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The View From Here

Tariq Engineer

In the hopes that international students’ voices will become a more prominent part of The Lawrentian, we invited Tariq Engineer, a native citizen of India and longtime Lawrentian columnist, to inaugurate this series with his views of the current American presidential election. If you are an international student or are a Lawrentian soon to be abroad and you are interested in writing on some aspect of your experience, contact Shaunna Burnett at ext. 7467 or email The Lawrentian at lawrentian@lawrence.edu. The 2004 U.S. presidential election marks the first time I have been able to follow a U.S. presidential race from within the United States. As an international student unfamiliar with the U.S. political system, I’ve been surprised by what I’ve seen and heard over the last few months.

To echo a recent Lawrentian editorial, I have been struck by the lack of debate on either side. Both Democrats and Republicans appear to be too polarized for any constructive dialogue between positions. Each side seems to believe strongly in its own righteousness, and the other’s folly. Under such circumstances, no debate is possible. More worryingly, neither side appears to want to debate.

But what is democracy without constructive debate? Democracy is much more than simply being able to vote. Democracy is about the right to express one’s opinion, and to engage in conversation with those who may hold a contrary view. Name-calling and character assassination are no substitute for debate.

That the right to debate exists in the United States is unquestionable, but fewer and fewer people seem to be willing to exercise it. Why else would a 32-page document detailing even the kind of pencil and paper that was permissible be necessary in order for presidential candidates to hold a debate? And can we even call it a debate when the candidates aren’t allowed to address one another?

More alarming to me still was a Reuters’ article entitled “Experts Fear Messy, Disorderly Election” that I came across while surfing the World Wide Web this past week. I clicked on the link expecting the latest update on the election scenario in Iraq. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered the article was about the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

In the article, American University political scientist Allan Lichtman is quoted as saying “There’s going to be some voter fraud, some voter intimidation, and lots of tension.” I thought to myself, “Isn’t America the home of democracy, the symbol of freedom everywhere? They can’t be writing about America.”

And yet they were.

Admittedly other experts believe the threat of voter fraud is exaggerated. But the fact that the possibility was mentioned is disquieting enough. It seems to me that both parties have become so consumed with being in power that they have forgotten power is only the means to an end: to govern in accordance with the will of the people

Given the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is vital that American democracy stand up for itself. Now, more than ever, is the time for America to show the world what it is to be democratic. Sadly, now, more than ever, America is failing to do so.