I wrote in these pages a few months ago about how Democrats needed to learn lessons from Republicans when it came to fighting elections. As a front seat observer to this year’s presidential race – I am currently working in the battleground state of Ohio – it seemed appropriate to offer a follow up.
The quick conclusion: the lesson has been learned. Unlike many of his predecessors – Mondale, Dukkakis, Gore, Kerry, and so on – Obama and his team are playing tough and are playing dirty. Quite simply, they are taking Romney’s greatest perceived strength and turning it into a potentially devastating weakness.
Romney’s main claim to the White House is that he has been a successful businessman and, because of this, he is far more knowledgeable about what it takes to create jobs. Obama, by contrast, a well-documented socialist with no business experience, cannot possibly know what it takes to grow an economy. Romney’s team want to focus relentlessly on just how bad the economy is and then present himself as the guy who can fix it. It really is that simple.
If you don’t believe me, look at Romney’s response to any social issue. When Obama announced support for gay marriage, Romney briefly reaffirmed his position and went back to talking about the economy. When Obama ruled by executive decree that children of illegal immigrants would not actively be pursued for deportation, providing they met certain requirements, Romney refused to talk about it, and got back to talking about economy. This is the only possible way he’s going to be able to steal the White House keys.
The problem now for Mr Romney, is that his job-creating credentials are being brought into question. Obama for America, and the Super-PAC supporting him, Priorities USA, have been relentlessly pursuing his tenure at Bain Capital, the company where he made his millions. Ads have flooded the airwaves with desolate factories and ‘real workers’ telling how the Big Bad, Out-of-Touch Mr Romney came to town, sent their jobs overseas and made millions in the process.
The media – or ‘the liberal elite,’ as Sarah Palin calls them – have been looking into Romney’s past too. The Washington Post wrote a story claiming that Romney was a pioneer of outsourcing whilst at Bain, a phrase that was quickly injected into a number of Obama spots. The Boston Globe joined the party as well, highlighting evidence that shows Romney left Bain three years later than he had previously claimed.
A narrative is starting to set in that depicts the Republican candidate as a secretive and selfish businessman who holds the interests of the rich close to his heart. Indeed, 58% of voters in swing states believe that, as a businessman, Romney’s priority was to make millions for his investors and himself, without a care for the ordinary jobs. 37% are less likely to vote for him because of his tenure at Bain, with only 27% being more likely to do so and, most troubling for the Republican, President Obama is seen by 50% to be more likely to fight for the middle-class, compared with just 31% for Romney.
In recent days, Romney’s campaign has tried to hit back, saying that Obama has been dishing out taxpayer dollars to his friends, and that, more generally, these ‘attacks on success’ have crossed a line. It hasn’t been a very potent form of counter-attack for quite obvious reasons. Firstly, the idea that Obama and the Democrats are the party gifting millions of dollars to their donors is patent hypocrisy from a party whose central fundraising pitch is: ‘If you give us a few million now, when we’re in office, we’ll make sure you make it all back in tax-breaks.’ And secondly, if a line has been crossed, it was crossed some years ago and probably by the Republican Party. That is an aside however, as this particular charge was shot down in characteristically sharp style when Rahm Emmanuel – former White House Chief of Staff, now Mayor of Chicago – told the GOP candidate to ‘stop whining.’
As Republicans did to John Kerry in 2004, Team Obama is going making sure they define Romney on their terms before Romney has a chance to do it himself. Behind the scenes, and increasingly in the open, Republicans are starting to fret, worried that Romney’s campaign is blowing an historic opportunity to seize the White House from a relatively weak incumbent caught in an anaemic recovery.
It is thus a testament to how far Democrats have come in the campaigning game that they look set, although by the slimmest of margins, to cling on to the Presidency this November.
Local Elections, and the State of Play thereafter.
Local elections are such a yawn. Most people don’t even know they’re going on, or who their councillor is, or what councillors even do. To be totally honest, I’m not really sure what they do either. And I’m sort of friends with one.
