Blood Sport Politics

In far too many countries, democracy remains literally a blood sport, with the ballot a tool to seize power and then harass, detain, or even kill one's opponents. The only way to avoid this outcome is to be more committed to democracy than to those who are elected, even when they are frankly inimical to one's interests.

PRINCETON – Former US President Bill Clinton gave one of the best speeches of his life at the recent Democratic National Convention. One of the biggest rounds of applause came when he said that President Barack Obama’s appointment of Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State after she had been his principal political rival proved that “democracy does not have to be a blood sport.”

That applause reflected the view of the majority of American voters that US politics has become much too partisan, and that rivals are more interested in attacking each other – “drawing blood” – than they are in focusing on political issues. But what President Clinton was really saying was that Secretary Clinton’s ability to go to other countries and work with her former political rival in pursuit of the national interest is a powerful example of the way democracy is supposed to work.

That is an important point to make, because in far too many countries democracy remains – literally – a blood sport. The value of the ballot is to seize power and then harass, detain, or even kill your opponents. As the slogan goes: “One man, one vote, one time.” Indeed, the National Endowment for Democracy in the US describes some countries as “electoral dictatorships.”

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