View Full Version : Does America have any claim to be a 'Democracy' anymore?

25th Apr 2003, 21:40
I have just read the story in the press about the all girl country group from Texas, 'The Dixie Chicks', who made an innocuous anti-Bush comment at a concert in London and I quote - "We're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas". As a result they were called Saddam's Angels and the Dixie Sluts, traitors and big mouths. Radio stations stopped all their airplay and encouraged listeners to dump their albums. Death threats against the group have followed and there have been calls to boycott their upcoming US tour.

Over on this side of the pond it seems ludicrous to us that such a comment would provoke such a reaction. There have been far worse things said about our leader in public. I am trying to get an understanding for the mentality that says 'You don't criticise the President', which I know is prominent in America. We just don't have the same thing here. People can say what they like in public about Tony Blair, and it's then his job to defend himself. It seems to me that in America you are committing a sin if you ask the same of the President. I noticed the same at one of the Gulf War press conferences with General Tommy Franks. All the incisive and difficult questions came from the British journalists, whereas the American questions were sycophantic in tone, puerile and very easy to answer.

I am prepared to accept that there is a debate about whether Bush won in Florida and is therefore rightfully the President, but what is not under question is that the College system gave Al Gore far more of the popular vote, ie far more people voted for him. This is undemocratic. What is also not in question is that Bush's victory was engineered by the right wing elite who wanted him elected in order that he would push their agenda on reaching office. A friend of my family who is a college lecturer in the States has said she would not publicly criticise the President because of the damage it would do to her career. I find this incredible in a country which purports to defend the concept of freedom of speech.

Whatever happened to the democratic principle of 'I do not agree with what you say but I will defend with my life your right to say it'.

I am not anti-American, I am trying to ask a few difficult questions especially of the Americans here. This example to me shows that freedom of speech is under serious threat in the States. The singer who made the comment has already been forced to apologise and said "Whoever holds that office [the presidency] should be treated with the utmost respect". Why should they be treated with such respect? Is it 'Papal infallibilty', ie 'because I am the President I must be right'? We don't have such a respect for our Prime Minister, some have this respect for the Queen as Head of State, but she has no political influence. Maybe there is an inherent conflict between the Head of State and the Head of the Executive being one and the same, but it should not mean that public criticism of the President provokes such a reaction.

I suggest that this state of affairs is highly undemocratic, and that we have a Freedom of Speech in the UK that is not shared by our American cousins.

The national anthem closes with the line "The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave." Home of the Brave it may be, if 'Free' refers to freedom of speech then Land of the Free it most certainly is not.

25th Apr 2003, 23:10
Good Morning Wedge

I think your question is an excellent one, I'm going to try to answer at least part of it.

Most Americans were offended by The Dixie Chicks comments because it was an Ad Hominem attack. If they had expressed their disagreement with his plans in Iraq there would have been little follow through. They took a cheap shot at him in a blatant effort to sick up to the audience. People back here saw it for what it was and reacted quite strongly against them.

IMHO most Americans see entertainers as a group who benefit enormously from the "American Dream" they don't work particularly hard when compared to "joe factory worker" and the live glamorous and expensive lives. The ability of most entertainers to engage in an informed and reasoned debate on global politics is suspect. Now you might argue that most Americans might fit in that category, and some would say you are correct. The thing is, most Americans don't have the "star power" to get their opinions on the front page of the NY Times. Remember Jane Fonda's photo op on the anti aircraft gun? I am a child of the Vietnam, my friends and their brothers fought and died in that war. I will never forgive her for her complete disloyalty to her fellow Americans,once again an Ad Hominem attack. No one who argued either side of that debate will support Hanoi Jane's actions, I suspect that many would agree with the statement that if not for her father's fame she would have been tried for treason. Do you really think anyone would care if I flew to Iraq and inspected suspected sites for WMD a la Sean Penn? Of course not! But that fool does and he gets press, all he adds is smoke and stress to a serious national debate without adding anything material to that very same debate. The Dixie Chicks added nothing to the debate about whether or not to invade Iraq, they did however show tremendous disrespect to our President.
Why is that so bad you might ask? You may totally disagree with everything he has done as some of your fellow countrymen do, fine, but to most Americans he IS POTUS and after eight years of slick willie and his interns and his secretaries, we have a President whom we can respect. Some of your countrymen scoff at all of this, but frankly the US population as evidenced by the polls believes he has been right since 9/11.

My final thought, no one in the Federal government had done or said anything to impinge on the DC's freedom of speech, the reaction has be entirely from the private sector. They have expressed their disapproval in a very direct and American way. They spoke from their pocket book, the point is an American entertainer can say whatever they want even if it is stupid, rude and sensationalistic. Their voice will be heard but they must be ready to hear the voices of their audience.

25th Apr 2003, 23:59
Nice answer, T_Richard.

Especially liked this bit: "Their voice will be heard but they must be ready to hear the voices of their audience."

Summed up democracy in one sentence ;)

26th Apr 2003, 00:03
Wedge, I'm gonna go out on a limb and attempt to answer a couple of your points. I'm neither American nor British, so perhaps I can offer a different perspective.

With regards to the Dixie Chicks. Their comment on their pride or lack thereof of President Bush would seem to have recieved much greater play in the foreign media than it did in the North American counterpart. Of the newspapers I read every day, the one that even reported it gave it three column inches tucked away in the Saturday edition entertainment section. Considering the furor the comment made in Europe, it must have made the front page. There are a lot on radio stations in the US. Since the owners of some of them probably do not take kindly to slurs against the President, I don't find it surprising that some of them called for a boycott of their records. I didn't hear of any major station that called for a play ban. The barometer of the success of the boycott will be the Dixie Chicks records sales and the number of asses they put in the seats at their concerts. As far as the death threats go, I would imagine that just about every rock star has had a few. I really don't think it's a big thing, it comes with the territory. Do I think it's normal to recieve death threats? Of course not, but there's a lot of nuts out there. As far as criticizing the President, since we're on the entertainment industry here, there have been several media stars who, before the 2000 election, publicly vowed to renounce their citizenship and leave the US if Mr. Bush won. The depth of their convictions can be guaged by the fact that they're still US citizens still and living at home.