The only time local elections are ever vaguely significant or interesting is when they feed into a bigger picture and this year that happens to be the case.
Here are a few things to watch for:
Great Expectations – A classic political ploy. Political parties – usually the one in government – will talk up their opponents’ chances of success. The Tories, for example, have set the bar at an unattainably high level (1000 council seats), so even if Labour do make significant gains, the government will nonetheless argue that Labour hasn’t done as well as it should have. It’s a stupid game, and one that’s easy to spot if you’re looking for it, but most people aren’t looking.
The point here is that whoever is able to spin their numbers the best in the post mortem will be able to gain an upper hand on the media narrative for a couple of weeks, and maybe even a bit of momentum. Cameron in particular would love a chance to shine the spotlight on Labour’s inadequacies for just enough time for him to catch a breather.
Clash of the Buffoon and the Sleazebag, and Glasgow. In the interest of full-disclosure, I should declare that I lean to the left – not in a self-righteous, hypocritical, Polly Toynbee kind of way – but in a manner that is entirely appropriate for a coddled, middle class History student. Yet, regardless of this, I cannot stand Ken Livingstone. My stomach churns at the very thought of him; you just sense he isn’t a good guy. What’s worse is that I quite like Boris. I mean, if you’re going to be a Tory, at least be honest about it. Heart on the sleeve, “authenticity is the gateway to trust” (Revelations: 7;12) and all that.
The outcome of the London Mayoral election, in isolation, is not immediately important. (Although a Boris victory does place him well for a run at the top job when Cameron steps down, but that debate is for another day…)
If Boris wins – which I predict he will – he buys the Tories some good headlines for a while and Labour’s gains will get undermined a little. But that’s not a nightmare scenario for Ed Milliband. Ken is not really part of the Labour establishment, and if he loses he certainly won’t drag Ed down with him. The let-up for the Government will be temporary, and Labour will return to calling for Jeremy Hunt’s head, particularly if their gains across the country turn out to be stronger than expected.
What Labour’s elite are seriously concerned about however, is Boris winning in London and Labour losing control of Glasgow, a traditional stronghold for the party. Glasgow is being viewed as a test of Milliband’s political strength, and if he falls short he could be in real trouble, especially considering the broadly unsympathetic right-wing media.
To all intents and purposes, America has moved into the general election. Mitt Romney has stumbled his way to the (de facto) Republican nomination, and the far right fringes are joining with the establishment in rallying around their candidate.
Over the next six months there will be hundreds of sensational headlines attaching great significance to the latest poll, capturing a fleeting snapshot of the American public. This is all white noise. Yes, the national narrative is important, but that’s not how this election is going to be won.
The key to the White House lies in the magic number 270. Amass 270 electoral votes and that is it. You win. You’re President.
This is a fact that most of the mainstream media don’t give much time to. Lip service is paid to the importance of ‘swing-states’, but the analysis is never thorough. Studied carefully however, and Obama seems well placed for a second-term.
Almost certainly, Obama has 186 electoral votes in the bag, compared with Romney’s 156. States like California, Oregon and New York will go to the Democrats, and states like Texas, Alaska and Mississippi will go to the Republicans. This much is all but certain.
But on top of this, the Associated Press has estimated a further four states – with 55 electoral votes – lean Democrat: Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. All four were won by both Kerry and Gore, and all four were carried by at least a 10% margin in ’08. By way of contrast, only 32 electoral votes lean towards the Republicans: Indiana, Missouri and Arizona.
If we add all this up, Obama is sitting on 241, with Romney trailing badly on 188. Now, these calculations could all be upturned if events change dramatically in the lead up to November, but this is a race with a polarised electorate firmly entrenched in one camp or the other, the ‘undecideds’ are few are far between and are unlikely to dramatically alter the above estimations.
So where does that leave us?
