Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Stateside with Rosalea: Galloping Gertie


Stateside with Rosalea: Galloping Gertie

By Rosalea Barker

One thing you have to say about the president: he sure knows how to rub people's noses in it. No sooner does a poll come out saying that the most likely voter against the recall in California is a female African-American PhD from the Bay Area than he appoints someone who meets those criteria to be in charge of rebuilding Iraq. Well, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, former Stanford University provost, I wish you all the best. I'm sure you know as well as anyone how to deal with any difficulties you might encounter because of your gender and race.

I'm writing this in the early morning of the California recall election. However it turns out, this election exemplifies contemporary democracy in the United States. Like a beautiful suspension bridge, US-style democracy is anchored at either end by the federal and the state constitutions, which counterbalance the incredible forces the suspension wires - spun from the wishes of millions of voters - must withstand. But, like the modifications to suspension bridge design that followed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster, it's time for some changes here as well.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge (nicknamed Galloping Gertie because of its rollercoaster-like behaviour) eventually shook itself to pieces when the side-to-side motion that had been set up by a strong wind resulted in vortices of wind being created in a kind of slipstream above the bridge's surface. Those vortices amplified the wind, amplifying the wobbles, thus creating more vortices and amplifying the sequence still further.

Engineers subsequently found that the problem was the solid steel girder underneath the roadway, which blocked the wind instead of letting it flow freely as an open truss would. The lesson for US-style democracy is this: a rigid electoral system based on outdated thinking about who is participating in the political process is causing the rollercoaster effect of close elections, and in every new election those effects are amplified.

If my poetic little foray into political analysis is not to your taste, a recent book by Glen Browder, former Alabama congressman, might give you pause for thought. In The Future of American Democracy he offers what he calls an "unconventional analysis" and a "provocative assessment of distempered American democracy". He is not just a politico but also a scholar, so his views are being taken seriously in some quarters. This California recall election, he says, exemplifies his - and many other peoples' - theories that a fundamental shift has taken place.

We are having this election because of the tension between the country's 18th-century republican model of democracy and the more modern notion of direct democracy by the people, adopted enthusiastically by some states in the early 20th century. That tension can also be seen in issues like California's battle with the federal government over medical marijuana, and Alabama's battle over whether a statue of the Ten Commandments can sit in the foyer of its Supreme Court.

The eventual outcome, Browder says, of the unthinking, incremental stumbling that is now taking place in a country rife with a philosophical civil war is "the American Federation". It is not the best outcome, he says, and suggests instead that conscious steps be taken to create "Trans-America" where people will have more of a stake in government and the federal government will not be continually acting to contain the centrifugal forces of modern technology and thought that are always trying to spin the power out to the states.

I fear that some people think the only way to stop those forces is to use an equal and opposite force - by having the federal government interfere more and more in the states' affairs: the equivalent of giving up on the whole suspension bridge idea and returning to a design that relies on close-spaced anchored buttresses and is built of stone.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>

ALSO:

Buildup:

Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>

ALSO:

Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>

ALSO:


Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news