The 2000 US election results have been worked to death on this and any other internet bb you care to mention. I have this to say about it. The highest court in the United States decreed there was no election fraud involved, that the Constitution of the United States had not been abrogated and that Mr. Bush won the election. I find it difficult to question the judgment of the US Supreme Court. As to the electoral college system, this has served the US in good stead for better than 200 years. Why fix something that ain't broken?

With regards to American freedom of speech being encroached upon. From my perspective that would depend on what one had to say. I use as an example Michael Moore's speech at the Academy Awards. He was initially applauded. The boos began, and rightly so, when his speech turned into a rant.

The American National Anthem does indeed sing of the "Land of the free." I think there are a lot more people around that believe in that line than there are that discount it.

26th Apr 2003, 00:05
...they did however show tremendous disrespect to our President.

So what? I mean, it caused a bit of a fuss twenty-five years ago when the Sex Pistols released God Save The Queen with the lyric 'she ain't no human being'. It got banned on the radio and a few BOFs complained. Now that record is regularly played on mainstream radio stations and nobody lifts an eyebrow.

In America, people burned Beatles records and protested when John Lennon said the beatles were bigger than Jesus. Over here, people laughed. "Oh that John Lennon, he's a card".

And this is part of what Wedge is getting at. Nobody really gives a toss when some performer stands up and says "f*** Tony Blair, f*** the Queen, f*** George Bush".

The Dixie Chicks have had people buying their records just to burn them. They've had death threats. That's just insane. From this side of the Atlantic it just seems completely pointless and ridiculous that people are getting worked up over what a handful of cute singers witter on stage. It's like the entire American media has completely over-reacted and whipped up a hysterical response over it. It would be stupid if it wasn't so frightening.

26th Apr 2003, 00:06
Actually what you are seeing is democracy in action, in this case economic democracy.

What has happened is the Looney left has fallen from grace, and can't believe so they shout louder. The net result is that no one is listening, and they are sick of the blather. As they are sick of the blather they are not going to use their own funds to finance it so now the Dixie chicks aint selling so well.

Most people have realized that Hollywood aint so smart, they are just wealthy with good access to the media.

Infact most of the so called hollywood intellectuals barely graduated highschool, and have done virtually nothing for the millions they have socked away.

Furthermore, they are a bunch of blow hard liars.

Alec Baldwin, Barbara Streisand etc promised to leave the country if Bush got elected. Well, they are still here.


26th Apr 2003, 00:57
Wedge, Dop,

A couple of points.

Firstly, reference the DCs. people weren't whipped up my the media, it was a grass root reaction. The stations which removed their records did so as a result of the phone calls and e-mails they received from their listeners. The DCs biggest mistake was to fail to recognise that their target Country music demographic is heavily in favour of Bush.

Secondly, you're mixing culture with democracy. Yes, in the UK you insult the Queen or the PM, just as you can wear knickers made out of the Union flag and burn it. I would advise you not to try to do the same thing in the USA. There is an ingrained respect for both the flag and the office of the President. It is strange that those commenting on the need to respect the Iraqi flag in Iraq fail to recognise the same cultural situation in the USA. So when there is a reaction against the DCs insulting the POTUS in front of a foreign audience I am not surprised, it is not a failure of democracy, it is a reaction to cultural imperatives.

26th Apr 2003, 01:20
Democracy in the U.S.?.
On paper perhaps, in reality no.

Since it is a minority of the electorate that even bothers to vote, and it is impossible to be a serious candidate for office without big money as backers, plus the lack of direct elections, it is questionable if the election of the president can be called a
democratic process.

There is no such thing as "free speech" anywhere, if by free speech is meant free speech without consequences.
The consequences of speaking up against the establishment are, with a few variations, the same where ever you look, it is the methods that vary.

26th Apr 2003, 01:29

Good points, but a little off. Yes it is VERY expensive to run a campaign, and yes we don't get the turn out of say Austraila where voting is mandatory, but we believ that we can say anything in public, in the press, whereever as long as we are prepared to deal with the reaction to our statement. When we explain free speech to children in a school, we always use the analogy, "you can't scream "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre. You can say what you want, but there may be consequences to what you say.

In comparing our two culture's I would use another example, if I misstate, don't shoot me, I learned about it on PPRUNE.

It is my understanding that the flying of the Union JAck in GB is frowned upon because some neo Nazi (?) group has taken theat symbol over. Now Dop, as an American and an anglophile I don't understand why the British public doesn't rise up and take your national flag back and start flying it from evert house. I don't want to even consider the reprocussions of someone in America coopting the Stars and Stripes. There would be pandemonium, that group would be running to the border too fast to pack. Why do you let this happen?

Again if I have my facts wrong , please educate me but put the gun away.

26th Apr 2003, 01:49
I find it very, very weird that US parliamentarians *clap* the president - even when they're in opposition! Compare PM's Questions in the Commons - total disrespect, public yelling and bitchfighting. Deference and democracy don't go together....not in my view anyway (you may have noticed this in some of my posts...) PS, "a President we can respect"? Which one would that be? I think it's a very odd morality to rate a (supposedly) reformed alcoholic and cocaine addict's tendency to invade sovereign states and rob the citizenry of their civil liberties as being worthy of respect simply because he (as far as is known) doesn't have any other women...some countries consider adultery to be practically a qualification for political leadership! (naming no names:D )

26th Apr 2003, 01:59

Your view has been rcorded and filed in the proper slot, I believe the deference issue is a cutltural distinction. I have heard of the free-for-alls in your House of Commons. I have also heard of the nap times that occur in your House of Lords, correct me if I am wtong on that. Now Americans would never stand for the naps either.

Isn't there a novel entitled "first among equals" which is a reference to your Prime Minister. That reference would never fit the POTUS. He is "the Man"

26th Apr 2003, 07:50
Good evening to you, T_Richard.

You make some good points. I agree that there is an ingrained respect for the flag and the office of President. You could argue that Clinton cheapened the office, personally I don't think he did, he just got caught doing once what Kennedy did all the time. I think his only mistake was to lie under oath, but I disagreed with th fact he was forced to answer questions under oath about what he did. He was after all, merely giving in to his natural urges and desires. Personally I have far more respect for Clinton than for Dubya but that's where we differ.

ORAC you make two good points too. The DCs, if they wanted to avoid this fuss, should have realised that their key audience was in the south where the political support was likely to be with Bush. However I'd never heard of them before today and I am a firm believer that there is 'no such thing as bad publicity'. If someone was buying my records just so that they could burn them I have to say I would be absolutely delighted.

