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EDITIONS
Thursday, 2 March, 2000, 14:36 GMT
US elections: Whatever happened to democracy?
Talking Point On Air this week took the US presidential elections as its subject for a debate broadcast on BBC News Online and on BBC World Service radio.

Talking Point - On Air
Are the US elections still a shining example of democracy in action or have big money and media power become the real vote winners?

Joining presenter Diana Madill on the programme from Washington DC was the writer and veteran commentator on US politics, Christopher Hitchens. Also on the programme was Robert McGeehan from the Institute of US Studies at the University of London.

  • Your comments since the programme
  • Your comments during the programme
  • Your comments before we went ON AIR

    Select a link below to watch Talking Point On Air


    Your comments since the programme:

    In my opinion the elections in the USA is not a shiny example of democracy. It isn't always so that the best candidate wins. The one with money, who can travel around the states and speak directly to the people, is more likely to win. A candidate without great support from rich parties would never be able to run for presidency. There has never been a black - or female - President in the USA, even though both would make excellent presidents. America may seem as a liberal country, but in my opinion they are more conservative than any country I know. Money rules the world and that isn't what democracy is about.
    Bente Brunstad, Norway

    It's hard to see how two parties can reflect the opinions of more than 220 million people.

    Åsmund Øvsthus, Norway
    From my point of view, which is from the social democratic Norway, I think that the American elections have grown out of their concepts. The gap between theory and reality is big and it's getting bigger. For a Norwegian, it's unthinkable that money should be a demand for achieving political success. It takes the basic equality away. Without money, it's close to impossible to achieve something political. Another issue is that the American system only contains two parties. From Norway, it's hard to see how two parties can reflect the opinions of more than 220 million people. The "demos" (people in Greek) which the democracy is made for, is decreasing. It's still a democracy, but it's a handicapped democracy. Nothing is perfect, but the American democracy could be better.
    Åsmund Øvsthus, Norway

    I do not know so much about American policy, but I cannot imagine how money could buy voters! No matter how much money a candidate has, he would still need votes from the American people. That is unless the candidates start sending money via mail to a large part of the American population!
    Andreas J. Larssen, Norway

    I think the problem with elections is that many voters are young and naive, who can be tempted to believe what any politician could tell them. The voting age should be risen from 18 to 21, the legal age of maturity!
    Jim Goeman, USA

    American democracy is far from perfect. But yet, what democracy is far from perfect?

    Shawn Hanscom, USA
    American democracy is far from perfect. But yet, what democracy is far from perfect? From what I understand, the European Union Legislature is the only group that is directly elected. Two parties who were below the leading vote-receiving party can form a coalition and take control of the government - against the peoples' wishes. I'm a right-winger, but I will acknowledge that it wasn't Wolfgang Schussel, Joerg Haider, and the boys who the Austrian people elected first - it was the Social Democrats. And we call this a democracy?
    Shawn Hanscom, USA

    Nothing the world has ever done has been perfect and free of flaws. How can we expect our government to be so?
    Jessica Skinner, USA

    Here on the USA-MEXICO border the Mexicans have a saying: "Chop off one arm from a politician and he will only steal half as much. This is bargain, really. In most Muslim nations a thief gets both hands chopped off.
    Fermin-Fermon Torres, New Mexico USA

    I am one of those who has made the choice not to participate in a system where candidates for elected office are so obviously purchased.

    Martin Bergman, USA
    I am a US citizen and agree with your concern about money in the US political system. It seems that voting is not that important anymore but contributions are. While at a professional conference I had lunch with a lobbyist. He told me about paying $5,000 to attend a "golf weekend" that many Congressional Leaders were also attending. He described how those leaders would go from table to table to hear the views of the lobbyists. In his own words this lobbyist stated that the $5,000 bought access. I am one of those who has made the choice not to participate in a system where candidates for elected office are so obviously purchased.
    Martin Bergman, USA

    I realise that the system in the U.S. has its faults. But I really don't see how someone who has never lived for a long period of time in the United States can comment seriously on the subject. I hear and read news about elections in the UK and other countries, but I wouldn't consider myself qualified to comment seriously about what's wrong with electoral politics in any of those countries. Because the U.S. (or some skewed view of the U.S.) is so ubiquitous in movies, TV, on the news and in popular culture in general, everyone around the world considers themselves an expert in what goes on here - and what's wrong or right with America. It absolutely amazes me.
    R. Skelton, United States

    In American Democracy, the only way to have a chance to be a President is to be white and wealthy and be able to make life better for the rich. Men in the shadows pick American Presidents. It's a sad joke.
    Arash K, USA

    If the present corrupt campaign financing system benefited the working class it would have been discarded many years ago.
    Steve B, US

    America's power did not come from its system of government, but from its ruthless capitalist nature and lack of conscience.
    Andrew M, United States

    Americans do not elect political parties to office; they elect personalities.

    Richard Dormer, UK
    The US has so much to teach the rest of the world (and it does), there is also a great deal it could learn from outside. Many Americans still believe that they live in the most democratic nations on earth ('Land of the Free' etc...), but this is no longer the case.
    Put simply, Americans do not elect political parties to office; they elect personalities. And the key factor in the success of those personalities in getting elected is that they have charisma and vast personal wealth. Is America the land where any young child can grow up to be President? No. That is now far more likely to happen in other pluralist countries that are not quite so wedded to the power of the 'dollar'.
    Richard Dormer, UK

    I think the Keyes' campaign is a terrific example of what it politics in this country has come to. His placing in Iowa (above McCain) proves that it doesn't necessarily take a lot of money. However, the fact that nearly 50% of the people who voted for Bush there stated that they prefered Keyes, but voted for Bush because he seemed more "electable" proves the role of Big Media as "kingmakers" as opposed to "newsreporters".
    After each debate, everyone who watched felt that Keyes had dominated the debate. However, the big media refuses to even mention him. As the Internet becomes more prolific, the Big media will have less and less impact. I think they are running scared, and feel this is the last big election that they can rig, and that is why they are pushing McCain as hard as they can.
    Richard Nicely, US

    Democracy has never been, and was never intended to be government for the people, by the people. From its roots in ancient Greece, it has resembled nothing more than mafia tribes creating a forum for sorting out their differences.
    Citizens, or "made men" set the agenda and attempt to manipulate the result to suit themselves and exclude the rabble. The only difference is that we're fast running out of men of honour!
    Craig Harry, England

    The Democratic process has been thrown out of the window and we don't care any more.