Almost obviously, Obama is in a stronger position. If he wins Florida – a state where Obama’s team is campaigning aggressively – that would be it. The 29 electoral votes would give him a second term. More likely, considering the stubbornly high unemployment in Florida, Obama will seek to cobble together the votes elsewhere. Ohio and either Virginia or North Carolina would get him there, as would New Hampshire and important holds in the Midwest.
For Romney – a candidate marked by mediocrity – it is a big ask. While some Democrats are nervous about how close the race currently is, the odds remain stacked against him. Republicans will be hoping that the economic recovery remains anaemic and that he can slip into the White House by virtue of being seen as a man who knows how to create jobs.
Otherwise he will almost certainly be condemned to the footnotes of American history.
On 20th October 2011 Colonel Qaddafi was killed in Libya, forty two years after he took to power. News stations released rebel mobile phone footage of his bloodied corpse dragged by the feet of Libyan NTC fighters. The reaction of our NATO states was one of disinterested jubilation; it was the victory of Democracy over Tyranny. Initial reports said he was dragged outside, beaten, his clothes ripped off and shot by a rogue gunslinger in the frenzy.
Is this Creative Destruction? For a “new Libya” to be born the “old Libya” must be destroyed.
Libya before Qaddafi was in borderline poverty, the monarch King Idris did not inspire his people. Qaddafi was the natural creative reaction to the Royal decay. We cannot believe our mass media in demonising political opponents (the links between Mr.Murdoch and Parliament demonstrate this all too well). Qaddafi began as a reformer; he empowered women’s rights in divorce and inheritance, newly weds were paid $50,000 as aid for starting their family, oil and bread were subsidised, literacy rates and the country’s wealth experienced a boom.
I see Qaddafi’s accession to power as an example of greatness in leadership (comparable to Napoleon’s, Stalin’s, and even Gandhi’s), for the simple reason that it was bloodless. Sun Tzu believed that “ultimate excellence lies not in winning every battle but in defeating the enemy without ever fighting.” Qaddafi’s coup d’état had no reported incidences of violence, it was Creation-without-Destruction, if you will. It was a perfect event with a leader of a revolution that was going forward into the “Ideal State.” Unfortunately, the “Ideal” is forever imprisoned in our individual minds, although no one has the same ideal. Thus Qaddafi had to take a necessary decision in enforcing his ideal on Libya to keep the decaying effects of dissidence at bay, he used both cunning (through informants and spies) and strength (“liquidating” political enemies). This is why our media calls Qaddafi the dictator with an “iron fist,” he was essentially too idealistic to be agreeable and after 42 years of his rule peace and subservience grow tired and conflict must eventually arise.
In the playground of politics the big kids did not like Muammar, he was a Socialist, oil rich and weapons rich. The “mad dog of the Middle East” was accused of sponsoring terrorism (by countries that have overtly supported the training and funding of the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan to terrorise Soviet invaders). But the worst threat to the world powers and central banks was Qaddafi’s creative plan of a new currency, the Gold Dinar. For African and Arab-Muslim nations, this would render the Dollar useless in oil and, according to RT “shift the economic balance of the world.” Qaddafi’s demise was in the waiting.
The scene was set, world powers and the Libyan people grew restless; the NTC and no-fly zones were the natural destructive reactions to a successful, creative individual. Democratic ideals of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité are beautiful concepts used by us to veil Destruction’s inherent link with the Good we aspire to. The price for freedom is heavy. Qaddafi’s destruction shows us that great men must fall in order to make way for a new product of creation.
The last audio message by Qaddafi I remember hearing ended with three defiant barks; “alet alman! Alet alman! Alet alman!” (“Go forward! Go forward! Go forward!).
Is Creation-without-Destruction ever possible? And can Peace ever be possible? While Man has progressed a thousand-fold, Humanity ceaselessly stands still against the currents.
“The greatest argument against democracy is five minutes with the average voter.” - Winston Churchill
Democracy is a word thrown around a lot these days, often with undue care. In the vernacular it is spoken of with reverence, almost as if it is the silver bullet to our most fundamental problems. Nothing seems to make more intuitive sense than giving “power to the people”. For in a democratic society, people should be the ones making the decision, right?
