JUAN, Puerto RicoThe mediocrity of the candidates for the U.S.
presidency, the poverty of the national debate and the domination of commercial
interests over selection of the candidates and the framing of their platforms
make one wonder if the country might not have done better to stay with the
Electoral College as the constitution established it.
That wise document provided for a body of
electors in each of the states, equal in number to the state's congressional
representation, whose deliberations were expected to elect a qualified and
responsible man to the presidency.
It was a consciously anti democratic
system, placing the presidency at one remove from the emotions, ignorance or
indifference of the citizenry.
The constitution said nothing about
declared presidential candidacies, campaigns or political parties, but all of
these rapidly emerged, and from 1796 onward, electors cast the presidential vote
they were told to cast by their parties.
By 1832, popular election of presidential
electors was the rule everywhere except in South Carolina (until the Civil War).
The Electoral College, like the nominated
U.S. Senate (until 1913), was meant to assure rule by propertied interests. The
general trend in U.S. life toward complicating everything means that unruly
candidates today - who might undermine established, not to mention propertied,
interests - have to be marginalized in a roundabout manner. We do today in
expensive and hypocritical ways what the authors of the constitution did
candidly and deliberately.
Bill Bradley, John McCain, Ralph Nader
and Patrick Buchanan were eliminated this year, although all had something
serious to say.
There were only two serious issues
debated by the major party candidates this year: interventionist government with
social reform ambitions versus tax-cutting laissez faire; and international
interventionism meant to promote democracy and American ideas versus a narrow
and unilateralist pursuit of national interest.
While this seemed a choice between
principled policies, no great practical difference emerged. In what now is
accurately described as the "permanent campaign," presidential administrations
have become mere extensions of the ongoing competition between the parties,
which depend on very large sums of corporate and special-interest money.
The ideological differences between the
parties, raucously as they may be expressed, are in reality narrower than at any
time during the 20th century, except on the so-called "cultural issues'" of
abortion, feminism, family and religion.
There is virtually no debate at all on
the fundamentals of foreign policy. International economic policy is set by the
industrial and commercial lobbies, and by Wall Street.
National security policy is firmly in
military hands, whatever the president's National Security Council may think.
The chiefs of staff have established their veto over how and where U.S. forces
are to be employed.
During the past decade, the Pentagon has
developed its own worldwide network of influence, through its system of regional
commands. However, this has gone all but unremarked in Washington, and had no
mention in the presidential campaign.
The partisan controversy in which the
vote count concluded has had the effect of joining presidential politics to the
continuing televised narrative of scandal and celebrity that gives focus to
common life in the United States.
The president-to-be and the
candidates-that-were have taken their places in the real-life dramas of Monica
and Bill, the Clinton impeachment and the Elián González and O.J. Simpson cases.
The presidency itself has now been seamlessly merged into the continuous, 24
hour entertainment of American life.