    Stevan Todorcevic, USA
    Face it. We are a gluttonous society who, through rape of the rest of the world have gotten rich. All we care about is the third car that we don't drive, the weekend house that we don't occupy and the third portion of steak burger we'd love to stuff in our belly. The Democratic process has been thrown out of the window and we don't care any more.
    Stevan Todorcevic, USA

    I am happy just to have two or three candidates in this election that are worthy of representing our country. It's been all or nothing for several elections and this one actually has some healthy debate over real issues so far.
    I want to thank John McCain for running for president just because he has caused the nation to look past the usual bi-partisan race. He has given us something to compare the "front runners" of both parties to. Even if he doesn't win the nomination of the Republican party, he has done a service to his country by giving us a background, a compare and contrast by which to more readily discern our true wants and expectations of a president.
    Trevers Wooten, United States

    Look, it's pretty clear that the Conservative Coalition decided that they better get a win for "W" in SC. So look at the tricks: closed polling booths, push polling, selective registration mis-teps, early declarations of victory from slate.com, newsmax.com, etc.; the whole: "reform with results" fallacy; the conception that W is a leader in Texas; the idea that W has a "vision"; is that cocaine or alcohol induced? Only Coolio Al Gore is worse....
    Andrew Cole, USA

    Our current system of government is modelled after the old industrial era command and control economy. The same logic that brought us the assembly line brought us representative democracy. The New model of the information age is based on networked intelligence. Using the Internet for real time distributed decision making is the future. The Government and Media are helpless to prevent this.
    Roger Dye, USA

    To Keith Lomax who said most Europeans allow representatives of any belief to stand in power- although I do agree with you that the USA is a right-wing nation always attacking the left! But Europe is the same way, as they are very left-wing and will always attack anything on the right! For example Austria is being sanctioned because of their far-right government, at least the Americans will sanction both extremist governments left or right!
    Kevin Crawford, UK

    No matter how much money a candidate has, they still must be elected by the people.

    Kyle Gavin, USA
    First, to Akello Grace of Uganda, there is a black candidate, Alan Keyes. Anyway, the US system was the best in 1787 and it's still the best. The US Triumvirate, Federal System has run this country quite well. While not perfect (what is?), it is far better than the parliamentary systems, where dozens of parties can be elected to do nothing and an omnipotent majority can push through anything.
    The rich don't control anything. No matter how much money a candidate has, they still must be elected by the people. If money bought an election, Perot and Forbes would be it. Before you judge it, take a look at your own systems, where corruption and instability reign. Our system is extremely stable and long lasting. The genius of our Founders reaches to this very day.
    Kyle Gavin, USA

    Money doesn't buy the elections, or else we'd have had Presidents Ross Perot, Steve Forbes etc.

    Dr Riz Rahim, USA
    Because of the size and population of the US, and the tediously LONG state primaries that precede the national presidential election, huge amounts of money is needed for the individual messages. Money plays a major role. But there are strict controls and limits for raising funds - opponents make a good job of monitoring each other's donor rosters. Still, money doesn't buy the elections, or else we'd have had Presidents Ross Perot, Steve Forbes etc. Voter turn-out is generally dismal compared to other countries, but one of the reasons is that the changes between governments are NOT that radical to affect the day-to-day life of an average voter. The election process is much too long, but the democracy is very much alive and well in the USA.
    Dr Riz Rahim, USA

    For close to fifty years, elections in India have been an exercise in buying up voters, threatening them, stuffing ballot-boxes, general mayhem and general fraud. And a Hobson's choice between different sets of crooks, who are busy buying each other up before and after the elections. Now we have a real choice: between crooks and religio-cultural bigots. In other words. between the devil and the deep sea. Indians still turn out to vote in largish numbers, unlike their more cynical American counterparts having to choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Looks like the only countries where there's a meaningful choice are those where elections are a big step in the direction of a yet-to-be-won freedom, like Iran just two days ago.
    Anand Doraswami, Bangalore, India

    The American system works - which is something that you cannot say for most countries. America is one of the very few countries in the world where a sitting president can be sued & made to give evidence under video cameras open to the world. In some countries people & their families are massacred for criticising their leaders.
    Paul Michael, Lebanon

    Return to the top of the page


    Your comments during the programme:

    The American ruling class renews itself in a self-sustaining way. Effective government has nothing to do with general participation.
    Ivan Ho, Singapore

    The democratic process is not just about buying candidates but also about buying legislation. The lobbying industry is so powerful that it can block legislation.
    John Tremayne, New York, USA

    With 10 months still to go there are only four candidates out of a nation of 270m people. And the President is hamstrung by the political system unless his own party has control of Congress. Clinton is popular simply because the economy is in good shape.
    Cyril Farquharson, Holland

    I don't agree that there is democratic process in the US. Candidates are selected by the richer class. People with policies favouring the masses don't get very far.
    Tilak Abeysinghe, Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

    We pick up candidates from all over. You can't buy elections very well - people don't like that idea very much. And the length of the elections disallows that. You can get real close. The rich don't screen candidates.
    Murray Rosenberg, New Jersey, US

    Democracy takes time to develop and depends on history. In the US it seems to be over-institutionalised.
    Camelia Ehteshami, Tehran, Iran

