It’s a mixed bag.
Here in the U.S. there is both good and bad news. On the positive front, turnout in the Democratic presidential primaries has shattered records week after week. While America is unique among modern democracies in its abysmal voter participation rates, there are hopeful signs. What is particularly inspiring is the increased youth vote; politicians continually urge young people to get out and vote, but no modern-day politician was able to get them there until now. In addition, while the role of big money in U.S. politics is rightly bemoaned, the fact that candidates can now raise hundreds of millions from small donors on the internet has tended to equalize the playing field and is a great development.
Two other developments, however, don’t bode well for U.S. democracy. The first is the Bush Administration’s continued blatant disregard for the rule of law and its now-admitted use of torture (for the disturbing details see Dahlia Lithwick’s piece in Slate). This will go down as a historic moral failing and a low point for American democracy.
The other troubling development is Hillary Clinton’s attempted power grab of the 366 delegates from Michigan and Florida. These states broke DNC rules by moving up their primaries; the DNC retaliated by stripping the delegates of their right to be seated at the convention. All the candidates agreed to abide by the DNC ruling and not to campaign in these states. But with the delegate race now looking incredibly tight, Hillary is making noises about seating the Michigan and Florida delegates; this despite the fact that Obama’s name wasn’t even on the ballot in Michigan, and both primaries, which Hillary “won,” were essentially a joke. Regular readers know that I’m an Obama supporter, but this is simply wrong. If she wins fair and square, fine; but what she’s suggesting is literally an attempt to steal the nomination, and it has the potential to destroy the Democratic Party and once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (for the sordid details see this piece in The New Republic).
On the global stage, unfortunately, the state of democracy and freedom is almost unambiguously bleak.
Freedom House recently published its 2007 rankings, and there has been a marked decline in democratic freedoms around the world: a global backsliding, led by such nations as China, Russia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Chad, Pakistan (Al Qeada's home base), and a mélange of Middle Eastern autocrats. So much for Bush’s “Freedom Agenda”. People can argue all they want about how his foreign policies will be viewed 50 years from now; according to current measurements, those policies have failed.
All of this should remind us yet again how fragile democracy is; it needs to be consistently defended and protected. It is not the natural state for humanity, but a system that is eternally vulnerable.