Now let us first be clear, when we talk here of democracy we are talking about it in the ‘direct’ sense; the way it is used in conversation, and that is what must be addressed. Direct democracy can too easily be hijacked. Take the recent referendum on the Alternative Vote. In the early stages of the campaign, the public were leaning well towards voting Yes. It was only when David Cameron realised the potential for political fallout were he to lose, that he called in the traditional Tory backers and took firm control of the campaign. Outspent and outgunned, and with a right-wing press happy to peddle untruths, the tide of public opinion was emphatically turned and the No camp emerged victorious with an overwhelming 2:1 victory. It is little wonder that Attlee dismissed referendums as “a device of demagogues and dictators.”
It was quite clear to any reasonably educated person who attended the protests over tuition fees that the streets are not the forum for debate. “Education is a right, not a privilege,” roared the Students, gleefully ignorant of their privilege. The level of ignorance was simply astounding, with facts willing tossed away in favour of mindless vitriol. No wonder nothing changed.
If we look over the Atlantic, we can easily see why power in the hands of the people is so dangerous. The Tea Party movement came perilously close to causing the Federal Government to default. The sheer intransigence and unwillingness to break from ideology held the country hostage, and undermined any constructive negotiations. Had the Tea Party had their way the economic damage would have been untold, but it almost certainly would not have improved the situation of those who supported the movement in the first place.
It is therefore somewhat ironic that these far-right extremists so frequently cite the vision of the Founding Fathers as supporting their cause. What they fail to realise is that Madison et al. went to great lengths to ensure the Constitution would provide safeguards against government becoming too democratic. For it was an overly democratic system that had so wearily undermined the Confederation Congress since 1776, and was one of the main causes of its inherent weakness. Their desire for government to be above the fickle and uneducated will of the people was the real genius of the 1787 document.
Of course, the problem is, the idea that ‘they don’t know what’s good for them’ is not one that sits comfortably with us today. It is reminiscent of the prejudice that women and blacks had to struggle against to have their voices heard, and it rings loudly of elitism.
It also however, rings loudly of truth.
This is not because people are stupid, for they are not. It is because people generally do not have the time to spend on the intricacies of public policy. The very notion of a referendum on our membership of the EU is simply ludicrous, for in absolutely no way is the public informed enough to make such a call.
It is for decisions such as these that we elect our politicians and it is therefore trust that must guide our politics. We ought to elect the person we think will best look squarely at all the evidence and come to a reasoned decision, regardless of what the electorate thinks. MPs should not be beholden to their constituents’ will, for that is merely an abdication of responsibility.
Naturally, we should not take this argument to its extremes and deny anyone the right to engage with the political process. The people should always hold their politicians to account, but not in a reactionary and unthinking way in the style of the Daily Mail, for this is how any attempt to really think about sophisticated issues draws only an ignorant hysteria. It is a deplorable state of affairs that we find ourselves in today, and it is one which only fosters mutual contempt between the politicians and the public.
We must thus fend against naive calls for democracy. Only with a very well-informed electorate can democracy realise its potential, but that is not a stage of society we have reached yet. Franklin Roosevelt understood this only too well, and it is therefore to him that we surrender the final word:
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
For the past three summers I have been volunteering at a centre for boys, teaching basic subjects like English, Arabic and Maths. Every year I meet a new bunch of young boys, with different stories, different expectations yet similar realities.
The centre that hosts them is called Boys Hope Centre, which I find ironic because they lack hope and the idea that they are the future of this nation remains foreign to them. All they care about is surviving each day at a time, finding a decent meal, and a roof above their heads. Their ages are between five and thirteen, and the older ones are constantly looking out for the younger, who sadly think that their reality is the only one that exists. They are oblivious to any world beyond the walls of the centre, they see fancy cars and people with proper homes, but somehow in their minds they think, “This is not for us”.