    The future of democracy in Russia is very problematic. The US is an exemplary country of democracy. But so many countries, so many democracies. Yeltsin nominated his successor, his heir, his crown prince, in a manner more suited to an oriental despot. This represents a complete lack of democracy.
    Vladimir Krotov, Nalchik, Russia

    Democracy in the US seems to be doing pretty well. All systems have pros and cons. At a European level there is a danger in closer integration. We are transferring power to the EU. Of the main institutions only the European Parliament is directly elected.
    Michael Grazebrook, London, UK

    In Uganda we have a one-party system. American politics works. I just wish we had the same system here. Democracy keeps the system stable.
    David Kaiza, Kampala, Uganda

    The majority of Americans are satisfied. Mostly there is a desire to not rock the boat. It would also be a disaster to have a candidate that doesn't look good on TV. It's their freedom for candidates to spend their money on a campaign.
    Niccolo de Masi, Cambridge, UK

    I work for the local government here in Tennessee and my experience has encouraged me to vote. A lot of people believe the political process is in a parallel universe. A lot of people have given up hope and believe that what happens in Washington will never affect them in a positive or negative way.
    Michael Kite, Tennessee, USA

    The commentary focuses only of the electoral system. Voter apathy influences the outcome - but very little of the contest affects the fundamentals of American democracy and the constitutional framework. We've changed the constitution roughly 30 times in the 211 years it has been in place.
    Frank O'Rourke, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

    The system has been distorted by special interest groups, money and lawyers. The system in Japan may represent the future of US democracy. People here are very apathetic and rarely get out to vote.
    Chriss Earnest, Tokyo, Japan (American)

    All of the candidates are members of the same fund-raising club. And the US decides by an eccentric series of semi-plebiscites in which a handful of voters have huge influence. The roots of voter apathy a large number of people feel it takes place in a parallel universe to them.
    Christopher Hitchens comments

    The electoral process is hardly open and democratic. Independent democratic candidates are being denied any media coverage.
    Mark Bardman, Weisbaden, Germany

    A lack of vote reflects a satisfaction with the way things are. The campaign is much too long. But we do get to take a long look at the candidates. And we spend too much money. It's a shame we don't have more on the issues than on personal styles.
    Robert McGeehan comments

    Return to the top of the page


    Your comments before we went ON AIR:

    Many of my countrymen seem to take umbrage with the enlightened comments of our European/African/Asian participants, believing of course that any criticism of the United States cannot be borne. Yet there exists no true democracy in the US. One must ask 'who has given us the bevy of candidates before us? Did we choose them? Given an opportunity would we?' Very simply one can discover their origins not by that about which they disagree but that with which all candidates agree: The American political economy is meant for the maximisation of profit for the few and not for the increase in the general welfare. Largely conservative white Americans believe that their small incomes represents their freedom, their birthright in this 'free land'. The question that Americans must answer is simple: does the American political economy exist such that 1.7million people can be millionaires whilst 100 million others make less than $15,000 a year. Or is the purpose of the political economy to raise the living standards of the greatest number of its citizens?
    L. Brown, USA

    I believe that nothing at all happened to US democracy! The United States is pretty much at an all time high now viewing from economical, military, and educational standpoints and we owe this to our form of government that has served us well in the past, in the present, and hopefully in the future.
    Stephen Kearny, USA

    I'm mesmerised by the number of Americans who thinks "the system works...not perfect, but still the best" -- You really have to be kidding... Does a more heavily indoctrinated population exist anywhere?
    John, New York City, USA

    In the US we have an expression: "If you talk the talk, you'd better walk the walk." Well, we Americans can talk up a storm about democracy and being a beacon to the world, but we don't seem willing to walk that short walk down to the polling station. To use another quaint phrase: we Americans have to put up, or shut up.
    Christian Christensen, USA

    Never mind the democracy in the US Elections, what ever happened to democracy in the London Mayor elections?
    Justin Bailey, England

    A large proportion of black men in the US can't vote after being convicted of a felony (any crime with max. sentence over a year) some time in the past. Over 2% of black Americans are in prison, but it doesn't stop there. A first-time offender who only gets probation can lose the right to vote for life. In seven states, one in four black men is permanently disenfranchised; in Alabama and Florida, one in three. Fourteen states bar criminals from voting even after they have finished their sentences. In these states, over one million ex-offenders are permanently disenfranchised, including disproportionately many blacks. Disenfranchised ex-offenders can in theory seek a pardon from their state governor to restore their voting rights, but very few have the information or resources needed to do so.
    Ed Holden, US (UK ex-patriate)

    The education system is second-rate, the health care system is lousy, the prison system is corrupt, the police departments are fouled, and big business has too much influence in government. Would someone please tell me what exactly IS working?
    Andrew Cusack, New York, United States

    The US has two main political parties, both of which are very right-wing by European standards. There is very little to choose between them. How can a country that invades another teritory to depose a democratically elected government even use the word democratic without choking? Anybody slightly left of centre is branded a 'commie' and treated as dirt. I'm not saying the any European democracy is perfect, but at least most if not all European countries allow representatives of any belief to stand in a fair contest, and for all to make their views known.
    Keith Lomax, UK

    Our democracy may be flawed in some ways, but ultimate power lies in the hands of the American people. With our votes and our guns.
    Les, USA

    I teach American Government to secondary students. I teach the student that our forefathers had no experience with democracy. They had a distrust of a centrally powerful government. The designed a system that was inefficient for the purpose of limiting the power of government. They had borrowed heavily from the Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights and the English Bill of Rights. I ask my students to go forward with the same suspicion of government, but also to work to extend our rights to all people as implied by the ideal "all men are created equal." The presidential elections are not the only form of democracy. The vast majority of democracy is the iceburg below the water line at the local level.
    Cort A. Mills, USA

    Americans come to the polls when they feel something needs addressing.

