet town, is briefly in the news for a few days when the film festival takes place there; Davos, a town high up in the Swiss Alpes and even quieter than Cannes at normal times, makes the headlines each year during the World Economic Forum held there; and various other towns, cities, areas and even countries enjoy similar brief fame and media attention for various reasons.

One of those places is the state of New Hampshire in the North-East of the USA. Usually more than quiet and hardly noticed for any special things or achievements (if one overlooks that Dan Brown, the bestselling author of The Da Vinci Code, was born in 1964 in the New Hampshire town of Exeter), New Hampshire attracts the attention of the world's media once every four years at the start of a US Presidential Election year.

This brief quadrennial moment of fame has nothing to do with New Hampshire itself. It only happens because NH (as the state is called by locals) is traditionally the first of the 50 US states to hold a so-called Primary, a state-wide election in which members of the two major parties in US politics (Democrats and Republicans) determine which of the usually quite numerous candidates should be supported by the delegates the state sends to the nomination conventions later in the year.

Looking at it from the outside, the whole political and election system of the USA seems rather strange. It can only be explained and understood if one remembers the history and development of the USA as a nation, especially during the 19th century. During a time when the Union grew ever larger and at a fast pace, expanding further and further into the West, but with all her political and economical centres still concentrated on the East coast, some system needed to be established to guarantee that new states and territories far away from the seat of power had at least some say in the political process of the nation. (They never had a lot of influence then, and the dominant position of the old East coast states only changed with the introduction of modern transport and communication.)

The system of the Primaries, as well as the institution of the Electoral College that eventually elects the President (yes, the leader of the Western world is not - and never was - directly elected by the people) go back to these early days of the USA, when it could take delegates from the West and other remote areas several days to travel to the federal capital Washington D.C.
And as much as the USA have been in the forefront of technological, economical and structural modernisation for almost two centuries now, there has been no modernisation of the political system. This is one of the reasons why on average less than 50% of US citizens participate in elections, and why so many of them have not a clue in which way they are ruled and governed.

It makes the American habit to go around the world and preach to other nations about "fair elections and Democracy" even more shallow and futile than it would be otherwise, in particular since the United States of America are not - and never have been - a Democracy. They are a Republic and very much alike the ancient Republic of Rome, on which the Founding Fathers of the Continental Congress modeled their new nation in the late 18th century. (Any doubters of this statement are advised to read the US Constitution and related documents.)

If anyone would create or re-create the USA today, with all the available means of modern communications and transportation, it would never been done the way it was 230 years ago. That is not surprising. But what does make one wonder is why there has never been any change and improvement to the US political system, and especially to the way elections are conducted. Could it be that the existing system - as quaint, cumbersome, outdated and expensive as it is - actually suits the rich and powerful people who make up the ruling classes in the USA, in the same way as it suited the Founding Fathers?
It is known that several of the Founding Fathers, especially Franklin and Jefferson, wanted to establish a Democracy modeled on the system of ancient Athens. But the majority - among them George Washington - saw this as "not very practical" and feared that "Democracy could give too much power and influence to ordinary and simple people who might fail to understand the needs of the nation and her government".
Ever since US politics have been a field for wealthy people, and it is not accidental that the 100 members of the US Senate are also the world's most exclusive millionaires' club (since there is not one Senator who is not at least a millionaire). This is only one of the many direct parallels between the USA and her ancient role model, the Roman Republic.

Tomorrow morning we will know what the people of New Hampshire have decided today, but it will not have much news value in a few days, as the massed caravans of politicians and journalists move on to the next states for their Primaries. After a few of these contests, some of the weaker candidates will drop out of the race, and eventually all will be decided before the many delegates elected during the Primaries will even get to the nomination conventions of the two major parties. For the past 60 years they have deteriorated more and more into "Oscar"-like show business events, with thousands of brainwashed people, dressed-up in silly costumes, reveling around, shouting, singing and waving placards. Such is the political system of the USA, and unless someone with both vision and courage emerges and leads the way into a new era, it will go on and on, until no one - in the USA as well as abroad - will take it any longer for serious.

The Emerald Islander (who no longer does already)


The Wild Goose said...

It is no wonder that you don’t take the American political system for serious any more. We just need to remember the first Bush election to consider that it doesn’t only look like a show business; it is a show and a business.

As you mention only millionaires are able to achieve a political position and it is known which huge amounts of money are needed for a political campaign in the USA. Well! We all should know which interests are going to be protected!

Claiming for fair elections and Democracy all around the world is just a demagogical strategic when aiming to protect their own interests. In order to achieve their own targets the American secret agencies have often been in charge of promoting all sorts of political crimes when claiming at the same time for justice. That’s hypocrisy.

You mention there’s about a fifty per cent of the population not taking part in the elections. In Europe it is more or less the same and I guess a good part of that 50% are some of the most conscious citizens who really know there’s nobody worth to be elected and the system itself is to be rejected. I really wonder why such an enormous group of individualist doesn’t look for a way to change the whole.

Waiting for the new era to come...

Alexander "Sunny" Bergen said...

Very good and deep analysis, showing great insight into US politics and history.
Often wondered why they have such a tedious and unpractical electoral system in the States. Doesn't really make much sense to live in the 21st century and use the tools of the 18th and 19th century.

But would love to see them fighting their modern wars with weapons from the times of their political tools.


Yes, it is a show and a business, and often also a circus, especially during the "Primaries".

And Bush was NOT elected the first time and came to power by a plain and simple coup d'etat, assisted by the Supreme Court, whose members (all but one) had been appointed either by his father or his father's predecessor Ronald Reagan.


Yes, the USA are a country that rules the world in modern times, but lives in a political system of the 18th and 19th century. Maybe this explains why they get so much wrong.

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