Those boys have a rough exterior but once broken it paves way to innocent smiles and ambitious personalities, desperately seizing any chance they get. They are special boys, who chose to come to this centre each day, and not resort to the streets where they would beg, steal join gangs and ultimately end up dead from starvation or drug abuse. What is frustrating is that those boys are not orphans, nor physically disabled which might have been excuses to explain their situation. No, they are victims of wars and poverty that left them displaced, and with few prospects for living.
Some are from South Sudan, and after the independence they are now the in-between phase where they do not want to leave but are no longer considered welcome to stay. Others are from rural Sudan, who were forced to leave due to drought and lack of jobs and healthcare and came to the capital to find that excluding the fancy cars and streets, it is basically the same, if not worse.
So much potential is being destroyed and no one is even aware, the amounts of donations are lessening each year and so are the resources available to nurture the wasted talents. Amongst them are artists, Akol for example, who when given a piece of paper and pencils starts drawing beautiful portraits of what he calls Life in Peace. He is not bitter that the war ruined his life, yet the people who put him in this situation are, and keep making it worse for him and his friends. Doad is the mathematician who can solve any problem given and Forsom is so fluent in English that he corrects my grammar and spelling.
Some days, I do not have a full class because one of them had to work. They wash cars, work in construction sites moving materials, or even sell sweets on the streets. This is because, to their families of nine and ten, they are another mouth to feed. They do not care if their son is missing out on an important class, or even missing out on an opportunity to really be somebody. To the parents, this is how they were raised: do not try to change what you were born into, just accept it and stay silent.
So every summer I leave knowing that I might never see most of them again, and I will never know if they are still struggling. I wonder if someone else will offer them a book to read, or teach them that it is okay to dream. They are the true loss of Sudan and they are the victims. My faith and hope remain that one-day those boys will succeed, stand tall and bring peace and prosperity.
You’re the leader of a country with 700,000 empty homes and an increasing number of people sleeping on the streets. You’re cutting housing benefit, threatening thousands with eviction.
Do you make it a) easier for people to occupy these empty homes, or b) make it illegal and slap a one year prison sentence and a £5,000 fine on anyone caught doing it?
Choices, choices, choices. Needless to say, you’re not the leader. David Cameron is. And he’s going for option b.
About 40,000 people currently ‘squat’ in unoccupied homes around the UK. At the moment, it’s not technically illegal for them to do so, as it would be more expensive for them to live on the streets when dealing when the long-term health costs of homelessness are taken into account (most long-term rough sleepers die in the 40s). Sleeping in an empty building is an obvious alternative to an alley for an evicted family, especially with the construction of social housing now at its lowest for decades.
The changes would be a little more understandable had the government’s consultation shown that most people support the move. But out of over 2,000 responses, 95% opposed the criminalisation of squatting. 120 academics and lawyers also signed a letter in The Guardian in September questioning Ken Clarke’s proposals. This is clearly, then, a controversial move.
Some manifestations of that anger could be seen on the 31st of October when about 500 squatters marched to Parliament for a planned ‘sleep-in’, demanding the Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill which contains the provisions be dropped. The protest was broken up as by police (it was ‘unauthorised’) and seven people were arrested. A day later, the bill passed overwhelmingly in the Commons.
Scotland, well ahead of us here, has already made squatting a criminal offence. However, there are existing ways of getting rid of squatters in England and Wales, with evictions done through the civil courts. Many squatters are charged with Criminal Damage, an offence which is easy to prove and regularly sees people thrown out. The means are already there, then. But the Conservatives, who, on an unrelated note, have received £3.3m from property developers over the past three years, are set on taking a tough stance on the issue.
Who exactly are these squatters? 37% of them suffer from mental health problems. 78% had attempted to get help from councils, and failed. A fifth have alcohol problems. This is clearly a deep social problem. A parliamentary motion against the bill puts it right – the government should ‘not penalise vulnerable homeless people [but] focus on tackling the root cause of the problem’, namely that the housing market is failing Britain. The motion, by the way, garnered a mere 40 signatures.
