Posted tagged ‘presidential election’

Satan is coming for you (if you’re an academic)

February 20, 2012

You may not have been aware of this, but one of the key dangers facing higher education, at least in America, is that it has come to the attention of Satan, and may indeed have already been taken over by him. You see, Satan understands the ‘pride of smart people’, and their dangerous desire to ‘pursue new truths’ (thereby destroying old ones).

Who is saying all this heady stuff? Well, it’s Rick Santorum, would-be President of the United States. He explained all this in an address to Ave Maria University in 2008. That of course is a few years ago, but there are few signs that his perspective on such matters has changed since then. Of course it is one of the genuine strengths of the American political system that it can provide a forum for really diverse points of view, but his remarks suggest that a Santorum presidency could produce some attacks on academic freedom and the freedom of campus expression. And that is something to watch.

Choosing a president

September 19, 2011

Readers outside Ireland may not be particularly aware that an Irish presidential election campaign is under way; on the other hand, hardly anyone in the world will be unaware of the US presidential election to be held next year.

Let’s stick with Ireland for a moment. The country’s formerly dominant (but now devastated) party Fianna Fail is currently affected by internal convulsions, caused by the desire of one Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú to be a candidate for the post. I hope it will not sound disrespectful to him if I say that, outside the traditional music community, he is not a household name.

A growing consensus is that none of the candidates who are in the ring, with the exception of Senator David Norris (whose nomination is not secure), would excite the general population. This is causing people to wonder whether the post is actually a necessary one for the country at all; which is a shame, given the equally widespread consensus that the present incumbent, Mary McAleese, has performed her tasks with great distinction. One reason for the disaffection may be related to the nomination process, designed to give the political parties a gatekeeper role.

The gatekeeper function belongs even more emphatically to the two major political parties in the United States, but in a much more complex process. Each party’s committed voters determine the choice of the candidate, and because this is so the candidates have to appeal to the core supporters, which in the case of the Republicans in particular means that an ambitious candidate needs to place him or herself on the right wing; before shifting rapidly to the centre when it comes to the actual election.

It seems to me that the credibility and acceptability of a presidency depends on the credibility and acceptability of the electoral process. A key element in this is how candidates emerge and are chosen. Right now this is not ideal in either Ireland or the United States. This is an aspect of democracy that needs urgent attention. The paradox is that a good process must ensure that candidates who stimulate thenpublic interest are able to secure a nomination, while those whose credentials are less obvious, like the good Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, are not necessarily hurried into the ring. It’s not an easy process.

Letting the voters vote is a good idea

July 22, 2011

Depending on what country you live in, you may or may not be aware of what is going on in the presidential election campaign in Ireland. The actual election will take place later this year, and on the ballot paper will be all those candidates who have managed to get nominated. However, nomination is not a formality. A candidate will need to secure support either from a number of local authorities or from a number of the members of the Irish parliament (the Oireachtas).

A number of candidates are now lining up, and it is going to be a hotly contested race. All opinion polls confirm that there is a clear frontrunner: independent Senator David Norris. But whether the voters will actually be able to vote for him remains uncertain, as he has not so far secured the necessary nominations. In addition, his task is made more difficult by the fact that his rivals include Gay Mitchell of Fine Gael and Michael D. Higgins of Labour, and these two parties dominate the councils and the ranks of parliamentarians from whom Norris will need to secure the nomination. Indeed Fine Gael appears to have instructed its members not to support nominations for anyone other than their candidate.

So right now it looks possible that David Norris, the apparent choice of the people, will not be able secure a nomination. If this happens it will be seen by many as an outrage, and will in addition fundamentally undermine the mandate that the then winning candidate will claim to have secured. It is in fact in nobody’s interests that this should happen.

Some politicians have agreed to nominate David Norris even though they will actually be voting for someone else, and that is an entirely honourable position. Others, including members of Fine Gael, should follow this lead so as not to bring the whole election into disrepute.

Whether David Norris should be elected is another matter, or rather is a matter for the people. That he should be a candidate seems to me to be beyond any reasonable doubt.

A new dawn?

November 5, 2008

It is probably unavoidable that, over the coming days and weeks, commentators on the American presidential elections will be seriously mining their books of clichés. And yet, the comments will have the ring of truth. The election of Barack Obama to the position of 44th President of the United States is mould-breaking, and does suggest the beginning of a new era, and at least for some nothing will be the same again. And it is hard not to be swept along in it all, even thousands of miles away.

Of course in many ways we are not thousands of miles away, because what happens in American politics has the potential to affect us all. Many people today will be thinking of Iraq and Afghanistan, but in some ways we would do well to reflect on future relations with the United States in economic matters, and in particular on the future of US direct foreign investment in Ireland. Changes to US tax laws have been suggested by President-elect Obama that may have a negative impact on us.

But mainly, today, we should allow ourselves to be caught up a little in the sheer excitement of it all, and in the celebration of a functioning democratic process, and in just a little bit of admiration for this particular manifestation of the ‘American dream’. The party last night organised by the US embassy – with a guest list in thousands, as far as I could tell – was a good place to be to enter into the spirit of all that.

The US elections…

November 4, 2008

Later this evening, I’ll be at the most significant party in Dublin – the event put on by the American embassy to mark the presidential elections, at which I hope we’ll get some early information on the trends. Whatever way this goes, this election has the whiff of history around it, and even at this remove it is fascinating to observe. In particular, it is wonderful to see the high turn-out. Democracy is a fragile thing, and this election has, I believe, given it a lot of new strength.

I shall report a little more tomorrow on what was said and heard at the event.

Political engagement

September 4, 2008

A colleague of mine remarked today that, perhaps, Irish people were more knowledgeable about the coming US elections than many Americans. Certainly it appears to be the case that the American presidential election campaign has galvanised popular opinion here, and in particular the candidacy of Barack Obama has attracted interest amongst people who had previously become disengaged from politics.

However the US election may end, political stability and progress across the world can only be achieved if the people participate. The biggest risk western societies have run recently is political apathy and cynicism. If the US election campaign can help overcome that and bring about renewed interest, particularly amongst younger people, then there is hope.