Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The American Experiment

TBILISI, Georgia -- I have never been more proud to be an American citizen than I was this morning when I watched the election returns come in. All Americans should be proud of their country today, not because of any political agenda, but because of what this election represents. This presidential election breathed new life into the ideal on which the United States founded themselves, representative democracy.

"America has showed the world what real democracy is," said my friend, Eduard Atoev.

This election is not only about President-elect Barack Obama. It is also about Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. Hilary Clinton and even Rep. Ron Paul. The first three are obvious: the first black US president, or if he had lost, the first female US vice-president, and the first woman to be a serious candidate for her party's presidential nomination.

Paul's campaign for the GOP presidential nomination was driven by his supporters, who crafted his message nearly as much as he did. It was a decentralized campaign stripped of the traditional hierarchical power structure. It happened to some degree with every major campaign through things such as viral videos, blogs and Facebook. But Paul's campaign was the only one driven by this dynamic.

This phenomenon is here to stay and represents an opening up of the political system unparalleled in American history. In the past, campaigns set an election's agenda by picking up issues they hoped would resonate with voters. Today, US citizens have the capacity to set the agenda as well. In some ways, Paul's campaign demonstrated a greater fundamental development in American democracy than Obama, Palin and Clinton.

My first reaction to Obama's election was that it signalled the fulfillment of representative democracy in the US. But that is simply not true. It demonstrated that 232 years after it was established, America is still striving to reach the ideals it set for itself. The US has always been an imperfect democratic republic. It exists in an imperfect world in which ideals are inherently unattainable. But the great promise of the American experiment has been that we set high ideals as our goal, and have strove to reach them ever since.

American democracy is flawed, but Obama, Palin, Clinton and even Paul demonstrate that we are still trying to do better.

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