Outside of Parliament though, the government’s decision has sparked outrage from a broad range of charities and campaigning groups – Crisis, the Advisory Service for Squatters, and surprisingly, the NUS. Why the NUS have spoken out doesn’t seem immediately apparent – until you realise that the legislation being introduce to criminalise squatting could also criminalise university occupations. Is this the end of the campus occupation? And if it isn’t, could it be the start of an era of lawsuits by universities against their own students? It’s a dangerous time to be radical.
Michael Chessum, on the NUS executive committee, said the NUS would make it ‘politically impossible’ for the coalition to enforce the moves. What that could involve is as yet unclear, but two universities – Birmingham and St Andrews – have just gone into occupation. As the slogan goes from last year’s demonstrations, this might be ‘just the beginning’, but with swinging cuts to the education budget, it seems unlikely that squatting reforms are going to be the main topic in student protests over the next few months. Michael Chessum could be disappointed.
The real opposition has to come from the charities concerned and individuals willing to take a stand. Ministers listened when the National Trust spoke out against planning reforms. The plans for woodland privatisation were dropped when campaign group 38 degrees spoke out. The vulnerable people who’ll be evicted because of governmental short-sightedness need someone to speak out for them, too.
If we were to judge a man by the company he keeps, then the late Muammar Gaddafi would give us a very interesting impression. From Berlusconi to Blair and even GW Bush, the authoritarian leader had an erratic mix of acquaintances. However, of these easily the most controversial was Venezuelan socialist demagogue Hugo Chavez, who has stayed loyal to the old regime in Libya, announcing earlier this month that he would refuse to recognise the new government and labeling his fellow anti-westerner, a “martyr”. Such a comment is typical of Chavez, divisive and controversial, and this combined with a long line of other stances, ranging from nationalising his country’s oil supplies to accusing the US of trying to execute a coup against him, has transformed Venezuela into something of an ideological battleground for the West. It represents a clash of ideals between free market conservatives and liberals, for whom he is a dictator, constantly extending his constitutional powers and trying to silence media critics, and anti-American leftists, for whom he is a lone wolf, howling against the winds of neo-liberal hegemony. Godwin’s law tells us that the longer an internet discussion goes on for, the more likely Hitler or the Nazis will be mentioned, but increasingly the same could be said of Chavez and his so called “Bolivarian Revolution”.
Of course, the danger is that we may lose sight of the facts in a duel of pre-formed opinions. By using Venezuela as a tool to criticise or defend socialism, depending on their views, both sides may be too selective in their perceptions, overlooking certain truths they do not like, or only subscribing to single sources. All too often have I heard a critic of Chavez only using reports from the right wing media.
It is difficult to accuse Chavez of full dictatorship given his democratic electoral successes in 1999, 2000, 2006, as well as winning a 2004 recall referendum and surviving an undemocratic, shady coup in 2002. All these elections have been approved as legitimate by respected bodies like the OAS (Organisation of American States) and the Carter Centre, while he does face a very hostile media, who routinely invoke Godwin’s law against him. Illiteracy has gone down 10%, real GDP growth rates have boomed and extreme poverty has collapsed by a considerable 72%. Hence claims that Chavez should be the “next” leader to go after Gaddafi seem a little glib.
Yet it is even worse for idealistic opponents of neo-liberalism to so blindly support Chavez, overlooking the increasingly fascistic approaches of his regime, vowing to stay on until 2021, or closing down various media outlets. Most recently, and perhaps worryingly, he has reformed education to introduce socialist teachings so as to eliminate “capitalist thinking” in the young. Often forgotten by his sycophants are his own attempted coup in 1992 and his ‘enabling act’ of 2000 and 2007 (although admittedly, this was just as prevalent under previous Presidents).