    Niccolo de Masi, Cambridge, UK
    It is true that voter apathy is appalling, with not a single majority president having been in office for around 30 years. There is little doubt that the similarity in candidates (arising most probably through the need for wider voter appeal, and subsequent gravitation towards the political center) has made many feel it not worth their time to cast a vote. Yet at the same time, certainly over the past few terms, I cannot help but think that some of the lack of turnout is due to an actual desire to not "rock the boat". Times have been better than ever, and a conscious (or subconscious) desire for them to stay so probably does explain some of the abstentions. Voter apathy is already reducing with this election, as for possibly the first time in a decade Americans find there are big decisions directly affecting them to be made. Social Security and healthcare in particular are proving good incentives for voter turnout, as primaries held so far show.
    Niccolo de Masi, Cambridge, UK

    The recent 85% + election turnout in Iran makes that country appear more "democratic" than the USA, where voter turnouts in Presidential elections are usually in the 40% range. How can a country claim to be democratic when less than half of its people vote?
    Matt Rayner, USA

    Two problems-Money spent in the electoral process, and the duration of the process. Companies, unions and special interest groups corrupt the system through improper monetary influence, and the electoral processes here are far too long. Do we really need 12-18 months to decide on the issues? No, but if you want to be a viable candidate, you have to announce very early and raise money very early, or else you're too far behind if you start within a year of the election. I say, shorten the process, drastically, say to it being a maximum of 6 months from announcement, to party primary, to general election. Anything longer causes the voters to become so tired of the process, they don't even bother to pay attention (let alone participate) when the most critical moment comes!
    Stephen Kenney, USA

    The problem with American democracy is the political parties. George Washington was right in his warnings about the power of the political parties being in conflict with democracy. We voters are not as stupid as the politicians hope, or are counting on. We realize that the politicians are more concerned with the parties than with the country. There are no idealists left, only party hacks.
    Michael, USA

    Like everything else, democracy has been commercialised in US. It is put on sale to be consumed by the richest class in the society who control the nature of that democracy. Only those candidates who serve the affluent class could survive in the race and those who cater to the popular masses may not be able even to stand for the election for lack of funds. If this is called Democracy, the Romans who developed this concept might rise from the grave to protest.
    Tilak Abeysinghe, Bosnia & Herzegovina

    It looks like a lot of people are misinformed about the form of government in the United States. It is not a democracy and never was intended to be. It is a constitutional republic. There is a very big difference in those two. As for all the screaming and yelling, and the sensational press, well, screaming and yelling is part of the process, and sensationalism is what a free press does. If it ever gets real quiet over here on this side of the pond, that is when you Brits and Europeans should start worrying about us. As long as we are making lots of rude noises, we are quite healthy and in little danger of going out of business.
    Doug Fairchild, USA

    I lived in the USA for one year, Columbus Ohio. The Americans kept talking about democracy and freedom, the 'American Way'. To me it was freedom to be mugged, robbed or shot, to pay a fortune for hospital treatment or for the insurance that is supposed to cover it. I was always frightened for my family. No-one believed me when I said Japan, though somewhat imperfect too, was totally safe, it was not a concept they could understand.

    In the USA one is very much free to be poor. If this is democracy, it is not for me. As members of society we must be responsible for all parts of it. Social democratic countries like Japan, Sweden, Britain, Australia, Netherlands and so on try to take care of their citizens. Yes, there may be a cost to pay in terms of 'true' freedom (whatever that is) and there are higher taxes, but violence is far less than in the USA, and (except in Britain) there is much less of a gap between the haves and have nots. Freedom to me is the right to live in peaceful co-existence, and if there must be some kind of social cost for that, I am prepared to pay it.
    Robert Ridge, Japan

    Might US voter apathy be affected by the near certain probability that their party's candidate for president will have been "chosen" by media reporting of polls and a few state primaries before 95% of them have had a chance to vote on anything? What used to be a representative republic has turned into what is looking more each election like an oligarchy of the political and business class from which outsiders are by definition excluded. McCain demonstrates this best as he bemoans the system while he at the same time grandly milks it for his own advantage and peril. If the American public wants popular elections of its presidents then let them have it. Hold single national primaries for each party and a subsequent single direct election that rids itself of the nuisance of the Electoral College.
    Don Carpenter, USA

    American Democracy is not broken. Having truckloads of cash is not a guarantee of victory, e.g., Steven Forbes, Ross Perot. Negative campaign ads can backfire, as has happened to John McCain in South Carolina. Fewer and fewer Americans are voting because they do not perceive a need to go to the polls; in other words, they are satisfied with Government. As an Immigration Officer and US Federal Employee, I can tell you people vote with their feet. We can barely keep out the flood of immigrants coming to America. America is a good place to live and work. Remember also that anyone who doesn't like America can leave anytime, the US Immigration Service won't stop them.
    John Jones, USA

    When it comes down to the primary in Texas I'll be voting for McCain. Bush could spend another 50 million and it wouldn't change my mind. In the USA a lot of money can put you on the ballot, but it certainly won't win you an election if you have no valid points to offer the electorate.
    Charles Gillis, USA

    The idea that democracy is on the decline in the US is absurd. The world tends to focus on American elections at the presidential races every 4 years. The power of money is there but how else are ads and travel paid for you only have to look at the rising costs in the last UK election for a similar thing. The idea of media power is a manifestation of the media itself. The parties are traditionally weak at the national level in the US, their power is state and local based. And it's at the local level where you still see the democratic process strongest. When was the last time voters in Britain could vote on whether the local school system could increase taxes to build a new school, or the local council could raise taxes to purchase a new fire engine, or buy new books for the library. The current process of primaries and caucus meetings is local people making their preferences known. And I can only repeat other comments, if money is the key why are Forbes and Pirot out of the race after a month?
    J.S.Wade, USA

    A lot of the rhetoric on this site is anti-establishment, and this is good: vibrant democracies need all kinds of opinions to function. But people are getting away with misrepresenting facts, and that's not good. Here's a couple to spur the conversation: 1) money doesn't control elections-Bush spends in one week what McCain has raised in total, and the fight is still on; 2) liberal organisations have more clout in Washington policy-making than does "big business" (see New Liberalism by Jeffrey Berry, himself a Democrat); 3) military spending in the US as a percentage of GDP is at its lowest point since Pearl Harbor; 4) studies suggest that, unlike in many Western countries, while the rich are getting richer in the US, the poor are getting richer as well; 5) requests for absentee ballots in South Carolina, a traditional signal of upcoming voter turnout, are breaking all kinds of records; and finally, 6) while unemployment is still an issue in Canada and Europe, companies in the US cannot find enough people to hire.
    Neill Hunt, A Canadian in the US

    This discussion overlooks some salient points. In the US, how much democracy you have is largely determined by where you live. I live in a state where referendum and recall do not exist. I also live in a state where more than 70 percent of the voters are registered in one party-which, in effect, means one party rule.

