How viable are the alternatives?

By Dan Streib

Something is seriously wrong with our system of selecting presidents, and recent events help show why.

At the time this column is going to print, people are still speculating whether Senator Hillary Clinton should become Secretary of State Clinton. Such a move would seem like a great one to me because she’s experienced, moderate and competent.

But does this move make sense? Why is President-elect Barack Obama, who ridiculed Clinton’s foreign policy judgment and Iraq War vote, wanting her to be the lady in charge of his foreign policy?

This goes to show how little we know about the President-elect – and how contradictory his stances on issues have always been. His record shows that he was a far-left liberal, while his campaign rhetoric was consistently one of a moderate who eventually proposed sweeping tax cuts.

The interesting thing is that he can’t be both a moderate and a far lefty at the same time. Given that it is highly unlikely that Mr. Obama changed his mind so quickly and so often, it is logically apparent that his record and/or his campaign misrepresented him to a large degree.

The fact that his first major staff move was naming Rahm Emanuel White House chief of staff and that it does not seem unreasonable that he might pick Clinton as secretary of state re-enforces the tempting conclusion: He acts in ways guided by political convenience regardless of the ensuing contradictions (read: He lies) much more than most politicians. And that’s saying something.

However, the most unnerving thing is not the fact that we elected a man who seems to be a liar on a large scale and has little experience. It’s that, from a detached viewpoint, it almost makes sense that we elected him. After all, Obama was inspirational enough to beat out the equally deceiving John Edwards and the unappealing Biden and Dodd.

So, Obama ended up becoming the Hillary alternative. And it wasn’t too absurd to fathom that the lone candidate facing the polarizing Hillary Clinton might actually win the Democratic nomination.

After clinching the nomination because of those factors, Obama then made McCain out to be President Bush and ran as the Bush alternative. Combine that with poor campaign decisions by McCain and a need for economic security amidst a fiscal crisis, it’s not very surprising that Obama took the comfortable electoral victory that he did.

So, unless someone explains to me how the gaps between Obama’s rhetoric and record might be reconciled, I must come to this conclusion: That we elected a dishonest and inexperienced candidate to president, and that it’s not entirely unreasonable that we did so. This all speaks less to a fault of the people than it does to a fault of the system.

Obviously our democracy calls people into political service who are more concerned about career advancement than what’s right. So no one would run against the candidate heavily favored by the party leaders and the media, unless he had no record to attack and smooth enough rhetoric to cover up his absence of substance.

And so, we get Hated Hillary versus Con-man Obama. And because of a two party system where one party was on the out, the winner of that contest would be on the fast track to electoral success. That’s as flawed a system as I ever did see.

Well, I guess I exaggerate. It’s a bad system, for sure, but there are no viable alternatives to democracy out there.

Also, our democracy in particular has survived the longest with a single constitution – thus, showing the oftentimes hidden wisdom of the founding fathers.

However, not all is hopeless. The one thing we Americans can do is remember that it’s the people, not the government, who determine a nation’s greatness. And this will hold true no matter how many bureaucrats Obama hires for his inevitable New New Deal. We are America, the government isn’t.

And if we can maintain that belief through an Obama administration, then maybe our democracy isn’t as flawed as it appears, after all.

Dan is a junior in political science who will be the best citizen he can be, regardless of the quality of our leaders.