Democracy worked again

Amy D. Goldstein
Yesterday's big winner was ... American democracy.  Often, we forget the strength and vigor of our democracy.   Let's get some perspective. 

Within the past month we have seen a former female leader of a Muslim country assassinated as she led her political party to elections in an attempt to re-establish democracy.  Benazir Bhutto herself had been accused of corruption before her exile and she knew the risks of her return.  Nevertheless, she and her followers had a powerful commitment to democracy.  Indeed, although a member of Pakistan's political elite, Bhutto positioned herself as the voice of the people.  Her supporters effectively shut down the country with rioting in the wake of her death.  Even when our national political figures have been killed, Americans response has been an outpouring of grief - both for the loss of the person and the damage done to our democratic system.

In Kenya - the home country of Senator Barack Obama's father with which he maintains strong personal ties - elections were marked by corruption, which is bad enough in a democracy.  But, the popular reaction to the "stolen election" was telling.  Not only did the opposition's political demonstrations turn into riots, but that violence spread to the countryside and morphed into ethnically based attacks reminiscent of Rwanda.

In Lebanon, Syria and its minions prevent true independence and continue to kill any political leader that might oppose its dominance.  Indeed, that country's southern area continues to be controlled by Hizbullah - a worldwide terror group backed by Syria and Iran.

In America we are at the beginning of our political process, but we are witnessing a stronger-than-ever political participation.  Several strong trends among the electorate are clear even at this early stage.

1.  People want change.  Clearly, nobody in Washington heeded the voters in 2006, so they are trying to get their message through again -- in a bigger way.  Indeed, the Pelosi-Reid led Congress was remarkably tone deaf on this account.  Senator Obama, former Senator John Edwards, and former Governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee campaigned on the issue of change in Iowa.  By New Hampshire, Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain had adopted this theme, as well.  Whether you believe her emotional statement or not, Sen. Clinton's moment was revealing.  She spoke to her supporters - women who came of political age in the late 1960's and early 1970's - who see Republicans as a threat to their political agenda and who want to reverse this trend before it is too late.

2.  Positive outweighs negative.  People want something to believe in and vote FOR, and not simply reasons to not support a given candidate (although negative ads do work -- but they have to go all the way).  Hope may be outweighing fear in New Hampshire, at least among the independents.   Americans want to feel good about electing a president.  They are tired of holding their noses while casting their ballots.  Ronald Reagan inspired us with his vision of America as a Shining City on the Hill.  The first candidate who can create that type of positive vision for America - in speeches, advertisements and slogans - will win in November.

3.  Electability will be a key message going forward.  We started to see this message in the last couple of days from the Romney and McCain campaigns.  Both claim to be able to beat Barack Obama - prior to Iowa it was Hillary.  As we move through the schedule, primary voters will increasingly be looking toward the general election and evaluating the candidates based upon electability.  We also will see this argument from the Clinton camp regarding Obama - can he beat the Republicans, or will his candidacy result in a Republican win in November.

4.  Educate and cultivate your supporters -- Obama has targeted the apathetic, new and uninvolved constituencies, and has educated them about the democratic process.  Only Ron Paul uses his website to inform the public about the primary process in each state.  In both Iowa and New Hampshire people who had never participated previously did so this year.  Every four years there is a new opportunity to reach out to 18-24 year olds who have never voted for a president.  Obama does well among this constituency. 

5.  Use the latest technology to create a community of supporters across the country -- both Obama and Romney continue to harness the latest technology, from video-blogs, to a social network on their websites (so supporters are not out there for the general public).  Romney's nationwide community even has its own online garage sale site so popular on the internet today.

America has suffered from an appalling lack of voter participation since the end of World War II.  This election could mark a turn in the other direction.  This is good news, since it means that Americans believe that they can still change their country through the ballot box and do not have to result in other, less peaceful means.  We are not Pakistan, Kenya or Lebanon or any other country where people use violence, intimidation and corruption to gain and hold power.  We are America - the world's beacon of democracy.