To claim that Chavez only acts in this way, as it is the only way to fight “American Imperialism” is too apologetic. Other Latin American leaders have adopted a similarly socialist approach without courting controversy or tyranny. President Lula in Brazil, for example, turned Brazil into a potential future economic powerhouse, lifted 25 million Brazilians out of poverty and rarely made any enemies in foreign policy. Unlike Chavez, he knew when to quit and stepped down with 87% approval ratings.
Quite frankly, many of the middle class champagne socialists that support Chavez in the West would not want to live in his Venezuela. Crime and gang activity are rife in Caracas. The murder rate has increased to 220 per 100,000 people a year since Chavez came to power. Stories pervade of policemen who sell bullets to young gangs and prisoners being randomly decapitated, despite the nation not having an official death sentence. Slums still number around 100,000, and decreasing approval polls, suggest Chavez is no longer seen as the saviour of the poor he once was.
Therefore, it is time for both sides of the argument to realise the truth about Venezuela, rather than continue to ignore facts and trends that contradict their ideologies. Chavez is not the great Bolivarian Liberator he wants us to see him as. Yet neither is he, as an article in last week’s Zahir remarked, a total dictator. For ultimately, seeing another nation purely as an ideological battlefield, overlooks the ordinary, everyday Venezuelans, for whom the debate is most important, and should, consequently, be least ideological.
‘A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers’
A ship is navigated by a man who has spent years studying the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the winds and other professional subjects, not by the combined opinion of ignorant crew members and passengers. In the same way, Plato argues in The Republic, a country should not be run in accordance with the unqualified view of the masses. The disadvantage of such a system, our system, is visible today with the emergence of what has been dubbed as ‘Celebrigarchy’. The fundamental problem with democracy is that the most popular candidates are not necessarily the most talented political leaders – electing a superhero for Governor did not sort out California’s debt problem. Whilst this example might be amusing, the election of George Bush the cowboy over ‘Al’ Gore, the American environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, certainly is not. As the political commentator Bill Maher wrote, “if you give the average guy the chance, he’ll vote for a fantasy world with no taxes and free beer.”
‘… he is going out of his way to make the public his master and to subject himself to the fatal necessity of producing only what it approves’
Plato wrote that often in such a system, because deception is an easy way to gain favour, the popular politicians are the ones who are more talented at manipulating the public, and, therefore, precisely those whom we should least of all trust. Furthermore, the popular leader, dependent as he is for his position on popular favour, must sell the public what they want to hear like a salesman. The result is that the politician will attempt to retain favour by prioritising superficiality before substance. He will never tell the public an unpleasant truth and only advocate policies that will make them comfortable. Tony Blair, a man often described as charismatic, is considered by many to be a wonderful example of such a politician. In 1997, he managed to stir up the country with the widely marketable brand of ‘New Labour’, and through the use of industrial public relations machines, engineered by spin doctors Campbell and Mandelson. Following his words, “Mine is the first generation able to contemplate the possibility that we may live our entire lives without going to war or sending our children to war”, he ordered British troops into battle five times. He can easily be compared to the Athenian demagogues from Plato’s ancient world, such as the warmonger Cleon.
‘It’s a wonderfully pleasant way of carrying on in the short term’
The long term implications of democracy are more clearly being shown in today’s society than ever before, because, although Francis Fukuyama’s controversial claim that Western liberal democracy marked ‘the final form of human government’ has proved unfounded internationally, domestically the ideological differences of many Western states have converged into the centre of the political compass. As a result, personality, rather than true political talent, plays a far greater role in determining party leadership and the outcome of elections. Indeed, it is now even possible, through initiatives like the Conservative Party’s WebCameron, to observe politicians engaged in everyday activities, such as playing golf, taking the kids to school or even cycling.