T_Richard - about the Union flag. You are quite right it has sadly been hijacked by the far right. I remember the thread you are talking about. If I wore a Union Flag badge on my lapel I would be thought by many to be a racist. We are beginning to take it back, but so far I have only a red T-Shirt with a small round Union Flag logo on it. Anything more and I would be concerned about being branded a racist. It has been this way since the 70s and the current far right group (who claim not be to racists, but clearly are) are the British National Party who continue to use the Union flag as their symbol.

You can fly the flag but it depends on the occasion, ie the Queen's jubilee celebrations last year.

Techman 'There is no such thing as "free speech" anywhere, if by free speech is meant free speech without consequences.' This is also a good point, but I would argue the the consequences in this case are utterly innappropriate for the 'crime' committed.

There is clearly a huge cultural divide between the USA and the UK. Many people here have no respect for the Queen, even though she is the Head of State. Far fewer, including many here on PPRuNe, have any respect for Tony Blair, even though he is the Head of the Executive and the Legislature. The natural respect which Americans have for the office of President is not shared here, and I am not sure that it is desirable in America if it means that the public defer to the President on any issue just because he is the President.

I still think it is a dangerous situation where a comment like this can provoke such a reaction and I would suggest that this type of reaction is designed to stifle true freedom of speech. It seems that there is a new breed of McCarthyism in America where you can be sure your life will be made a living hell not if you are a Communist (which would be perfectly acceptable if the country were truly free), but if you oppose the will of the President and the majority.

26th Apr 2003, 07:54
Of course America is a democracy.

In the Classical Greek sense.;)

DC Meatloaf
26th Apr 2003, 11:37
I think you're misreading the situation slightly, Wedge. I do believe most Americans have respect for the office of the Presidency, regardless of who occupies it, but I don't think that buys a whole lot of deference politically. What it means is that most people will applaud the President when he throws out the first pitch at a baseball game, or declares open the games of the 23rd Olympiad (or whatever), and most Members of Congress will stand and applaud him when he comes to address a joint session of Congress, as he does annually during the "State of the Union" speech. But that deference disappears once he's sent Congress his budget request, or some other highly-charged bit of legislation. Then the gloves come off and Senators start talking about the need for a "regime change" in Washington. You're right that the House of Reps and the Senate are not quite the free-for-all that is Parliament...but just because they address each other with such apparent deference doesn't mean that they aren't out for blood ("I thank my good friend, the gentleman from Michigan, but that might have been the stupidest thing ever said on the floor of this body...").

And it's also true that the President (whomever it happens to be at the time) is always the victim of unrelenting satire and criticism from all the media outlets. Indeed, when I worked in Congress, the best part of the day was reading through a compilation of all the jokes from the previous evening's talk shows (compiled by one of the DC policy papers...not by anyone in Congress). "Strategery" still cracks me up....

Celebrities, musicians, supermodels -- they all get to muse on politics and the presidency and no one takes it very seriously. The Dixie Chicks were a different case because of two reasons, I think. One, they were overseas when they bad-mouthed the President. In the US, it's still considered bad form to criticize the sitting administration when you're, in a sense, an ambassador for your country abroad. Maybe it's a holdover from the '50s-ish ideal that you don't air your dirty laundry where your neighbors can see. In any case, violations of this rule are not rare -- hell, Former President Clinton bad-mouths the current administration when he goes overseas for his speaking engagements, also violating the "ex-presidents shouldn't criticize sitting presidents, especially in wartime" dictate as well -- and they're usually not fatal. But it was different for the Dixie Chicks because of reason number two, already pointed out by others on the thread, that they forgot their constituency. It's not necessarily the case that all Dixie Chicks fans are Republicans, but it's probably safe to say that a large majority of Dixie Chicks fans are "damn proud to be 'merican." In other words, they are just the sort of people who care about reason number one. I'm not sure how else to explain the sense of outrage other than to suggest that it was like what would happen if that soccer guy -- Beckham? -- came to the US and with a Budweiser long-neck in one hand said to a cheering crowd of frat boys, "English beer tastes like p!ss!"

So, a bunch of Dixie Chicks fans called their local radio stations and a bunch of conservative talk radio hosts got in on the game and some records got burned, some apologies were made, a tearful Diane Sawyer interview was shot, and I think the whole thing has probably blown over -- with the latest Dixie Chicks album still sitting at No. 3 on the Country Music Charts (it was No. 1 last week...).

Anyway, no government agency called for their censure, no state-run radio or television network pulled their song out of rotation. Just a blast of publicity (and profit) dying down to relative normality. Civil liberties secure.

26th Apr 2003, 12:27

We will agree to disagree about GWB vs slickwillie. As an Irish Catholic I find Clinton to be a waste of good air. Just as a thought, common people lie under oath, POTUS should never lie under oath. I know that Repub.s and Dem's have done so, but my belief is that they pay for that politically.

Nobody "defers" to the POTUS. but we respect the weight of the office He can be cancelled out just like the local selectman if he screws up; ie, Nixon but you have to give us a good reason. "new breed of McCarthyism" is
a bit extreme. we have boys and girls dieing in far off places, argue the point but no ad hominem attacks will work now. We remember Hanoi Jane too well. This may sound too simple to you, but I am right in the middle of the mainstream of US political thought. We agree with GWB. It is literally our sons and daughters who are dieing to acheive his goals.

One piece of advice. FREE worth a little more than you are paying for it. .........TAKE YOUR FLAG BACK< NOW. the Union Jack repesents way too much good to be coopted by some far right group. If you need support, we'll give it but you need to lead the way.

DC Meatloa. I couldn't have said it better myself. especiall the " the esteemed Senator from .... is completely out of his head " line

26th Apr 2003, 12:32

The problem with Clinton was never that he had sex with monica or whatever he had. THe problem was that he lied about it. In America you DO NOT HAVE TO ANSWER SELF INCRIMITATING QUESTIONS. Its the 5th amendment to the constitution, an integral part of the bill of rights.

Clinton could have refused to answer the question and should have on 5th amendment grounds, executive priveldge and other things. But he was used to lying and getting away with it and though this would be easier. By letting him get away with it the congress basically cheapened the law and lead to the Enron/Worldcom/ Don Carty fiascos where you do what you want and keep lying about it.