    Some of the remarks about money are naive. Could George W. Bush be a serious contender for the presidency without his name and money? Of course not. Could Ross Perot, a man no one outside of Texas had heard of until he decided to run for president, have gotten 19 percent of the vote without money? Of course not. Could Michael Huffington, another rich guy no one had heard of before, have come within a tiny percentage of winning a Senate seat without money? Of course not.

    Local government, as I have experienced it, is mostly internecine warfare among two little groups of people battling for the power. Entire communities in my area have gone years without potable water, but "democracy" has done little to help them. I believe in voting and do so at every election. But while you cannot have a democracy without the right to vote, you can have the right to vote without having a democracy.
    John Conley, USA

    There might be problems with democracy in the US, but at least they don't have the PR system that was imposed on us in the last European elections. This served to 'stitch up' the result between entrenched political parties, and did much more damage to democracy than the cost of campaigning ever would.
    Bob Harvey, UK

    Money is important in any democracy to get your message out. But if the message doesn't resonate, you lose. It's just that simple.

    Mason, US
    If American democracy was for sale, the next President would be Steve Forbes. He's dropped out of the race. Ross Perot, who has run twice and lost badly, would be the incumbent. G.W. Bush has raised the most and now finds himself in the fight of his life because his party is not acting the way it was expected to act. Money is important in any democracy to get your message out. But if the message doesn't resonate, you lose.
    Mason, US

    Bad economics is the root of all evil. Nowhere is this more apparent than in "...richest, most powerful and technologically advanced nation..." the Unites States. While patriotic Americans may claim otherwise, they, just like everyone else can see that this is the sad case.
    Njihia Mbitiru, Kenya

    I find it interesting how so many Europeans can criticise the American way of doing things without ever having lived in the United States and/or participating in our elections. I am not claiming our country is perfect, because it is not, but maybe the very fact there is voter apathy shows us what a good job the government has done. After all, nothing mobilises a population to change it's leadership like a major crisis.
    David Loveland, United States

    One of the pleasures of living in a free country is that no one forces a citizen to perform any civic duties that are unwarranted or unnecessary. As long as our government, state, local or federal stays out of our lives, we don't necessarily need to fiddle with it. If the local, state, or federal government engages in practices we don't like, we throw the officeholders out and give someone else a chance. Otherwise we can go about our business.
    Ryan Dick, USA

    Life is wonderful in the world's most advanced democracy (to date).

    Steve K, USA
    After a long day at the office working for a greedy corporation I managed to reach my home safe and sound after dodging all the bullets flying in the streets of the US. I turned on TV to watch some mindless fun channel. I finally settle in to watch some trashy show our networks have imported from Britain when I remembered that I needed to pay my takes. Oh well, guess it is time to pay the 20-30% of my income to the govt. Thank god I don't live in Europe what with the smothering income taxes they have to live with there. But at least Europeans don't have to put in an honest day's work to earn Health Insurance. I envy them. Life is wonderful in the world's most advanced democracy (to date).
    Steve K, USA

    The problem, if there is one, with American national democracy, is the sheer size of the US. Trying to please all of the people all of the time results in fudge, with no real progress in major areas.
    Stuart Reynolds, UK

    Ladies and Gentlemen..... America is not perfect but quite frankly I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. Politics is politics regardless of what country you live in. Our forefathers had a dream, and everyday that dream is tested, sometimes with wondrous results...sometimes with shameful results. Until the world comes up with a better dream, I'll take American democracy and all it's faults.
    Joan Simms, USA

    Democracy does not exist, it is merely a way of controlling the masses by making them think they're getting a good deal.

    Mike King, UK
    Democracy does not exist, it is merely a way of controlling the masses by making them think they're getting a good deal, when quite clearly when we look around us; we are not getting democracy. Capitalism is NOT democracy; we live in a huge marketing machine, we spend nearly all our lives working - with little reward - to put money in someone else's pockets that we will never meet. They really think we're stupid and milk us for all the freedom we have (if any).
    Mike King, UK

    In the US everything should be sold. Whether anything is healthy, useful, or sane, one has to SELL it. Same applies to democracy too. The Presidential candidates are selling their concepts. With all-powerful media and technology to reach common people across the country, the time and money spent on the "race" is too high. And hence this "SALE" is very boring! As in any sale, the one most sold need not be the best!
    Kadavul, Indian, in US

    The term "democracy" is perhaps used to loosely in describing the US's political system. Democracy, just like communism, is an unattainable goal. The US is a "Republic", as China is a "Socialist" nation.
    Michael Pettingill, USA

    Is the American system so bad, I hope not, because it seems to me that we are not that far behind. Come our next election I think the only choice we will have will be between Red or Blue Tories.
    John Norris, England

    People aren't stupid and have realised that their vote counts little in the 'Global Village'

    Sean Widger, UK
    The falling interest in the political process in the Developed world is a direct result of a shift in power from the Political arena to that of Multinational capital. People aren't stupid and have realised that their vote counts little in the 'Global Village'. America is simply the most grotesque example of the 'Bread and Circus' society.
    Sean Widger, UK