‘Every Individual is free to do as he likes… In determination to have no master they disregard all laws’
Plato described the ‘democratic individual’ as the selfish person without order or restraint in their lives, who “spends as much money, time and trouble on the necessary desires as on the unnecessary”. The recession that we are currently experiencing has various causes, however, is clear that the freedom of the American liberal system did facilitate its occurrence, since the lack of economic safeguards allowed banks to give out high-interest loans that would never be repaid. The recent expenses scandal too, Plato would attribute to a lack of restraint in our Liberal system. Also worrying for democratic politics are the larger internal financial issues that have arisen, such as from Bernie Ecclestone’s £1 million donation to the Labour party in 1997 (following the exemption of Formula One from the tobacco-advertising ban), or the huge amounts of money spent on campaigns. The unfortunate truth is that money powerfully influences politics but gives no insight into who, in fact, would be the best leader.
‘Until Philosophers are kings, or kings have the spirit of Philosophy, cities will never have rest from their troubles’
Plainly, committing the conduct of state affairs to the whims of the manipulable public has disadvantages that are becoming increasingly present. The similarity between our elections and the Britain’s got Talent voting system are all too clear. Plato would argue simply being born should not give you the right, since it does not provide you with the scholarship, to influence the governing of a country.
1. “I read one adamant young hopeful suggesting that the whole ordeal was a CIA mission to destabilise policy-makers restricting American regional oil interests!”
The Libyan issue captured the interest of more than just military strategists; a bounty of literature emerged ranging from hard-hitting political journalism to speculative idealism. Amidst the ifs and maybes, one thing was clearly visible: the deterioration of the old and the dawning of the new. For better or worse, this was an exciting prospect to any onlooker and a treat for commentators the world over.
2. “The military presence in Libya operated under the assumption that the Libyan problem would eventually unravel itself. The trouble is that reality caught up.”
The West’s choice of action, inevitably moulded by the petrifying legacy of Iraq, was one of peace and stability, not intervention and invasion. The MoD released a statement shortly after the adoption of the No Fly Zone communicating their expectation of being involved with the operation for at least six months.
3. “Course, the uprisings in the Middle East had been characterised by a surgical speed and efficiency.”
At the time, six months seemed to be an absurdly long timeframe. In all other scenarios, the media’s challenge had been how to release one headline before a new one trumped it, not how to keep a story alive for more than half a year.
4. “Let’s face it, two months later and it’s clear the stalemate in Libya is unbreakable!”
Continuous presence in Libya is proving the sense behind the MoD’s calculation. Presumably, the objective of the UN resolution was to prevent Muammar Gaddafi’s forces making gains until either he stepped down voluntarily or was abandoned by his ludicrously strong support structure.
5. “The problem is that the intervening forces didn’t give themselves the power to get involved actively at any level.”
NATO’s refusal to apologise for bombing rebel tanks on the grounds that they were threatening civilian lives reflects the West’s reluctance to take any decisive action towards a resolution in Tripoli or even declare full allegiance to either side of the conflict. Conversely, the mission objective as it stands seems to be one of maintaining a peaceful status quo in Libya at the expense of a decisive outcome.
6. “Nah, it’s wrong to suggest that the ‘keeping peaceful’ approach is at all naïve.”
The logic behind it is perfectly clear: the West has seen the results of strident and aggressive interventionist policies in the Middle East, and international decision-making has quite rightly learnt from previous mistakes. The Libyan strategy, therefore, reveals a new method of foreign policy based on the fundamental principle that nations must actively dictate their own identity. According to this standard, the role played by military intervention must be limited to relatively impartial policing of conduct within an active warzone.
7. “We can only wait to see if an effective outcome will be produced. My guess is as good as yours.”
By refusing to put full unconditional support behind the rebels, the West has maintained its passivity in the conflict. However, this begs the question of whether stability in Libya is viable even after the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime. The opposition to Gaddafi is currently a collection of disorganised, poorly armed and untrained dissidents who happen to have the most sophisticated air force the world has ever known supporting them. If the West continues to pursue a ‘hands off’ policy which involves very little interference in the structure of Libyan politics, will there be a future after Gaddafi and an alternative to the tyranny for which the current regime is known?