Friday, October 31, 2014
10

美国式的第三世界政治

发自剑桥——随着总统大选落下帷幕,美国终于(至少有一段时间)可以从选举政治中伸出头来透一口气了。但一个令人不快的问题依然萦绕不散:这个世界上最强大的国家,同时也是存续时间最长的民主政体,为何会展现出类似于一个失败非洲国家的政治话语?

或许这个评价对于非洲那些新生民主国家来说有点太过苛刻了。但如果你觉得我夸大其辞,那你显然没有认真观察整个事件。本轮选举中那种对极端组织的迎合,对科学的抵制,那些彻头彻尾的谎言和歪论,还有对真实议题的故意回避都堪称民主政治的一个新低点。

毫无疑问,行为最恶劣的要数美国共和党人,其领导人在某种程度上已经被一些其他发达国家无法存在的理念所迷。在该党的十余位总统候选者中,只有两位——米特·罗姆尼(Mitt Romney)和乔恩·亨茨曼(Jon Huntsman,又名洪博培)——没有否定与全球变暖及其人类影响因素有关的科学证据。但在面临压力时,罗姆尼又会对自己所持的立场感到相当不舒服,以致他经常摇摆不定

对于共和党人来说,达尔文进化论一直以来都堪称一句粗口。曾在共和党党内初选中一度领先的德州州长里克·佩里(Rick Perry说它“不过是一种理论而已”,罗姆尼自己则辩称该理论是与神创论(creationism)——认定是某种智慧力量创造了宇宙并使其存在的理论——相一致的。

同样,如果还有什么陈旧经济学理念的话,就废美国应当回归金本位莫属了。但这一理念依然在共和党内部大受欢迎——带头的就是另一位总统提名人罗恩·保罗(Ron Paul)。因此当该党在8月党内大会上宣扬金本位的时候,就没有人感到奇怪了。

大部分非美国人都会吃惊地发现在这个买枪有时比投票更容易的国度,无论是罗姆尼和奥巴马都不支持制定更严格的枪支管制条令(奥巴马只说要加强对AK-47这类进攻性武器的监管)。大多数欧洲人无法明白为什么在一个文明国家,两个总统候选人都会赞成死刑。而我甚至不愿意谈那些关于堕胎的辩论。

总统候选人罗姆尼是如此畏惧本党对低税率的痴迷以致他从未拿出过任何一个增加预算的提案。正如《经济学人》评论说:这要留给他背后的写手智囊团去解释,这是一个“试图去说服那些在共和党内初选中投票的狂热分子的‘必要的废话’”。

而奥巴马则通过攻击罗姆尼的“业务外包先锋”形象来迎合经济民族主义者,并将对手称之为“首席业务外包官”——似乎业务外包就是洪水猛兽,应该被禁止,或是奥巴马在阻止外包方面作了许多努力似的。

而那些模棱两可,不实言论以及彻底的谎言在两大竞选阵营中是如此泛滥,以致许多媒体和无党派团体都开始制作一个记录扭曲事实言论的列表。其中一个最为著名的就是由宾夕法尼亚大学安嫩伯格公共政策中心创立的FactCheck.org,其工作人员承认是大选让他们的工作变得极端忙碌。

其中一些最恶劣的例子包括奥巴马宣称罗姆尼计划对中等收入纳税人增加人均2000美元税负并/或同时减税5万亿美元,还说罗姆尼支持一项将宣布“所有堕胎,包括由强奸或者乱伦导致”为非法的法律。而罗姆尼则有过之而无不及,他说奥巴马想向每个中等收入纳税人额外征4000美元的税;说奥巴马试图“通过降低工作要求来破坏福利改革”而奥巴马政府援助的克莱斯勒车厂正把全套吉普车生产线转移到中国。

上面这些话没一句是真的。

FactCheck.org的分析师写到:“这就是那种从头到尾都充斥着不实攻击/反击以及含糊声明的选举。”

与此同时,在三场总统候选人和一场副总统候选人电视辩论的全过程中,气候变化——这个我们这个时代的标志性事件以及我们这个星球所面临的最严重问题——甚至一次都没被提到过。

你可以从美国大选中得出两个可能的结论。一是美国最终将被这种低质量的民主华语毁掉,现在仅仅是这个不可逆转下坠过程的开始而已。即便这一恶疾尚未感染整个肌体,但症状已然存在了。

另外一个可能性则是大选中的言论和行为只会对一个政体的健康产生很小影响。选举往往是迎合一个低俗民粹主义以及对单一事务极端主义者拍马屁的时期。或许真正重要的是一位候选人当选总统的所作所为:他执政下的政府权力制衡,所给出的建议,所做的决策,最终则是所追求的政策。

但如果美国大选只是一场娱乐秀的话,又为何要花费那么多钱,为何那么多人付出如此多的心血?是否可以得出结论说如果不这样做的话后果将更为严重?

在此请让我略为修改一下温斯顿·丘吉尔的一句名言:除了其他方式之外,选举是甄选一个政治领导人的最糟糕方式——而这一点在美国显得尤为突出。

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  1. CommentedCarol Maczinsky

    For an educated politician it seems irrelevant what people think about Darwinism. It only undermines their credibility and demands flexibility. Actually there are places in the world where elections are less worse and the excesses of American political entertainment would be unthinkable. But certainly there citizens do not elect politicians into office who robo kill individuals in other nations with drones. Their politicians also don't talk moral values and national ideas, like wet African dictators, but they do their duty. Thank's god their nations are not deceasing world powers but functional states.