    The point that local democracy is strong because everyone can vote for dog catchers and judges etc, is valid, but... Turnout in local elections is lower in every country, but really low, often below 20% in the US. Even worse is the amount of unopposed candidates. Well, as all my friends in NY say: Why vote, it doesn't change anything, not seeing the self-perpetuating logic of that one.
    Nick G, USA in UK

    American democracy is far from perfect

    Alex VanMassenhove, USA
    American democracy is far from perfect, true. Yet the system of government devised by its founders and refined by succeeding generations has worked- through invasion, civil war, devastating economic turmoil and various bouts of paranoia and social strife!
    Alex VanMassenhove, USA

    The American Presidential election process is in dire need of reform. Action must also be taken to break the 'incumbency lock' that prevents those who are not seasoned political pros from standing. Constituents' right to recall their representatives should be reasserted and the impeachment process should be re-examined to prevent it from being hijacked by partisan consideration, if America is to live up to its self-proclaimed role of defender of freedom.
    Michael Pugh, United Kingdom

    The best part about big business's influence on politicians is that they are dealing with politicians. Remember, these are people who will tell you almost anything in an election year in order to get your support.
    Benjamin West, USA

    American democracy is a fraud and a mirage.

    Thomas Taaffe,
    American democracy is a fraud and a mirage. The so-called Democratic Party is more conservative than the Republican Party was under Nixon. It is a vacuous and staged managed parlour game run by an oligarchy of global capitalists. Nobody believes that democracy exists in the US except the equally corrupted news media trapped inside the Washington Beltway. The American public will continue to vote in smaller numbers, since the government and both parties are morally and politically bankrupt. Anyone looking for a model of democracy should continue to look elsewhere.
    Thomas Taaffe,

    What has "happened to democracy" in America is that the people have de-educated themselves to a point where it no longer works. A prominent strand in this discussion seems to run somewhat, "Yes, American politics is hopelessly corrupt at the national level, but at least it still works wonderfully at the local level." I live in a rural area and I can promise you that this is not true. Local elected officials are effectively unaccountable. Every county has a "courthouse gang" to whom the law means nothing.
    Frank Wilhoit, USA

    One of the tenets upon which a democracy is based is an educated electorate. Those best educated in the US most often are well off economically and found in schools supported by the "haves." With the gap continuing to grow between "haves" and "have-nots," the gap between those well educated and those poorly educated also expands. As a result, the time quickly approaches when only the rich will comprise the educated electorate.
    David Walter, USA

    Please spare me the hand wringing about the death of democracy in the States. Perhaps everyone else remembers some golden age they forgot to teach me about in school. Voter turnout has always been low in the states. America is huge, so it takes a lot of money to run, but I don't remember a president Rockefeller or Carnegie. Ask Steve Forbes or Ross Perot how to buy the presidency, I'm sure they'd have some interesting comments. Finally, as to the small ideological difference between the candidates, I thought that the term for that was 'consensus'.
    Russ Rybicki, USA

    The United States is not a democracy, it is an oligarchy run for the advantage of the rich and big business.

    Susan J. Paxton, USA
    The United States is not a democracy, it is an oligarchy run for the advantage of the rich and big business by a small group of legislators financed by the rich and by big business. Americans should be asking themselves this: who decided, last year, that George W. Bush should be president, and who are the people financing him? The only solution is total public funding of elections. Then Americans might be able to recapture their democracy.
    Susan J. Paxton, USA

    The reason the United States is being criticised so much is just because we in the US seem to spend so much of our time preaching to ourselves and others how wonderful our system is. The perfect democracy? No such thing, in America or anywhere else.
    Mark Parish, United States

    The US system of government has survived a civil war without turning into a military dictatorship like some did. It survived the great depression without choosing fascist or communist strong men, it survived the cold war, provided leadership to the world for a century involving two world wars. It would certainly overcome a Dow inspired apathy. I duff my hat to the land of the brave and the free.
    Beatus, Nigeria

    Democracy. This single word struggles to describe a very large, complex society such as the United States.

    Scott Rafferty, UK
    Democracy. This single word struggles to describe a very large, complex society such as the United States. The truth is, like many other societies, the US contains both successfully democratic and exclusively undemocratic ideals. That flagship of the US, capitalism, is not only incompatible with democracy but requires very undemocratic processes to allow it to function. We in Britain boast of our own democracy as well, but it falls very short of this prestigious title in many areas. We may attempt to mask these facts in any way we desire, but we would be naive to truly believe it.
    Scott Rafferty, UK

    America may have it's problems, an abysmal Health Care system, a failing educational system and a Presidential election that seems more in tune with the desires of the rich. But in what other country do people regularly risk their lives and in somes cases die (literally) to come and live in? You can also thank the USA for most of the technology that you use on a daily basis (including a forum such as this).
    Eric Cheren, USA

    Simply put, democracy is the rule by the people, for the people and with the people

    Akello Grace, Uganda
    Simply put, democracy is the rule by the people, for the people and with the people. The example that America has set is not a typical example of democracy. Rather it is a mixture of racism, monetary gains and big business. Why don't we have a black presidential candidate then? Why don't we have a candidate whom we might as well call a proletarian representative?
    Akello Grace, Uganda

    I think Rousseau said it best in commenting on the political situation in England at his time, but applies to virtually all liberal democracies, that "...England is democratic only once every four years." The United States and every other so-called democratic state will not be democratic in any meaningful way until ordinary citizens can participate in the political arena. As it stands today, genuine power resides in unaccountable economic institutions like Trans-national corporations (TNCs). Until this power structure is reoriented toward citizen-based movements and not private interest, the Western nations will only be superficially democratic.
    Mark Kennedy, Canada

    The political system that we live in is not a democracy! The definition of plutocracy is more apt.

