‘The power of opposition’
I AM writing with reference to ‘The power of opposition’ by Obaidur Rahman (March 28).
Obaidur Rahman has raised some important questions about democracy being undermined by political parties in Bangladesh. In this context, it must be pointed that democracy is also being undermined by the Republican leaders seeking nomination for the coming presidential race. Those contesting for the nomination are characterised by what a Canadian columnist, Jeffrey Simpson, calls ‘insularity, intellectual shallowness and meanness of spirit, coupled with an eagerness to pander to every holy roller, Tea partier, gun worshipper, global warming denier, billionaire financier — or, as [WB] Yeats would say, “the worst are full of passionate intensity”.’
According to a Chinese proverb: ‘If you live in a madhouse, you must behave like a madman to survive.’ In that sense, the Republican Party is essentially a madhouse where even the sane former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is behaving like a ‘madman’ to please the party’s ideologically ‘mad’ conservative base. On February 10, he told the Conservative Political Action Conference that he was a ‘severely conservative governor’. As Molly Ball at the Atlantic magazine pointed out, Mr Romney ‘described conservatism as if it were a disease.’ Indeed, words that commonly follow the adverb ‘severely’ are disabled, depressed, ill, limited and injured.
To please the ‘mad’ Republican base, Romney has renounced his own crown achievement: the Massachusetts Healthcare Bill. Not to be outdone, another Republican hopeful former house speaker Newt Gingrich denounced Romney’s healthcare bill which he earlier endorsed. But the ‘maddest’ of all is former senator Rick Santorum who is clearly the favourite of the ‘mad’ Republican base. Mr Santorum has declared that climate change is a hoax, part of a ‘beautifully concocted scheme’ on the part of the American left to provide ‘an excuse for more government control of your life.’ Although Mitt Romney is likely to get the nomination because of his delegate counts, the ‘mad’ base will never be satisfied with him because they think he is a closet liberal. The danger is that in order to satisfy Republican ‘mad’ base, he might end up picking Santorum or someone ‘mad’ like him as his running mate. Even some Republicans are disgusted by the antics of these candidates. As a moderate Republican senator Olympia Snow of Maine said last week that she could no longer follow the rabid partisanship and would not seek re-election.
The spectre of the ‘mad’ Republican base controlling the nomination process should serve as a warning that democracy is not safe even in what is called the world’s greatest democracy. In fact, in Canada, which is also a great democracy, there are allegations that the last election was influenced by unidentified phone calls to mislead the voters. Democracy is about public participation in the governing and not the privilege of some political parties to rule. As a nominal democracy, Bangladesh has a long way to go and it must look to other functioning democracies for inspiration and guidance. But with democracy being undermined in the most advanced democracy, it may have to look to the inventors of democracy — the ancient Athenians — for guidance. The Athenians invented democracy to stem tyranny of any powerful group or person. Although political parties are important in a representative democracy, they must not be an instrument for acquisition of power by some small but powerful groups and public interest must supersede any partisan interest.
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