  2. Portrait of Fernando Giuliano

    CommentedFernando Giuliano

    I think the problem is not limited to cheap campaign populism. The stubborn Congress gridlock has been going on for two years and there's no end in sight. I think what is going on in the US is a good reminder that "good institutions" are to a large extent endogenous. All it took for good institutions to look more like third-world ones was a huge financial crisis with persistent economic effects. Just like the ones third world countries are too used to witnessing.

  3. Commentedjames durante

    Rodrik appears to accept the the premise that the USA is supposed to be, in some way, a "democracy." The Constitution centralized economic and political power in the federal government and set up a whole host of barriers to democratic governance. As the wealthy, Constitutional framer Governeur Morris put it, "the evils experienced under the Articles of Confederation resulted from an excess of democracy." Or, as Hamilton opined, "the masses are asses."

    So a Roman style Republic was fashioned that would secure aristocratic rule in the Senate, separate the executive from the people via the electoral college, and confine the House to the fewest powers and shortest terms.
    Strict voting requirements would prevent the rabble from participating.

    Now much has been amended so new barriers to "people power" have become necessary. Total corporate control over media, unlimited corporate spending, a lobbying industry that freezes out anyone without serious money, etc.

    The elections do not live up to democratic ideals because we don't have democratic ideals. The purpose of the state is to secure unequal distribution of wealth and power. It does a reasonably good job of it (as it did in Rome until the inevitable collapse).

  4. CommentedWilliam Wallace

    The ugliness of politics, including the outright lies and zesty mudslinging, is nothing new to US politics. What is new and has been transforming democracy everywhere is the incorporation of new media, starting with television.

    Far from pondering written positions published in the local papers in order to deliberate over issues and candidates, we now have to decide who is the cutest on TV, has the catchiest sound-bites, or convinces us more in an emotionally laden mini-movie called a campaign ad. Couple all that with an internet that, unlike newspapers of old, will allow any crackpot viewpoint to be published and gain the traction it otherwise would never have had.

    Just like misery, opinions love like-minded company, especially those opinions that are least thought out. The internet is making 99% of us "more stupider."

  5. Commentedlt lee

    "To paraphrase Winston Churchill, elections are the worst way to select a political leader, save for all other methods that have been tried – and nowhere more so than in America."
    I find it odd that people has to quote Churchill who is not any kind of god to reassure himself and the readers that western democracy is a better system.

  6. CommentedDuncan Green

    Hmmm. Oldest continuous democracy? US women got the vote in 1920, New Zealand women in 1893. Then there's Jim Crow, Native Americans, and what's still going on in Florida and elsewhere.....

  7. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    Rodrik is right in his analysis of what characterizes the system of constant denial of the glaring symptoms of a stark reality, which must be abhorred in such a manner that the unreal is believed by a whopping majority; this needs a constant whipping of misleading information that could be backed by theory as well. This whole ensemble resembles the wrong corporatization of the process, which is single minded in its pursuit of exceeding its objectives, at whatever costs. It also shows that for any victory, it could well mean the loss for democracy or vice versa, as margins are determined not by sheer might of the policy choices, but much more frills that is engineered through careful investment in the public square.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  8. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    Although everything the article is saying is true, we should not single out the Americans.
    The same sleepwalking is present everywhere we look from Europe to China, from Australia to Russia or the Middle East.
    And it all stems from the present human system which fails miserably on two counts.
    One hand we still remain as fragmented and polarized as ever, looking at everything in an angular, black and white fashion, enemy/friend, terrorist/freedom fighter, north/south, west/east, developed/ developing, communist/capitalist, conservative/liberal, stimulus/austerity and so on.
    In the meantime the world has become round, global and interconnected, we all overlap on so many levels that there is no way of separating nations or even individuals from each other in terms of influence and dependency.
    On the other hand we still stubbornly keep on pushing the constant quantitative growth economy despite all the clear signs that it has become self destructive, destroying individuals, nations and whole globe with it.
    When people are faced with such a distortion in between the external reality and the dreamlike system they imagine they live in they have no other option but to behave in an illogical, illusory sometimes ridiculous way to justify why they keep on doing the same unreasonable, stupid and downright destructive things.
    Any new state is a new opportunity to look into the mirror and finally start taking the present existential conditions seriously, and start adapting to them.
    I agree with the article that after this US election campaign, and in general how people handle the crisis, it is very doubtful if America and the rest of the world is ready for such a self examination and self adjustment.
    Unfortunately if we do not do it willingly, consciously then very unpredictable and volatile events would force us to do the same as the system with its absolute natural laws is not going to change, only we can change.

  9. CommentedPeter Thom

    The Romney economic plan specifically called for a 20% across the board tax reduction. The Tax Policy Center estimated this would amount to approximately $4.7 trillion. So what are you saying? Obama exaggerated by rounding up?

  10. CommentedMarc Freed

    While walking to vote yesterday it occurred to me that New York, which has 21 elected represetatives in Dc, has over 200 professional athletes (not counting the football players who play in New Jersey). So at a very simplisitic level, I am about 10x more likely to have a random encounter with New York Yankee than I am to meet any of my state's members of Congress. While I would much rather meet any Yankee than any member of Congress, this did not strike me as a particularly healthy measure of democracy.

    Perhaps, to the list of long-term remedies for our political malaise we ought to add the idea of increasing the number of our Congressional representatives by a factor of 3 or 4. Increasing the size of our Congressional delegations to reduce the number of people each one represents would enable more people to beome engaged in the political process. More importantly, it would make it less attractive for wealthy activists to donate vast sums to congressional candidates whose votes mattered only 1/3 or 1/4 as much as they do now.

    Only a live experiment would tell us if such a change would raise the level of our political discourse, but other democracies with lower ratios of voters to elected officials do not seem to suffer as many non-sensical arguments as we do.

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