Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Widest Cleavage

For a long time I felt puzzled, trying to figure out the main basis on which people are taking sides in the current US . Now I know.

The most obvious is based on race. Some people will never, ever vote for a black person. I don’t think it’s possible to guess with much accuracy how widespread this kind of is, but it will surely affect the final tally to some degree. I ran into two men on a cruise ship this spring whose racism horrified me. (In one case, I got up from the table and moved away, since I would not sit with someone as insulting as that hateful man.) Polls in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio during the primary race showed that about 15 or 20 percent of the said that race is a factor in their voting decision.

According to ’s article in the September 15 issue of The New York Review of Books, the courts have been making some decisions that in effect will make it harder for blacks to vote. In Indiana, for example, all those registering to vote must now produce a government document showing their photograph. Most people fulfill this requirement by showing their drivers licence, but blacks disproportionately lack such a licence. They can go to a special office and obtain a state ID card, but that usually involves a lengthy trip. This requirement will inevitably reduce the number of black voters in Indiana.

The Help America Vote Act was designed to increase, rather than decrease, the opportunities to vote. However, it requires states to keep their voter lists up to date by eliminating the names of people who die or move away. This is sometimes done by mailing a letter to everyone on the roll, then deleting the names of all those whose letters were returned in the post. Since tend to move more than whites, they are also more likely to have their registrations removed by this procedure.

Finally, there are laws in some states that disenfranchise felons for life. Since blacks are more likely to spend time in prison, they are also more likely than whites to lose their right to vote in that way.

On the other hand, this year huge numbers of citizens — especially Democrats — are registering to vote. The Republican registrations are flat. I believe that ’s supporters will be remarkably effective in getting those people to the polls on voting day, possibly thereby offsetting the racist effects of the aforementioned legal decision.

Anyway, the impact of race on this election is going to be different from all previous periods, for — as Obama has pointed out himself — there are two different cultures within the black community, and the one favoring Obama is the younger generation. That distinction became very clear when unknowingly whispered into a live radio mike that he (and many other older blacks) would like to castrate Obama.

It is young, educated blacks, not those who came through the civil rights movement, who are keen to support Obama. And culturally they resemble educated white Americans. Racism is not necessarily the top issue on their political agenda, nor is it paramount among young, well-educated whites. Because Obama is so extraordinarily sophisticated, he is not running as a black man, but simply as an American. And many other blacks respond to him as such — including , who said on TV yesterday that he has still not made up his mind how he will vote, but his decision will not be based on race.

So racism is not the main cleavage in the electorate.

Yet there is a cleavage – a deep, wide one. That became apparent when McCain named as his running mate. The tensions between those who support her and those who do not is more intense than between Obama's and McCain's supporters – or even between Obama's and Hillary's supporters. What is that tension all about?

Some say that it’s based on the hostility between cultures. There’s something to that idea, I suppose — at least when it comes to gun control. I have been told that hunting is important to rural people in ways that I cannot understand. This habit of Palin’s is meaningful to those of rural background. To be sure, she talks about small towns as if they are poles apart from cities. I wouldn’t know.

But I can’t believe that this election is a fight between rural and urban Americans. That is even less the main issue than is race. Instead, it's about "elitism"

I got a clue from ’s article in the Guardian (Sept. 8 issue) about . Yes, that’s it! Obama’s too much like Adlai, the Democratic candidate who was defeated twice by Eisenhower. The voters could not forgive him for not knowing the name of a popular comic strip character, as I recall. They called him an “” — meaning an “elitist.” Temko wrote:

“One thing, above all, sealed Stevenson's sorry electoral fate. It was the image that he was somehow too smart, too eloquent, out of touch with "ordinary" Americans. In different contests at different times ever since, that same rap has helped defeat a train of other Democratic candidates: Eugene McCarthy's anti-war crusade in 1968, George McGovern in 1972, and most recently John Kerry last time around.