It was never about sex, it was about the chief law enforcement officer of the land having no respect for the law and setting the tone that followed. But it was typical.

Had he stood up and said "I nailed her, and he moaned and screamed and scratched me..." Most of the country would have stood up and cheered, after all look at his wife <G>...
But once he uttered that "I smoked pot but I didn't inhale" and got away with it the stage was set.


26th Apr 2003, 22:49
DC Meatloaf, you said

"I'm not sure how else to explain the sense of outrage other than to suggest that it was like what would happen if that soccer guy -- Beckham? -- came to the US and with a Budweiser long-neck in one hand said to a cheering crowd of frat boys, "English beer tastes like p!ss!" "

It truly is amazing how little the Americans understand the British. I can assure you that I don't know anybody here in Britain who would give a solitary little [email protected] if Beckham or any other Dixey Chicks equivalent told some frat boys that "English beer tastes like p!ss".

T Richard, you said

"One piece of advice. FREE worth a little more than you are paying for it. .........TAKE YOUR FLAG BACK< NOW. the Union Jack repesents way too much good to be coopted by some far right group. If you need support, we'll give it but you need to lead the way."

Thank you for the offer of help but you simply provide another prime example of complete mis-judgement of the essential British nature by an American. The reason we don't take our flag back is because the vast majority of us don't care in the least about it being used by some obscure far right party for whom the majority have no respect. We don't care about the flag on a daily basis enough to start sticking it up outside our houses to show our patriotism. You and I speak the same language, but let me assure you we exist in very very different cultures.

Techman, you are spot on with your comments. Particularly when you say

"There is no such thing as "free speech" anywhere, if by free speech is meant free speech without consequences.
The consequences of speaking up against the establishment are, with a few variations, the same where ever you look, it is the methods that vary."

In the US the consequences are as we have been discussing. In the UK the consequences are much less brazen. In some other countries, such as Iraq, the consequences are, allegedly, death and torture.

26th Apr 2003, 23:50
The problem with celebrities voicing their opinions is that they receive attention out of proportion, as has been pointed out. They also (should) know this, and be prepared to coherently defend their positions , which most either don't or can't. Bono, a guy whose music I don't particularly care for (my problem), is an example of a celebrity who, whether one agrees with him or not, has at least researched in depth the position he takes re Third World Debt etc., and can rationally and clearly articulate his position ; moreover, he doesn't resort to name-calling or expect that because he is a celebrity his opinions will be accepted uncritically. For these reasons he is able to interact with the big boys in policy matters and such. Not that he is unaware of his status; because he does receive disproportionate attention, he has used this attribute to good effect.
Most of the other celebs have nothing to say, beyond knee-jerk sound bites which on follow-up reveal a pitiful lack of knowledge. Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon have received a lot of flak for their behaviour, justifiably so. If a celeb takes a public stance,he/she better be prepared to defend it, or at least recognise the potential consequences. Robbins was grand-standing, and now he's whining that it's a right wing conspiracy in which talk radio and various tv and print media are out to get him. He may have had a valid viewpoint, but the jackass has yet to articulate it.
As to democracy, we got it. Talk radio here is largely conservative. I'm not a fan of it, but I don't have to listen to it. If enough people didn't like it, it's political stance would change. This is economic influence, as valid as not buying a Dixie Chicks CD. Or deciding not to vacation in Canada, or eating Cheese Whiz instead of 'fromage'.
There is no conspiracy to shut these people up, but the little guy can indicate his displeasure in many ways, which can have significant cumulative effect.
The US is a democracy; imperfect, naturally, but it's not sliding into the abyss as many ( a lot of Brit) posters seem to think. Context is everything- show me a better place. Is China's example of dealing with SARS, or N.Korea enlightening ? How about South Africa's response to AIDS ? Zimbabwe, Indonesia, the Arab World ? Argentinian fiscal policy ?
Let's get real, and we can do without the standard personality rants (anti-Bush, hijacked votes, yadda yadda).

27th Apr 2003, 00:06
So if Bush told a direct lie, you'd be as annoyed with him as you seem to be with Clinton?

27th Apr 2003, 00:32

nicely said, especially the reference to Bono, he is a performer wo gets litened to by the American consumer without adverse consequences. I'm not so sure about the cheese whiz though:)

Hoping Your point is well made and if my commment was heavy handed I withdraw it, but I am still puzzeled by the dramatic difference of our perception and affinity for our respective ensigns

It may be my misperceptin, but I maintain that the surest sign of a celebrity's fall from the ratings chart is when they start shilling for PETA. And why is it they all see to have big fake tits.

27th Apr 2003, 03:22

If Bush told a lie under oath I would be leading the charge for his impeachment. I have always been a strict contructionist on law, and it is consistant in the positions I have held.

If you don't respect the law the way it is written, then you HAVE NO LAW! If you allow people to continue of positions of trust after they have committed perjury then you are just opening the door to turning this country into a third rate petty dictatorship.


27th Apr 2003, 07:01
"the vast majority of us don't care in the least about it being used by some obscure far right party for whom the majority have no respect"

I'm not sure about that at all Hoping. I'm not particularly patriotic, and certainly not a Monarchist (although not very anti either), but I am very p!ssed off that our flag has been hijacked by racists. Especially when I look at the way other European nations proudly fly theirs (eg the Spanish, French, Germans etc). I think it's very sad that we can't do the same, even as someone who is not very patriotic but is somewhat proud to be British. I agree with you about Beckham though, no one would give a flying toss if he went over to the states and said that that English beer tastes like p!ss. No one listens to what he says anyway, he never says anything interesting......but for any cultural icon I don't think we would care. If Blair said it, well, it might cause a few ripples!

T_Richard - "I am still puzzeled by the dramatic difference of our perception and affinity for our respective ensigns". That was part of the point of the thread, to point out the huge cultural divide between the two countries, and maybe improve mutual understanding! It's been interesting, and I don't see any 'standard personality rants' about Bush and the election result yadda yadda yadda ;)

DC Meatloaf
28th Apr 2003, 00:54
Wedge and Hoping,

Well, I'm pleased neither of you know of anyone who listens to the likes of Beckham, just as I'm pleased not to know anyone upset by the Dixie Chicks' comments. But someone is buying all of those tabloids....

28th Apr 2003, 21:34
Mr Richards,

Are you American or Irish?

