With my parents' recent move to Iowa, the upcoming election has taken on a bit of a new dimension. I never really got worked up over the primaries (or the general election, for that matter) but the wife and I have started paying a bit more attention this time around. This is partly due to the possibly historic role my kin may have in determining the fate of some candidate - a real if slight possibility given the neck-and-neck field on both sides of the race - and partly due to the utter banality of the Republican gaggle. In the past, it was fairly easy to ignore the primaries because the race didn't seem like much of a race at all. But now its like a dinner mystery theater; we're all trying to parse the clues and the polls that will point to whodunit. Or rather, 'whowinsit'. I have no favored candidate, no pick to commit to. I probably dislike Huckabee the least but I must admit part of me wants to see Obama win just for the sheer history-making spectacle it will be for a black man to win the presidency. The sheer history-making spectacle of a woman winning the office can wait for another candidate, in my opinion.
So all this election stuff is swirling around when news of the latest violence in Pakistan and Kenya makes the news, and this the violence of election politics. Who won? Who will win? Who will run? Will there even be elections? In other parts of the world these are killing questions it seems. But not here. Not in America or other Western-style democracies. These may be angry-making questions but today they rarely spill over into actual violence and much rarer still does anyone take a life in the asking. Why? Why are we so different than other parts of the world where elections and violence are hand-in-glove? Whether by specific design or the slow march of progress, our society and culture has disavowed violence in the political process. People resignedly accept even the most bitterly contested loss without raising a fist or a weapon. Whatever the failings of our political system and culture, and they are legion, this has to be one of its greatest strengths. The supremacy of the rule of law - how do we export that to other nations? How do we get the Iraqis to commit to that? How do we get Afghanistan to favor the national whole over the tribal division?
These are almost impossible questions to answer and there are clearly many pieces to the puzzle. Get rid of corruption, strive for a fair judiciary, promote a national symbol, eliminate other forms of public violence and...I'm not sure what else. But ultimately it comes down to changing cultures, even changing religious beliefs to a certain extent. Our culture gradually developed into what it is today - is there any way to speed up that process in parts of the world where violence persists? I would hope that our next president, whoever that may be, has some very smart people working on these kinds of questions. Bush certainly didn't ask them, much to the detriment of his purported mission of spreading democracy. At the very least, we can insist that our next peacefully elected leader get started on some answers.