“America has changed profoundly since Stevenson's day (even in crashing down to defeat, he carried the then "solidly Democratic", and solidly segregationist, south). But many of those changes – the electoral divide between a now solidly Democratic eastern seaboard and much of the rest of the country, and the rise of evangelical politics and the profound culture clash between Democrat and Republican – has made what a leading newspaper columnist called the "Adlai egghead" problem more, not less, of a challenge for Barack Obama.”

Certainly, that’s the main cleavage in America today: between educated and uneducated Americans. More people will vote against Obama because he is “” than because he’s black.

I have trouble understanding that point of view. Why would a voter want a president who is like himself or herself? I want a president who is smarter than I am. Fortunately, Obama is. He’s vastly smarter than I am. McCain is not. Definitely Sarah Palin is not. I’m not even sure that Joe Biden is, but at least he’s not dumber than I am, so he will do.

But why would ignorant people want their leader to be ignorant too?

I am a democrat — lower-case as well as upper-case — not because I think democracies make better decisions than autocracies, but just because democracy is a superior way of living together in a group. It’s a system that gives human beings the space to fulfill their excellence. It honors , human dignity.

But my new insight discourages me. If people do not want to fulfill their excellence, if they don’t admire intelligence and ethical insights in a democracy, then what is democracy good for? If people want Sarah Palin because she’s just like them, and they don’t want Barack Obama because he’s better than they are, what hope is there for democracy? And what justification is there for upholding it?

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Dialogue on Democracy Promotion

I have received an e-mail comment on my previous blog, “Is it Moral to Promote Democracy?” from a friend (whom I’ll call “CD” because I haven’t asked his permission to name him in a public way). My reply here will be in the form of boldface insertions within the text of his letter. However, the most important comment should come first. I was astonished to read, at the end of his letter, CD’s comment:

“You know that you & I agree on the acceptability --and near
moral obligation-- to support democratic movements within other countries. I'm not reneging on that conviction.... You write as though beaming a reasonable news broadcast into Burma were part of an array of measures to be deployed in promoting democracy round the world, along with humanitarian intervention like bombing the bridges across the Danube.”

I have to express my astonishment that someone I have known for many years could misunderstand me so. I am completely committed to . At no point, either in my essay or anywhere else, have I ever said I approve of bombing as a way of assisting people to obtain their freedom. Please, CD, re-read my essay carefully and you will see that I do not approve of any coercive intervention to promote democracy. I can only assume that you have accepted the prevailing assumption that to promote democracy is necessarily to promote the bombing of Serbia. Not so! Nonviolence is the only acceptable way of helping people in another society gain their freedom. Now, with that issue out of the way, let me proceed to reply to each point in his letter.

Metta, it is really sad to be so profoundly out of sympathy with your essay, after so often supporting you. I deplore your position. Strange though this is, it ought not to surprise you,
because much that I say below I've said to you before. Yet it may strike you as new, for it surely doesn't seem to have had any impact! First but not most central is the bizarre array of sources
you invoke. Political reality: if you want to forge an alliance including supporters of Science for Peace and of Peace Magazine, you really can not include Samuel V. Huntington among your standard-bearers. Huntington was among the most prominent academic apologists for all the wars we have opposed over a half-century. His doctrine of clash of civilizations is nothing but a convenient rationalization of fighting any chosen enemy outside the Western alliance. His
social science may not be pure bunk, but it includes enough bunk to horrify many observers (I can give you amusing references).

Let’s disentangle this. I do not accept ’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis, nor indeed most of his earlier work. I used to know him at Harvard when he was the inspiration behind the horrible “village pacification“ strategy in the Vietnam War. The notion mistakenly equates democracy to Western civilization. As Amartya Sen has pointed out, various Asian civilizations have developed democratic institutions in the past.