Don't see that the religion is relevant.

28th Apr 2003, 22:20

You are correct, religion is not relevant to this thread. It's a personal reference that I sometimes use in a discussion, almost always with more relevance than I did here. My apologies

Aviation Trainer too
28th Apr 2003, 22:46
Excellent reading I can recommend mr Micheal Moore his book Stupid White man...

After reading the book the answer is probably: no it is not a democracy....

28th Apr 2003, 23:31
Yes, basically the US is a democracy, I think. Yet an unhealthy portion of patriotism, ignorance of what's happening outside the borders (almost nobody knew in the US where Iraq was situated until the war started) and a very limited offer of independent news channels (US CNN shows a completely different picture of the war opposed to the International CNN, not even mentioning FOX...) are preventing independent thoughts in God's Own Country.

I know of a french antique shop owner (Mr.Dreyfuss) in Texas. He lived there for 38 years and never had any problems. Since the war started he removed the Eiffeltower in front of his shop in order not to provoke his neighbours. Yet after receiving several death threats he's forced to leave the city....

28th Apr 2003, 23:51

But do answer the question. One or the other.

It may be pedantry on my part but is part of the debate on account of it being a difference of attitude, US/British.

You were refering to Americans as 'we' but then say you are Irish Catholic.

I have noted this tendency among many Americans of Irish descent and some of the relationships are several generations ago.

Its a sidetrack. Sorry for the interuption.

29th Apr 2003, 00:27
Wino said 'Alec Baldwin, Barbara Streisand etc promised to leave the country if Bush got elected. Well, they are still here.'

It's interesting that you also have the 'I'll leave the country if they get in power' grandstanding from celebs on your side of the pond. We've had the same on both sides of politics over here, but mainly supporting the Conservatives.

All of them are conspicuous by their continued residence in the country.

Not that I'd complain if they did b!gger off....


29th Apr 2003, 20:20
So it wasn't the (Republican donor) cash grabbers' fault that half the economy turns out not to exist but Bill Clinton's for not admitting to shagging Monica senseless? So...you're responsible for your own actions...unless you're rich! Right on!

Technically, the PM is described as "first among equals" because constitutionally he is but a member of a collective governing body (the cabinet) of which he happens to be chairman. It is an odd fact that the role of the premier is not strictly defined in the law (there wasn't a prime minister before 1721), which means that the importance of Downing Street relative to the ministers varies widely between PMs. Blair and Margaret Thatcher both went in for a strong central premiership, and created numerous organisations responsible directly to the PM's Office. Harold Wilson, for example, did without a big Downing Street machine and relied much more on intriguing between the powermongers of his cabinet like Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Barbara Castle, George Brown and Tony Benn, not to mention various bureaucratic bigwigs and union men. The trend has been for more concentration of power in Number 10, especially since Lloyd George's day. (This had much to do with the growth of the modern national security structure, and the work of Sir Maurice Hankey as secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence and later Cabinet Secretary i.e. head of the civil service)

29th Apr 2003, 23:48
An interesting article Spad, though rather harsh on Noam Chomsky for my liking. He may have his moments of passion; these may be more apparent to some, but he should not be discussed in the same article as that monkey Moore.

The culture of the US and the UK certainly differs, but not by as much as has been advertised here. Certainly if Beckham were to commit such a faux pas people would listen, and crucify him for it. It is in many ways a clever scenario as it mirrors the (albeit political) meanderings of the Dixie Chicks and their anti-patriotic stand. Can you imagine any beer, fashion or sporting companies who would wish to use Beckham as their symbol in the UK after such a show? I very much doubt it.

The issue of alienation appears to be prevalent in both cultures, but for very different reasons. With regards to the Flag it is more a matter of arrogance than anything else. Gumps were once laughed and sneered at for their state building antics. The idea that any nation could be so weak as to need education in the arts of patriotism or responsibility seemed rediculous. Flags in the classroom etc were deemed to be completely anti-British, in a very smug sort of a way you understand. Contrast that with the culture of today.

There will always be sheep who merely answer to the bell of the shepherd, I can't help feeling though that we are herding, intentionally or not, the sheep in the wrong direction.

30th Apr 2003, 03:44
"Can you imagine any beer, fashion or sporting companies who would wish to use Beckham as their symbol in the UK after such a show?"

Yes I can. The fashion and sporting companies would not care, and the American beer companies would be rushing to sign him up to endorse American beer over here.

I agree with Hoping I don't think anyone would care. I wouldn't, maybe you would Chaffers.

This cultural divide was demonstrated a few weeks previously by Sasha Baron Cohen when as Ali G he said "There has been 'nuff sadness in your country since the events of 7 eleven". I thought it was very funny, the Americans thought it was a despicable slur and an outrageous insult. They were not able to see the funny side. I think if 9/11 had happened to us not to the Americans then well maybe I would not have found it so funny, but I doubt I would have taken the kind of umbrage that most Americans did.

compressor stall
3rd May 2003, 12:22
Gore Vidal does not seem to think its a democracy...

INteresting interview.


3rd May 2003, 19:54
The US is a democracy and in fact is one of the most democratic countries on the planet. In America they vote for everything. This is all down to the foresight of the forefathers when they wrote the constitution. They were without doubt way ahead of their time and highly intelligent in giving such a powerful framework for the country to live in.

What is true though is there has always been an element in the US who have looked to destablise this and bring the US away from what it should be and what the forefathers planned it to be. A powerful far right element that exists in every state house and office in Washington.
What is also true is there is now a very weak press in the US who seem fearful of asking any kind of question out of fear of appearing critical of the Bush regime. This is not healthy and is totally at odds with somewhere like the UK or France where the press do not hold back. The media in the US is controlled by big business are are afraid of stepping out of line in this new environment.

And Wino, you're wrong, Bush has lied under oath. He swore to uphold the Constitution but has passed more laws ammending and changing it then any other president in the history of the US, case in point, the Patriot Act.
The foundations on which this great country were built on, are being slowly and delibrately eroded and people/congress are too afraid of speaking out about it.

It really is that serious.

3rd May 2003, 22:31
One world.

We are at war at the moment, and the US constitution has always ebbed and flowed with the times. That is what makes it so great.

What we are doing now is nothing different than what was done during world war II. The only difference was then there was a democrat in the white house.

