Democracy on Both Sides of the Pond

Democracy on Both Sides of the Pond

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The world awoke on Friday morning to discover that indeed the people of Scotland had voted not to separate themselves from the United Kingdom but to remain in the union. The vote itself was very interesting, but there were a number of fascinating factors that are equally important although they do not relate to the substantive issue of Scottish secession. In fact these facts make a very positive statement about the state of democracy in Great Britain.

First, the turnout in the vote in Scotland was robust. (One commentator even observed that it was so strong it was shades of the voter turnout in a dictatorship!) Returns suggest that 85% of the eligible voters in Scotland voted. In addition, the vote was definitive, 55%-45%; was done on paper ballots which were hand counted in an efficient and uncontested manner; permitted those as young as 15 or 16 who were registered to participate; and, except for a few more than usual inebriated Scots, was accomplished without any incidents whatsoever.

On this side of the Atlantic, Wednesday and Thursday saw a remarkable of display of bi-partisan action by a U.S. Congress which has rarely been seen in a Washington over the past several years. In response to the current growing terrorist threat being posed in the Middle East, Congress authorized the President to take the action he had outlined to train, equip, and prepare indigenous Arab forces to attack the rebel forces of ISIS both in Iraq and Syria. In addition, the House and the Senate signed on to a policy of the U.S. sustaining an aerial campaign against the forces of the Islamic State in both of these countries.

These congressional votes were attached to a necessary continuing resolution to fund the U.S. Government until December 11; after the mid-term elections. While there was some discussion in the House and more in the Senate on the amendment to train Syrian rebels, overall it was a rather pitiful debate considering the seriousness of the issue.  This vote was hardly a full or extensive mandate of support for the President’s requested initiative especially given the very truncated time limit of the legislative mandate and the nature of the debate. All of this is assuming Obama actually even needed congressional authorization. It was hardly a stellar example of a serious parliamentary consideration of a vital national security issue.

The primary cause for the perfunctory character of Congress’s consideration of this matter was the Members consuming desire to return to their districts and continue to campaign for re-election. It is extraordinary to consider that from the beginning of August until the middle of November, when Congress is scheduled to return, –and then only for about a week when it will recess again for Thanksgiving—it will have been in session less than two weeks in a 3 ½ month period. 

Democracy may be well and functioning in America, but the elected Members of Congress are not spending their time and the people’s money trying to resolve the nation’s problems. While democracy is championed by free and open elections, it would be appropriate if the elected officials might be prepared to give the nation’s problems their attention. It is after all for what they were and are being elected to do as well as for which they presumably are being paid. 

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