However, I was not referring to either of these aspects of Huntington’s biography, but rather to his book : Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. It is not an ideological tract but rather an empirical analysis of the trends in the rise and fall of democracy over time. The findings have stood the test of time and rigorous criticism by other social scientists. I may dislike the man’s politics but that doesn’t permit me as a political sociologist to discount this book, just as you cannot discount the work of another mathematician whom you dislike personally. Social science literature includes hundreds of other papers and books dealing with the “third wave” discovery, and so far as I can see, no one has significantly challenged his findings.

Similarly for Freedom House. Lee Lorch made the relevant observation that H. Gideonse was a leading Red-hunter in the 1950s and Freedom House never repudiated this campaign by one of its presidents.

I don’t know Mr. Gideonse. I do know that Freedom House was founded by and and was chaired for a long time by , a black American who followed Gandhi. (See Rustin's photo.) I will insert at the bottom of this post the most recent ratings of the world’s countries and I invite you to look it over. At a dinner party recently, I brought it out and asked people to assign their own rankings to all the countries with which they were personally familiar. Our own rankings were surprisingly similar to those of .

And I am very dubious about Freedom House's ability to titer democracy of a state. I am dubious that such ratings are of much use, but especially I am suspicious of the criteria FH applies.
You ought to ask this, as you choose to rely on their ratings so. Seeing FH's Cold War alignment, I would check for pro-Washington bias. Did you? What did you find?

There is a long section on methodology under the “Freedom in the World” analysis section of their web site. It is too long to quote. All I can say is that it has been spelled out in excruciating detail, evidently attempting as much objectivity as possible. They work with extensive check-lists and they name about 50 professional analysts, giving a paragraph about their backgrounds. They appear to me like the staff of any other really good academic journal, except many times as numerous. Nothing raised my eyebrows.

I'm sure we will differ, not only on the procedure of making these ratings, but also on the scores specific states get. Why would I leap to that conclusion, despite often agreeing with you on
specific issues in the past? Let me just give one example: the conclusion you reach (in agreement with T. Homer-Dixon, whose side I less often find myself on) that democracies make war never against other democracies, only against non-democracies.

I am glad to know that about Tad. I have had strong differences with him in the past because he did not appear to care anything about democraticization. I hope you are right that he accepts the Democratic Peace findings. But why wouldn't he? Virtually everybody in political science and peace studies does.

Come now! Let us assume that FH's criteria, whatever they are, guarantee the USA falls
always and forever in the ranks of the democracies. (You will surely concede that I am not being over-cynical in assuming that! And I bet you can document it, though I have not.)

I have not gone back through all the US’s previous rankings, but at present, it scores 1 along with 47 other states, including Kiribati and Nauru. I cannot evaluate the degree of political freedom in all those countries. Some of the reports cover pages and pages of incidents, positive or negative. Others are sketchier. For example, here’s their capsule appraisal of Kiribati: “Kiribati (2008) Capital: Tarawa. Population: 100,000 Political Rights Score: 1 Civil Liberties Score: 1 Status: Free Overview: Independents took the majority of seats in the August 2007 parliamentary elections, but President Anote Tong and his Pillars of Truth party secured a second four-year term in the October general elections.“

And yet the USA made war on democratic governments in Iran in 1953, in Guatemala in 1953, in the Dominican Republic in 1965, in Chile in 1973, in Haiti at least once (the expulsion of Aristide and cancelling of elections), in Grenada in 1985, in Panama at least once, etc. For counter-examples not involving the USA, I might wait for you to tell me who else beside the USA is regarded as democratic by Freedom House.

See above.

But why bother? Your generalization (and 's) is preposterous. War is complex and needs to be studied in detail.