I would argue that FDR did far more damaging things to the US constitution that Bush could ever do. Tell me where in the constitution there is a "Right" to Social security, education, healthcare etc. Certainly stunts he pulled like packing the supreme court are FAR more damaging as they go to the fundamental framework of the country. Lyndon Johnson's huge expansion of the federal government under the"Great Society" was most definately NOT what the founding fathers had in mind. And don't start on gun controll. There wouldn't be a second ammendment if they thought that was a good idea.

If you can prove Bush lied under oath, I will lead the charge for his impeachment. But your feelings don't count. Get him convicted of perjury like Clinton was.

Irreversable damage was done to the US constitution when CLINTON was allowed to get away with perjury. Suddenly everyone was free to lie under oath. After all the president was doing it. The result was Enron, World Comm, Don cAArty etc...

Furthermore, the patriot act was passed by CONGRESS. You should know better. The congress WRITES the law. the president mearly carries out the law.


3rd May 2003, 23:04
Wino, I'm actually talking about Bush tampering with the Bill of Rights. No president has tampered with that sacred document more then Bush, you should know that. He used 9/11 to bully the congress who were still in shock, to ratify these changes.

Something else he lied about was his pre-election promise to reduce the federal government, to reduce the concentration of power and influence of Washington.
In fact he has created the largest and most powerful bureacracy that the US has ever seen!

And come on Wino, when FDR took his measures the US was on the verge of collapse!! Are you saying that the US under Bush is/was facing the same calamity?

Are you actually telling me you have the balls to sit there and tell me that the collapse and scandal of Enron, (with Bush's buddy Lay at the helm), was actually Clinton's fault??

4th May 2003, 06:07
If as you said recently the Lewinsky affair was never about sex but about lying under oath Wino, why was Clinton forced to answer questions under oath about his sex life in the first place? It was about a conspiracy exploiting this minor transgression to get him impeached. Big deal that he responded by lying.

Christ, let it go Wino. Clinton lied under oath about an office affair he had with some fat slapper, so what?

Some of us here are accused of banging on about the validity of the election result. That is still somewhat relevant, Clinton is no longer in the White House.

AND he was not the first President to lie under oath either......how about Reagan and the Irangate affair? Who by the way was answering questions about a much more serious affair in which being questioned under oath was actually justified. And don't tell me he didn't lie either when he claimed he could 'not recall' anything about what happened.

And I am sure there are many more examples. Are you seriously suggesting Clinton was the first man to do it? The first politician to reach the White House who lied under oath? Come off it.

As for Clinton's lying being responsible for ENRON and Worldcom etc, get real. The false accounting, lying and dishonesty goes back years, it has absolutely nothing to do with the Clinton affair.

4th May 2003, 11:10

Clinton was not forced to answer questions about monica Lewinski. Infact nobody can be forced by the government to answer questions about themselves in America. Its the 5th Amendment to the constitution, and Clinton did not have to answer the question.

He had lied so many times not under oath and gotten away with it (think "I smoked pot and didn't inhale"), that he figured this would not be a big deal either. Well it was a HUGE line he stepped over and he was convicted of perjury. That should automatically disqualify him from office.

In no other case was a president ever convicted of perjury.

He didn't have to answer the question. Had he not answered the hearings would have been over. It would have been a scandal and that's it. Instead it debased the whole process by removing the stigma from perjury. Shortly thereafter boards of directors of a few companies (worldcom for example) removed fellony conviction from diqualifying things for CEOs under consideration.

Much of the country would have cheered if Clinton had stood up and told the truth, but he couldn't do that, because he always took the easy way out.He also didn't do what was within in rights by saying nothing.

You may think Reagan did or did not know something, and he was a notorious delegator so I am not convinced that he knew. But even if he did, HE WAS NOT CONVICTED OF PERJURY! You don't get to throw people out of office on a feeling except at the poles. BUT CLINTON WAS CONVICTED OF PERJURY. The President of the United States THE chief law enforcement officer of the land. An attorney, and as such an officer of the courts. This is not some petty defendant saying "I dun nothin!" This is so serious I am flabbergasted that everyone can be so jaded that they think it doesn't matter.

Clinton was convicted of perjury and should have been thrown in jail AND removed from office. Failure to do so has brought us to the brink of becoming a Banana republic. The only difference between the USA's government and Argentina's government (they have almost identical constitutions) is that in America we USED to have respect for the law. As that respect for the law is eroded its only a matter time till the whole house comes tumbling down.

One World, Bush was trying to reduce government. Then Sept 11 happened and we found ourselves at war. We are still at war and war naturally expandes the size of government (every war has, and then it shrinks somewhat afterwords) I am sure if 9/11 had not happened he would still be trying to shrink the government (which usually involves attacks on Unions, because the strongest unions are those in government, and they are also the unions I respect the least)

As to the measures that FDR took, One of the things I was thinking of was the rounding up and internment of all American's of Japanese descent... Makes what bush did seam pretty calm.

There are plenty of other examples. The huge expansion of the war department, the pentagon, intellegence services that became the CIA, the FBI. That they are all now in one house is in some ways less scary than when they were all out running amok on their own trying to make points for their branch to get more funding. (Think Ruby Ridge and Waco Texas, both under Clinton's watch btw)


4th May 2003, 14:11
Bush and Co has been the most dishonest, manipulative untruthful bunch of ratbags the white house has seen.

The patriot act. Watch hundreds of years of progress disappear in front of your very eyes.

The office of homeland security. A great way to make mericans feel safe and warm in bed at night AND an attempt to rebuild a government that proved extremely incompetent on Sep 11, 2001.

Why is it that the greatest “threat to world security” was defeated in about three weeks? Wow, what a threat they must have been.

Why are mericans so keen to protect an illegitimate president when the rest of the world knows oil, currency and power are driving president Cheney and his moronic offsider Dubya?

Democracy in the US – what a great idea. Lets give it a try some time.

4th May 2003, 15:41
The only difference between the USA's government and Argentina's government (they have almost identical constitutions) is that in America we USED to have respect for the law. As that respect for the law is eroded its only a matter time till the whole house comes tumbling down.
Hmmm (Thinking Iran-Contra and Oliver North);)

5th May 2003, 00:45
Interesting to read the US perspective on historical events.

On Bill O'reilly's website, he interviews a rep from the French American Foundation.

