Posted at Americas Quarterly on August 6, 2010
Just recently, I listened to a PBS documentary entitled "Looking for Lincoln." It was very revealing to witness how America evolved from the time of slavery to the race relations of today. We observed how a constitution is a living document and how leaders and moments of leadership can converge to advance a society and reinforce a nation’s character.
In democratic nations, we benefit from differences and divergent views. Whether living under the principles of the U.S. Constitution or a parliamentary system like in Canada, we grow stronger from the heated moments of passion to the cool resolution of an issue. In recent months, political debate has heated up and some have gone so far as to question the health of the American political system.
Americans will soon begin the final stretch of the mid-term electoral season. As I recently discussed in other posts, political observers, pundits and partisan operatives have been weighing in about the polarization of U.S. politics, the ideological divide, the strong anti-incumbent sentiment, and how “dysfunctional” the system is.
To an outsider listening in, you would think that American democracy is in its death throes. But, as a Quebecer living in New York, my take is that the last few weeks have shown quite the opposite. The debates remain as lively as ever, but very much in conformity with the values of the American political system and its constitutional precepts.
To illustrate my point, one needs only refer to four issues that have dominated the political discussions lately: the immigration law in Arizona, the war in Afghanistan, California’s Proposition 8, and the building of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero.
In each case, there are strong views spreading across the political spectrum. In some cases, the courts (Arizona, California) have directly affected the discussion, and in other cases the politicians are leading the way. Whatever point of view you hold, it is healthy and refreshing to hear New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg refer to the Constitution and traditional American values of tolerance and human rights in order to defend a controversial position. It is also inspiring that courts refuse to be swayed by the mood of the moment and provide judgments that have the merit of forcing both sides to reflect further as the case moves along the judicial path. The nature of give and take in each of these issues provides a time for careful deliberation, informed debate and a needed pause to move toward a conclusion.
Most Americans agree that immigration reform, U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the issue of gay marriage, or the building of a mosque near Ground Zero will need to be addressed and resolved in the very near future. And it is fair to say that whatever the outcome, the American character will be once again tested.
At the end of the day, as with any political system, democratic government in the U.S. may not be without its flaws or imperfections, but the values associated with American democracy and its Constitution remain alive and well. After living in this country for nearly one year, I can say that American democracy remains a beacon to the free world.