Do you suppose that war has NOT been studied in detail? I wish people realized that there is a field of research called Peace and Conflict Studies, which could and should be an independent discipline, for we who do the research and teach in it actually know a few things. In fact, the Democratic Peace theory (or empirical generatlization) has been analyzed in hundreds, possibly thousands, of other studies. I discussed it with in the interview that I published in Peace Magazine a few years ago. She has followed it closely and agrees that it is extremely well supported. She mentions the example of India and Pakistan and Germany and France. Although these states have frequently gone to war with each other, neither have done so when both were democratic. Researchers have gone beyond trying to determine whether it is true or not, turning instead of studies that attempt to explain the mechanism behind the fact. The most recent work that I’ve been reading on the subject is a 512-page book, The Democratic Peace and Territorial Conflict in the Twentieth Century by Paul K Huth and Todd L. Allee. It summarizes the whole literature on the subject, citing hundreds of sources. I can lend you my copy if you are interested. Now let me turn to some of the touted exceptions. The conflicts that you mention were all ones with less than 1,000 persons killed. This is the long-established definition of a war, which was developed by the Stockholm Peace Research Institute. Two of the countries that you mention, Grenada and Panama, were not democracies when the Us invaded them. grenada was a one-party dictatorship. Panama was a military dictatorship under Noriega. The other countries you cite, Iran, Guatemala and Chile, were democracies. US action against them was not in the form of a war, and not just because of the casualties count. What the US did was give assistance to undemocratic groups in these countries to mount a coup. The theory of the democratic peace does not suggest that this type of plotting will cease when there is more widespread democratization. The situation in Haiti is more complex. The US intervenes to bring Aristide’s party back to power. Despite the US involvement here, backward and forward, Aristide’s party, if not he personally, is still in power. The same is true in Nicaragua. The US aid to the contras just forced a fair election, which the Sandinistas lost. They were subsequently re-elected and are now running the country again. (I owe these observationx to my friend John Bacher.)

Second, I don't agree at all that the danger to democracy in North America is the tyranny of the majority.

You are right. That’s one danger that has been handled pretty well since Tocqueville wrote his amazing book, Democracy in America. We have Bills of Rights and judicial institutions that protect minority rights and civil liberties. My main point was that it is not enough to have a system of “majority rule” to count a country as a democracy; for it to be civilized, there have to be rules protecting the groups that are out-voted.

The danger to democracy in North America is the tyranny of the ultra-rich and
their henchmen.

Yes, that and voters' political cluelessness. I am watching the Republican Convention with the sound off while I write this. This Palin woman seems to be a real asset politically, which certainly points out Americans’ worst problem, that they have such limited awareness. And Canada is gearing up for an election too, with another major problem: We will divide up the votes among four leftist or centrist parties and leave the election for Harper to win.

You know this, Derek Paul knows it, all the protesters against NAFTA and its clones know it. The defence against their selling off of the public good and the destruction of the planet is democracy-- reasserting the right of the people to make laws which the rich are bound by (even if those laws are in contravention of the treaties the G8 have made without consulting the
electorates, and even if those laws include things blasphemous to the plutocrats, like progressive taxation). Our present rulers don't make destructive decisions out of stupidity or bad luck
(though stupidity and bad luck may aggravate the destruction); they make destructive decisions out of greed.

At least partly so. I don’t know how to fight that.

You know that you & I agree on the acceptability --and near moral obligation-- to support democratic movements within other countries. I'm not reneging on that conviction. Nevertheless I am distressed by the context in which you put it in this essay. This is my third main disagreement with your line of thought. You write as though beaming a reasonable news broadcast into Burma were part of an array of measures to be deployed in promoting democracy round the world,

Isn’t it?

along with humanitarian intervention like bombing the bridges across the Danube.

Where the hell did I say or even suggest THAT? Never in my life have I supported such a thing. Why do you imagine that I do?

Michael Ignatieff might agree with you. You can't expect us to.