One question put to this person was why the French blocked airspace to American F111's in 86 enroute to Libya - "You know, they wouldn't let us fly over their airspace to take reprisal against Gadhafi after he blew up that Berlin disco, targeting Americans and all of that."

The Libyan connection to the Disco bombing is known to be false. In fact a German court found Mossad and CIA links to the bombers.

I guess it worries me that such high profile folks such as O'reilly can get away with using completely false arguments without being corrected.

West Coast
5th May 2003, 02:58
Boy, you had me rolling with your allusion to the press being the protector of our rights. Good one.

The world that Bush campaigned in is a far cry from the one we have now. If you are to be taken in a serious light, YOU must acknowledge this. He has adapted on the fly to new requirements, while you are quoting his campaign rhetoric in some sour grapes approach. At the cost of spilling over to another thread, this is another example of Bush being guided by convictions rather than what garners the vote.

5th May 2003, 03:16
Read what I write WC, it's not sour grapes,

I am pointing out that the idea the Bush is a totally honourable man who is "guided by his convictions" is not true. Bush is a politician and has in fact made promises and broken them like all politicians do. Why do you have a problem with that statement?

Of course US society changed post 9/11, I had family living in NYC at the time. But can you really tell me Gore or anyone else would have failed to rally the nation at a time like that?

You are painting Bush as a kind of president that those of us who have long studied US politics, know he is not.

Cynicism is a very healthy attitude to take when analysing politicians.

West Coast
5th May 2003, 09:03
There is plenty of room to manuevere in your first paragraph. Firstly, can you name one US president, or even a reasonably high ranking elected official that has delivered on all campaign promises? If you are looking for a mea culpa, okay you got it. Bush has not delivered on all his election promises. The reason I voted for Bush was not thinking he could deliver XX to me, it was because he could return a degree of dignity to the office. Under Clinton, the beltway was a circus show. If you are a serious student, you cannot deny it. You keep harping on the size of the Federal Government as one of the promises Bush failed to keep. I don't know if you still pay any type of taxes, but every 1st and 15th I wish for smaller government also. Appears you blame Bush for that, I blame outside influences, OBL mostly. My belief is that if 9/11 had never happened, we wouldn't have a Homeland security administration, TSA, et al. The thought that you can pin that as a failure of the Bush administration is a stretch.

As to Gore, I think he is an honorable man, wrong man for the times however. He and slick had eight years to be judged by. History, I don't believe will be kind to them.

Being a cynic is fraught with peril.

6th May 2003, 00:14

Who told you that Bill OReilly is "high profile", he another journalist (I'm being generous). Walter Cronkite of the 60's and the 70's he is not. His mistatement is hardly on the same planet with "US perspective" I don't think he got away with anything, I think you give him more credit than 98% of the American public do and certainly more than he ever deserved. "Hoigh Profile":yuk: :yuk: thats rich!

West Coast
6th May 2003, 10:20

Must add to what TR has said. O'Reilly is just that, press. He is not the mouth piece for the Republican party in the US despite what many Europeans think, indeed he is an independant (his words, not mine) He along with Rush and others that are to the left of center (ie, the editorial staff of the NY Times)that get their play in the media are chasing only ratings.

Now, as to O'Rielly being held accountable for what he says, yes I am all for that.

7th May 2003, 02:06
Voice of morality exposed as chronic casino loser

Oliver Burkeman in Washington
Tuesday May 6, 2003

When famous figures in America find themselves involved in personal scandals few commentators make it to the microphone faster than William Bennett, the country's leading public moralist.
Formerly an education secretary and drug tsar under Republican presidents, Mr Bennett, now the head of a conservative thinktank, has inveighed for years against everything from drunkenness to sexual promiscuity, the moral failings of Bill Clinton, the moral failings of liberals, and the laxity and permissiveness of contemporary culture.

His consistently bestselling books bear titles such as The Book of Virtues, The Death of Outrage and Our Sacred Honour.

Now there is a fresh outbreak of vice for him to campaign against: the epidemic of schadenfreude that has greeted the revelation that he is a gambler who has lost millions of dollars in casinos in the past 10 years, playing slot machines and video-poker.

Casino documents obtained by the magazines Newsweek and Washington Monthly show that he is a regular at casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, is a "preferred customer" at several of them, and has lost more than $8m (£5m).

He would spend two or three days at a single casino, the magazine reported, drawing on credit of $200,000 and more. Once he had to wire $1.4m in two months to cover his losses. He tried to keep his habit a secret: typed across his records at one casino are the words: "No contact at res or biz!"

Mr Bennett, contacted by the magazines, acknowledged his gambling, but not his losses. "Over 10 years I'd say I've come out pretty close to even," he said.

A casino source, hearing the claim that he had profited, "just laughed", the magazines reported. It was a response backed by reports that Mr Bennett enjoyed limousines and luxury hotel rooms at the casinos' expense, a privilege normally given to those from whom the house profits.

"There's a term in the trade for this kind of gambler," a casino source who had seen him gambling was quoted as saying. "We call them losers."

Mr Bennett was declining interviews yesterday, but issued a statement saying: "I have done too much gambling, and this is not an example I wish to set. Therefore, my gambling days are over."

Earlier, he maintained that his forceful condemnation of the sins of society was not incompatible with gambling. "I've gambled all my life and it's never been a moral issue with me," Mr Bennett said. "I liked church bingo when I was growing up ... I view it as drinking. If you can't handle it, don't do it."

There is, indeed, no record of him speaking out against gambling. But that, the commentator Michael Kinsley argued in Slate magazine, "doesn't show that Bennett is not a hypocrite".

"It just shows he's not a complete idiot. Working his way down the list of other people's pleasures, weaknesses, and uses of American freedom, he just happened to skip over his own. How convenient."


Oh dear!

DC Meatloaf
7th May 2003, 02:40
What an idiotic (and off-topic) non-story. Gambling of one form or another is actually legal in just about every state of the Union. And it's certainly legal where Bennett did it most frequently, Vegas and Atlantic City. And I love how his critics seem to think they're scoring points by pointing out he's not a hypocrite!

Sheesh, anyway.

From the Newsweek/MSNBC article (http://www.msnbc.com/news/908430.asp):

"I play fairly high stakes. I adhere to the law. I don't play the 'milk money.' I don't put my family at risk, and I don't owe anyone anything," Bennett says. The documents do not contradict those points.