Yesterday's big winner was ... American democracy.  Often, we forget the strength and vigor of our democracy.   Let's get some perspective. 

Within the past month we have seen a former female leader of a Muslim country assassinated as she led her political party to elections in an attempt to re-establish democracy.  Benazir Bhutto herself had been accused of corruption before her exile and she knew the risks of her return.  Nevertheless, she and her followers had a powerful commitment to democracy.  Indeed, although a member of Pakistan's political elite, Bhutto positioned herself as the voice of the people.  Her supporters effectively shut down the country with rioting in the wake of her death.  Even when our national political figures have been killed, Americans response has been an outpouring of grief - both for the loss of the person and the damage done to our democratic system.

In Kenya - the home country of Senator Barack Obama's father with which he maintains strong personal ties - elections were marked by corruption, which is bad enough in a democracy.  But, the popular reaction to the "stolen election" was telling.  Not only did the opposition's political demonstrations turn into riots, but that violence spread to the countryside and morphed into ethnically based attacks reminiscent of Rwanda.

In Lebanon, Syria and its minions prevent true independence and continue to kill any political leader that might oppose its dominance.  Indeed, that country's southern area continues to be controlled by Hizbullah - a worldwide terror group backed by Syria and Iran.

In America we are at the beginning of our political process, but we are witnessing a stronger-than-ever political participation.  Several strong trends among the electorate are clear even at this early stage.

1.  People want change.  Clearly, nobody in Washington heeded the voters in 2006, so they are trying to get their message through again -- in a bigger way.  Indeed, the Pelosi-Reid led Congress was remarkably tone deaf on this account.  Senator Obama, former Senator John Edwards, and former Governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee campaigned on the issue of change in Iowa.  By New Hampshire, Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain had adopted this theme, as well.  Whether you believe her emotional statement or not, Sen. Clinton's moment was revealing.  She spoke to her supporters - women who came of political age in the late 1960's and early 1970's - who see Republicans as a threat to their political agenda and who want to reverse this trend before it is too late.

2.  Positive outweighs negative.  People want something to believe in and vote FOR, and not simply reasons to not support a given candidate (although negative ads do work -- but they have to go all the way).  Hope may be outweighing fear in New Hampshire, at least among the independents.   Americans want to feel good about electing a president.  They are tired of holding their noses while casting their ballots.  Ronald Reagan inspired us with his vision of America as a Shining City on the Hill.  The first candidate who can create that type of positive vision for America - in speeches, advertisements and slogans - will win in November.

3.  Electability will be a key message going forward.  We started to see this message in the last couple of days from the Romney and McCain campaigns.  Both claim to be able to beat Barack Obama - prior to Iowa it was Hillary.  As we move through the schedule, primary voters will increasingly be looking toward the general election and evaluating the candidates based upon electability.  We also will see this argument from the Clinton camp regarding Obama - can he beat the Republicans, or will his candidacy result in a Republican win in November.

4.  Educate and cultivate your supporters -- Obama has targeted the apathetic, new and uninvolved constituencies, and has educated them about the democratic process.  Only Ron Paul uses his website to inform the public about the primary process in each state.  In both Iowa and New Hampshire people who had never participated previously did so this year.  Every four years there is a new opportunity to reach out to 18-24 year olds who have never voted for a president.  Obama does well among this constituency. 

5.  Use the latest technology to create a community of supporters across the country -- both Obama and Romney continue to harness the latest technology, from video-blogs, to a social network on their websites (so supporters are not out there for the general public).  Romney's nationwide community even has its own online garage sale site so popular on the internet today.

America has suffered from an appalling lack of voter participation since the end of World War II.  This election could mark a turn in the other direction.  This is good news, since it means that Americans believe that they can still change their country through the ballot box and do not have to result in other, less peaceful means.  We are not Pakistan, Kenya or Lebanon or any other country where people use violence, intimidation and corruption to gain and hold power.  We are America - the world's beacon of democracy.