    D.Soleil, Canada
    When will you listen? I've said it before but since Britain is obviously an American pawn in the world order of things you are loathe to admit the fact that the political system that we live in is not a democracy! The definition of plutocracy is more apt. Look it up and enlighten your sedated minds!
    D.Soleil, Canada

    In the three years that I've been in the USA I've been impressed by the level of local democracy - they have elections for everything! The fact that it ruins television in March and November each year is a small price to pay. The lobby groups do appear to wield a lot of power, but I suspect not as much as they think they do - as other people have said, the voting public is aware of their activities. If money were the only thing you needed to get elected, Ross Perot would surely be President. Considering the power that Eurocrats have, I'm amazed at what little accountability there is within the EU - that's got to change.
    Dave, UK in the US

    As a Russian, I am impressed by the amounts of money pumped into the election: while facing a Soviet-style Communist and a Western-style free-marketer as rivals in Russian presidential elections, the press here says American candidates' programmes differ "in a few nuances", thus the voters have to choose between personalities. $20 to $50 million invested to depict one personality to the voters must seem to be a waste, especially to the poor (there still are some left in America, right?).
    Andrej, Russia

    The American elections are a cause of nothing but abject boredom. A couple of un-charismatic guys who can raise the cash to hit the election trail, one standing a shade to the right of right, the other a shade to the left, fight to see who can sling the most mud, make the most promises and kiss the most babies.
    Either way (because it always seems to come down to two) they end up with a politician as unqualified and as corrupt as any other. And then Congress will be dominated by the President's opposition party, so no legislation of any worth will ever be passed anyway. Only in America.
    Alex S, UK

    The average American is more politically attuned than the citizens of any other country and can easily see past big money and special interests.

    GH Deere, United States
    There is a lot of garbage being written in your the replies here. Firstly of course the United States is democratic, it is the nearest thing to a true democracy on this planet. The average American is more politically attuned than the citizens of any other country and can easily see past big money and special interests.
    Why do you think Clinton beat Bush and then Dole with all the special interest money behind them. Secondly the US system is a system of checks and balances and the media easily balances the soft money and special interests. Do not underestimate the intelligence of the American voter, they know the way to go.
    GH Deere, United States (ex Brit/ex Canadian)

    Potential voters need to look at the whole picture from a perspective point. Listen and look at the decent way the Liberals (Democrats) are going about it. They deserve more audiences and merit.
    Hussein Ngum, The Gambia, West Africa

    To me the amazing thing about American elections is that for all the talk about secret agendas, money, lobbies, mediocre candidates and voter apathy - and I don't doubt any of it - the whole system still works.
    T.J. Cassidy, USA

    I don't pretend that the UK has the best political system in the world but at least we have CHOICE.

    Marco, UK
    I realise that every country has their own system of democracy but the USA have taken this to the limit. This is a country which limits its political choices to two massive institutions neither of which have a political direction to speak of, only men are allowed to stand for President (whoever heard of the first man rather than the first lady) and once elected they can pick any number of cronies without the peoples support to take the highest offices available.
    I don't pretend that the UK has the best political system in the world but at least we have choice. In reply to those that say the US is the largest economy in the world and how would they have got there without being truly democratic, I say 'Look at Europe in ten years time for the biggest economy on this planet'. It's time the US stopped bleating to the rest of the world about democratic reform and got it's own shop in order.
    Marco, UK

    Money can never buy the votes cast in a secret ballot. The issue in the USA is the cost of getting the message across. A cap on expenditure would settle the matter. How did US voters choose before radio and television?
    Chris Klein, UK

    We should dare not lecture the United States on how to choose leaders.

    Tajudeen Isiaka, Nigeria
    We should dare not lecture the United States on how to choose leaders. Democracy is still at its infancy in Africa, so we are still learning. Whatever happened to US, the Godfather of Democracy? Honesty on its way to "Clean politics" should not be overtaken by "Soft Money". At this point, we shall keep on watching "The Big Brother", Uncle Sam. And I take an apology from a great thinker, Albert Einsten: "Watch the Stars, and from them, learn".
    Tajudeen Isiaka, Nigeria

    As long nobody rocks the boat too much, most Americans don't care who is in power.

    Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK
    As a Brit who has lived here in the US since 1983, it is my impression that democracy here is alive and kicking; or, at least, up and taking nourishment! At the local level (town and county), democracy is working very well indeed and, I believe, truly reflective of the people's wishes. There are exceptions, but I think it is most effective.
    At the state and national level, however, the process is grossly corrupted by big money and the media. Having said that, as long nobody rocks the boat too much, most Americans don't care who is in power; whoever is in power, after all, only changes issues on the peripheral on the premise that "why mess with a good thing". Although it is easy to criticise national politics in the US, and even to mock its blatant pandering to interest groups, the fact of the matter is that it works. But could it survive if the country were less prosperous? I kinda doubt it.
    Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

    Having seen the abysmal standard of American television and education, I'm not surprised by the abysmal standards of the leaders whom the Americans choose to elect.
    Chris Olsson, UK

    Democracy is still the fundamental backbone of the average American community.

    Marc Jones, UK
    The forgotten issue here is that the whole basis of US democracy is not necessarily just the occasional election of a new President, rather it is in the wholly admirable way that people can directly affect their own lives by choosing their Police Chiefs, Education Chiefs, Sanitation Chiefs and other civic officials.
    This is by no means cosmetic, and results in the Jeffersonian principle of bringing accountability to those that most need to see it - the electorate. For too long in the UK we have seen our unelected officials make unchecked decisions with no accountability. That the Americans go through a four-yearly presidential race with all its facade is almost a side-issue, democracy is still the fundamental backbone of the average American community. Would that were only true here also.
    Marc Jones, UK

    It's more of a "you back my bill, and I back yours" type of situation.