7th May 2003, 07:34
America is not democratic because...

The executive branch (Pres) is elected by the Electoral College by majority vote. The number of delegates to the Electoral College bear no direct resemblance to the number of popular votes cast. Therefore the President is elected by an undemocratic process (and Bush is a perfect example, he lost the popular vote)

The Legistlative branch is comprised of the Senate and House.

Decisions of the Senate are on a majority basis, therefore each Senator has equal power. Each State, no matter the population, sends the same number of Senators. Therefore the Senate bears no direct resemblance to the number of popular votes cast, so is elected by an undemocratic process.

The house of Representatives is a better example, each Representative represents approximately the same number of people. Good start, BUT the boundaries of each constituency, or district, are determined by the politicians! (I think Montana is an exception, and Arizona are going to an independant panel too). So what happens in practice is the currently elected politicians horsetrade with the opposite party to ensure they remain elected. With no independant overseeing of the boundaries of the constituencies, the process is undemocratic.

The judiciary are elected by the above, so are the product of an undemocratic system. They are therefore undemocratic too. This is a major problem right now. We have a partisan Supreme court, and both parties want to fill the Federal Bench with their cronies. Federal bench rigging is the biggest threat to democracy in the US right now, and it's going ahead.

So no, the US is very undemocratic, but it's because the politicians are corrupt, and the electorate too disinterested/ignorant to do anything about it. A shame, because the model on paper is probably the best in the world.


7th May 2003, 08:13
Good points, well argued slim.

The original question I asked was I suppose in relation to freedom of speech as a democratic principle but I also pointed out that far more Americans voted for Gore than Bush. I would say that as democracies go, America is a good example on paper and a reasonable example in practice. There is no such thing as a perfect 'democracy'.

You mention the three branches of power. The separation of powers in America is far greater than here in the UK.

Our head of the Executive branch (the PM) is also a key member of the Legislature (House of Commons/Parliament). He also appoints the head of the Judiciary (Lord Chancellor), who unsurprisingly, is currently one of 'Tony's cronies', Lord Irvine. Sounds a lot less democratic than the American system on paper, where the Executive (President) is separate from the Legislature. Although he does have key powers such as absolute control of the armed forces and the ability to deploy them for any reason for up to 180 days before seeking Congressional approval.

The British 'first past the post' system could be argued to be just as undemocratic as the Electoral college as the party which receives the highest share of the vote will form a government provided they have a majority in the Commons. This means that it is not necessary to receive 50% or more of the support of the electorate to form a government.

For example, Labour formed a government in 1974 with just 39% of the vote, the Conservatives with 42% in 1983 and the present government received 43% in 2001. These are the figures that supporters of Proportional Representation point to to argue that the UK system is undemocratic.

In summary, both the UK and the USA are 'democracies' of a sort, but both systems have flaws.

8th May 2003, 04:43

I would not use the UK system as a model, there is too much power in the hands of the PM, somebody who is not directly elected. I think the Unions have more say over the candidate for Labour party leader than the public. No effective checks and balances either. The Lords is even more of a puppet after Blairs constitutional vandalism, and the courts are routinely being threatened by Blunkett when they show they can think for themselves - or even follow the law!

Perversely, the best hope for constitutional protection for the UK populace appears to come from European Commision dictats. A totally unrepresentative body is providing the closest thing to a written constitution the UK has. Then within months of the Human Rights legislation being incorporated into UK law, Blunkett withdrew from some key sections citing "National Security". That's always a way to deny people their rights, used routinely both sides of the Atlantic.

Anyway, in practice the UK behaves a free society should, at least for now :).

The press in the US are pretty weak right now. Nobody wants to challenge the President, not sure why, but it is not good. America is in a troubling and dangerous mood right now.

Re some of the other stuff, about US/UK not understanding each other. I think it took about five years living here for me to start to understand America, or at least to know what questions to ask. Another five years until I think I got close to answering those questions. I now think I understand America, and it boils down to 'attitude'. That one word is as close as I can get. Give me more time and I might change my mind.

I think I understand America more than most Americans, but that is because I am an outsider. Likewise any American who has lived in the UK for any period of time will have a very interesting and valid opinion about the UK. I've spoken eagerly with these people, and they see the UK totally differently from what lifelong UK residents do. I think they get the UK right.

We are definitely not the same.

8th May 2003, 23:09
I suppose Wedge, that your contention that America was not the land of the 'Free' because you felt that the Dixie Chicks had been shouted down for being rude to the President, and the country was therefore undemocratic, is perhaps a trifle simplistic. As has been pointed out by more than a few, the item of hot news is like most offerings from the press, a salacious titbit gussied up and presented as a morsal for the ever hungry audience they pander to.
If one cares to examing the world for examples of democracy, or democratic governance, there are precious few that approach the personal freedoms or protections afforded their citizens from that government, than are available in the USA. The government of the US are the servants of the people, and although it may not always seem that way, that is in fact the way that the founding fathers organised the constitution.
As an interested observer of the US over the past 30 years, a regular visitor, the brother of a committed longstanding US citizen, my older sister became a citizen about 35 years ago, I would definitely agree with Slim, it is an attitude, and one that is singularly lacking in the UK.
When someone emigrates to the US they are deliberatly incacultated with the countries ethos. There is a visible and tangible pride in being an American, that is sadly, conspicuosly absent amongst anybody in the UK. The immigrant over here, even second and third generation, will quite often indentify as much, if not more with their percieved nation of origin, than they do with the one to which they have come.
America, more than many, is a nation of immigrants who have welded together and have an immensely strong sense of national identity. It is a strength that serves them well, and one we would do well to emulate. Their flag and their President are symbols of their identity, and those who would mock it or abuse it, do so at the risk of provoking the ire of many who take great pride in it.
It is after all the visible presence of a concept that many have freely and willingly laid down their lives for.
I'll stick with the brave and the free.

(edited for appalling punctuation, appologies.)

9th May 2003, 18:09
It's the old "Cricket" test, isn't it Paterbrat, 2nd/3rd generation Indians/Pakistani's/West Indian's etc have no interest in supporting England when England play one of these countries. Prospective US citizens must learn English and take citizenship classes which teach about the US system and history, Some immigrants know more about the US then some US born citizens!

Why is it that these immigrants have no interest in supporting the country they live in? Anyone? We could statrt an interesting debate on immigration here!