America’s third-world politics

Nov 13 2012, 03:45 IST
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With its presidential election over, the United States can finally take a breather from campaign politics, at least for a while. But an uncomfortable question lingers: How is it possible for the world’s most powerful country and its oldest continuous democracy to exhibit a state of political discourse that is more reminiscent of a failed African state?

Maybe that is too harsh an assessment of Africa’s nascent democracies. If you think I exaggerate, you have not been paying close attention. The pandering to extremist groups, the rejection of science, the outright lies and distortions, and the evasion of the real issues that characterised the most recent election cycle set a new low for democratic politics.

Without question, the worst offenders are America’s Republicans, whose leaders have somehow become enraptured by ideas that are beyond the pale in other advanced countries. Of the party’s dozen presidential candidates, only two (Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman) declined to reject scientific evidence concerning global warming and its human causes. But, when pressed on it, Romney was sufficiently uncomfortable about his position that he wobbled on the issue.

The Darwinian theory of evolution has long been a dirty word among Republicans as well. Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and an early frontrunner in the Republican primary, called it just a “theory out there,” while Romney himself has had to argue that it is consistent with creationism—the idea that an intelligent force designed the universe and brought it into being.

Likewise, if there is an archaic idea in economics, it is that the US should return to the Gold Standard. Yet, this idea, too, has strong support within the Republican Party—led by Ron Paul, another contender for the party’s presidential nomination. No one was surprised when the party’s platform gave a nod to the Gold Standard in its convention in August.

Most non-Americans would find it crazy that neither Romney nor Barack Obama supported stricter gun-control laws (with Obama making an exception only for assault weapons such as AK-47s), in a country where it is sometimes easier to buy guns than it is to vote. Most Europeans cannot understand how, in a civilised country, both candidates can favour the death penalty. And I won’t even get into the abortion debate.

Candidate Romney was so cowed by his party’s obsession with low taxes that he never put forth a budget that added up. It was left to his spinners to explain, as

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