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The headless chicken

January 8, 2020

The United States does not have, as many of its citizens like to claim, the best form of democracy in the world. They have the most ridiculous.

Growing up with Parliamentary democracies (and assuming that was the general rule), it took me a long time to get my head around the US system. How, I wondered, could you have a president from one party and a majority of representatives from another? Even after I figured that out I remained baffled. What was up with US voters? Why would they vote for a Democratic (or Republican) president and a Republican (or Democratic) senator? It made no sense to me then and it makes no sense to me today.

Today (and every day since the news broke late last week that everyone’s worst nightmare might be coming true, that the narcissistic dough boy who’d somehow ended up in the Oval Office might, in a fit of pique, have started a war with Iran) one of the most fundamental flaw in the US system of government is glaring. There is no Leader of the Opposition.

Yes, Chuck Schumer can get the right of response when Mitch McConnell does something in the senate and Nancy Pelosi could demand the right of response when Paul Ryan was still the head honcho in the house of representatives. But who gets to respond meaningfully to the lunatic behaviour of a president?

Rumour/conspiracy has it that at some point in 1980 Republican vice-presidential candidate George Bush held secret meetings in Paris with representatives of Iran, encouraging them to hold on to the US embassy hostages until after the November election to boost the Republicans’ chances of winning against President Jimmy Carter. The rumour wasn’t that hard to believe – certainly not once the Iran-Contra scandal broke.

Of course, by that point in 1980, there was a de facto Leader of the Opposition: Ronald Reagan, who had won the nomination to be the Republican candidate for the presidency.

No such luck (if you want to call that shady deal luck) in January 2020. The three ring circus that is the nomination process for the Democrats, which has been going on for a year already, is still far from complete.

It seems likely to me that any of the front runners would, if elected, sign back on to the Iranian nuclear treaty Trump so gleefully ripped up in his rush to undo everything Obama had done. However, none of the Democratic candidates is in a position to open a back channel to deliver this message, because their party currently has no leader – nor is it likely to have one any time soon. (It was June 2008 before Barack Obama clinched his nomination and June 2016 before Hillary Clinton clinched hers.) Right now the “opposition” is a headless chicken.

Fortunately, like them or loathe them, the leaders of Iran aren’t stupid. This was clear yesterday in their measured and surprisingly limited response to the dough boy’s order to assassinate General Soleimani. Iran’s leaders know, without anyone telling them (although I’m sure many European and other middle eastern countries have pointed it out in the past few days), that this alarming period of purely petulant US foreign policy dictated by the whims of a sociopath could be over by the end of the year.

Still, wouldn’t it be comforting if an individual authorised to speak on behalf of the Democratic party could offer this reassurance publicly? Or even in private on the phone? Unfortunately, their call cannot be answered at the moment. Please hold until June.

As I said: ridiculous. And more than a little scary at this moment in time.

From → Columns

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