I stood up and argued with at the Munk Centre before he had even returned to Canada to run for office. I said that it might have been possible to mount a nonviolent resistance against Saddam Hussein – there were Iraqi expatriates in the Netherlands who were preparing to do that – but he and the other supporters of the war did not even give that option a moment’s thought, according to the essays he had been publishing almost every week in the NY Times Magazine. He said, “That would be the most irresponsible thing I can imagine!” (Like, yeah, somebody might have got hurt!) I was so carried away with my criticism that they had to tell me to sit down and stop talking. But after ward I followed Ignatieff to his car and talked to him the whole time about supporting nonviolent opposition movements inside dictatorships. Having made myself known as a fierce opponent of his, I did not accompany the group that went to lobby him for the Department of Peace because I didn’t want to screw up the possibility of getting him on board. So don’t tell me I am like Michael Ignatieff! That is ridiculous and completely unsubstantiated. You are making things up instead of reading what I wrote.

Furthermore, those Michael Ignatieff now serves won't invite you or the Norwegians to sit down at the policy planning table with them and decide whether to send news broadcasts or missiles into Iran; so you won't get an opportunity to argue that broadcasts are better.

True. We’ve got a lot of work to do to fix our own democratic shortcomings. There’s no reason, however, why we can’t do that while also encouraging others for whom the task is even harder.

The kind of promotion of democracy you want to work at has no resemblance in principle to Huntington's or Fukuyama's, let's face it.

No I think that Huntington and would probably agree fairly well if we all sat down and tried to classify different countries into two or three categories in terms of their degree of democracy. Freedom House does an adequate job. If you don’t like it, try the Economist, which made a list of its own. It correlates pretty well with Freedom House’s 2008 rankings, which I show below.

Please, free your vocabulary and your theoretical considerations from their pious jingoism.

Please give my article another reading. You have distorted the hell out of it. I make it very clear that assisting nonviolent democratic opposition movements to gain their rights is entirely different from imposing democracy on another society, whether violently or through some other coercive pressure.
Peace, CD
Peace to you too. Metta

Combined Average Ratings – Independent Countries 2008
Andorra Australia Austria Bahamas Barbados Belgium Canada Cape Verde Chile Costa Rica Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Dominica Estonia Finland France Germany Hungary Iceland Ireland Italy Kiribati Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Malta Marshall Islands Micronesia Nauru Netherlands New Zealand Norway Palau Poland Portugal Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia San Marino Slovakia Slovenia Spain Sweden Switzerland Tuvalu United Kingdom United States Uruguay

Belize Bulgaria Ghana Greece Grenada Israel Japan Latvia Monaco Panama St. Vincent and the Grenadines South Korea Taiwan
Antigua and Barbuda
Argentina Benin Botswana Brazil Croatia Dominican Republic Mauritius Mongolia Namibia Romania Samoa Sao Tome and Principe South Africa Suriname Trinidad and Tobago Vanuatu

El Salvador
Guyana India Indonesia Jamaica Lesotho Mali Mexico Peru Senegal Serbia Ukraine


Bolivia Colombia Ecuador Honduras Macedonia Montenegro Mozambique Nicaragua Papua New Guinea Paraguay Seychelles Sierra Leone Turkey

East Timor Guatemala Kenya Liberia Madagascar Moldova Niger Philippines Solomon Islands Tanzania Zambia
Burkina Faso
Comoros Georgia Guinea-Bissau Kuwait Malawi Malaysia Mauritania Nigeria Sri Lanka Tonga Venezuela
Bangladesh Burundi The Gambia Haiti Jordan Kyrgyzstan Lebanon Morocco Nepal Singapore Uganda 5.0 Afghanistan Bahrain Central African Republic Djibouti Ethiopia Fiji Gabon Thailand Togo Yemen


Angola Azerbaijan Bhutan Brunei Cambodia Congo (Brazzaville) Congo (Kinshasa) Egypt Guinea Kazakhstan Maldives Oman Pakistan Qatar Russia Rwanda Tajikistan United Arab Emirates 6.0 Cameroon Cote d’Ivoire Iran Iraq Swaziland Tunisia Vietnam

Chad China Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Laos Saudi Arabia Syria Zimbabwe 7.0
Burma Cuba Libya North Korea Somalia Sudan Turkmenistan Uzbekistan