    Kalle Helenius, Finland
    The polarisation of the US political scene into two parties makes for bad democracy. Every issue is presented in black and white, and compromises are not a very regular thing. It's more of a "you back my bill, and I back yours" type of situation. This has forced the politicians to worry more about their image than the system.
    The teflon family values and hard on crime stance is a must, while real issues are left behind because no politician wants to alienate potential voters. All the most vocal criticisers of Clinton's sexual behaviour have skeletons in their closets as well, and a quarter of the world's prison population is in the US. Land of the free indeed.
    Kalle Helenius, Finland

    At the moment the US public do not seem to understand that their political system is based around personalities rather than old-fashioned party politics. This is the drawback of the split government between the Senate and the White House.
    There are a number of very good senators who are committed to the political views of their parties, however this can seldom be said of presidential candidates.
    I feel that if the American political system is to survive it should be based around a stronger party structure. Perhaps then the president could get elected with the support of over 25% of the population.
    Andrew Cromwell, Northern Ireland/UK

    America is arguably the country that has the greatest degree of democracy in the world, still one can see just how un-democratic it really is. Hence, learn, there is no such thing as democracy only different degrees of it.
    Krishan Canagasabey, Ceylon Tamil, UK

    I thought the largest democracy in the world was India. Anyway when you legislate buying and selling the first thing to be bought and sold will be legislators. Democracy isn't very good or very fair, but there aren't any better systems. At least the American money is out in the open, unlike in say Germany.
    Simon, England

    What a strange use of the word democracy. I was led to believe that democracy was based on one person one vote. When a Presidential Candidate needs a budget in excess of the GDP of a small country I begin to wonder. The old adage "You don't get anything for nothing" must be considered. Do the candidates truly believe that they are funded by people out of kindness?
    Roy Chapman, UK/Germany

    It is unfortunate but true, elected office in America is For Sale.

    Bill Alan, USA
    The great thing about American democracy is that the people get exactly the kind of politicians they deserve. A perfect example of this is Bill Clinton, who was elected by only 25% of the eligible voters. It is unfortunate but true, elected office in America is For Sale.
    Bill Alan, USA

    The big money needs to be taken out of the equation in order to clean up the politics. It's almost like an auction room - the highest bidder wins.
    Justin, UK in US

    If I were American I would not need to listen to any type of campaigning as I know my vote would go to George W Bush! The American people have a crook in power who should have been removed from office long ago, and if the Democrats win the Americans would be allowing this corruption to continue!
    Andrew, Wales

    American style democracy is at work in this country, making it the most powerful nation in the world.

    Susan, United States
    The fact remains all adult citizens over the age of 18 can vote in this country. The comments are rather bizarre, obviously from non-American intellectuals and idiots alike who read too many trashy novels and left wing journals. American style demodemocracy is at work in this country, making it the most powerful nation in the world. Big money is at work, but when push comes to shove, no politician can take away our most basic freedoms. Indeed, most (non-European) countries don't even acknowledge the basic foundations of democratic society.
    Susan, United States

    I believe that the media has a lot to do with voter's decisions. The media only focuses on certain candidates and basically excludes others from the voter. The average voter is ignorant to many policies and candidates opinions on many matters. What I'm trying to say is that American voters vote at least half out of ignorance...but at least we can still vote!
    April, USA

    Although the U.S. elections became a kind of war between experts and psychologists in finding out the newest most effective methods of gaining votes, it is still the largest democracy in this planet.
    Nasif Rafiq, Palestine

    Get real people, it takes huge sums of cash to run a campaign in the US. Anyone that studies the lobbying process sees the inherent benefits it provides to people in our government. Granted we have some problems in our system, but take a look at what passes for democracy in the EU before criticising our system.
    Kerry, USA

    Capitalism killed communism, democracy is next.

    Tim Soggs, USA
    The notion that American Democracy is an ideal state which should be emulated by other developed or developing countries is fatally flawed. Democracy has come to mean that those who have the most make decisions which benefit themselves rather than the nation and its citizens. Freedom has been twisted into an ideology that promotes irresponsible behaviour at the expense of other person's liberty, peace, and security. This is not Democracy nor is it Freedom. This is just a new, more sinister form of Totalitarianism in which the ever-growing numbers of avaricious and irresponsible "Thug-Americans" are taking over the streets as well as our democratic institutions. Democracy is a two-edged sword which encourages the very behaviour that will ultimately destroy it.
    Chriss N. Earnest, USA/Japan

    Money and Electoral College rule US democracy. Money will easily win Gore or Bush a presidency campaign. Not to forget the rich, old and uncaring Electoral College that will pave the way for these candidates. The candidates for president of USA target the popular issues just like any other issue in USA. The voters have an attention span of a minute and whoever can win that contest will rule the presidency of our nation.
    Reetu Rajpoot, USA

  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    Frank O'Rourke, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
    "Very little of the contest affects the fundamentals of American democracy"
    Niccolo de Masi, Cambridge, UK
    "There is a desire to not rock the boat"
    Mark Bardman, Weisbaden, Germany
    "The electoral process is hardly open and democratic"
    Chriss Earnest, Tokyo, Japan/UK
    "The system is distorted by special interest groups, money and lawyers"
    Michael Grazebrook, London, UK
    "All systems have their pros and cons"
    David Kaiza, Kampala, Uganda
    "American politics works"
    Vladimir Krotov, Nalchik, Russia
    "Yeltsin nominated his successor in a manner suited to an oriental despot"
    Cyril Farquharson, Holland
    "Clinton is popular simply because the economy is in good shape"
    Tilak Abeysinghe, Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
    "People with policies favouring the masses don't get very far"
    John Tremayne, New York, USA
    "It's not just about buying candidates but also about buying legislation"
    Ivan Ho, Singapore
    "Effective government has nothing to do with general participation"

    Inauguration:

    Bush presidency:

    PICTURE GALLERIES

    Texts and transcripts:

    AUDIO VIDEO

    TALKING POINT
    See also:

    16 Feb 00 | Americas
    11 Jan 00 | Vote USA 2000
    08 Feb 00 | Americas
    04 Feb 00 | Americas
    02 Feb 00 | Americas
    07 Jan 00 | States
    20 Feb 00 | Americas
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