The United States was structured as a liberal democracy whose model has been widely imitated by many countries around the word however, in recent years, especially since the 9/11 events, doubts have been creeping into the minds of many people around the world as to whether the designation of liberal democracy is still apt or whether it could be termed an electoral democracy according to the definition by Alan Siaroff in his book, Comparing Political Regimes, have classified electoral democracy as “a political regime which contains the following three elements responsible government: free and fair elections political competition, and full and equal rights of political participation but which is deficient in terms of civil liberties and/or a legally-based, limited, but well-functioning state” (Siaroff 309). According to Siaroff, a liberal democracy is “a political regime which combines responsible government, free and fair political competition, full and equal rights of political participation, civil liberties, and a legally-based, limited, but well-functioning state” (Siaroff 310). He also makes the point that while an electoral democracy is not a liberal democracy; a liberal democracy is an electoral democracy. These democracies have to be upheld by a constitution, considered the supreme law. Recent events and laws since the September 11 attacks has degraded America’s once liberal democracy to an electoral one.
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Electoral democracy imposes a nation’s sovereignty. The tenth amendment guarantees U.S Sovereignty since, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Sovereignty is measured by the state’s empowerment of the people to make autonomous decisions in the life of the government and nation. The 10th amendment also stipulates that the government be transparent and asserts the people’s rights to be informed and updated about decisions and changes whether minor or major. The laws which enforce transparency in the United States of America are the sunshine laws and the transparency acts. These policies legitimize the divulgence of the happenings and decisions taken at government meetings and although the citizen may not attend, the media is allowed to cover proceedings and disclose decisions which affect the life of the American people. Criteria which ensure a responsible government are executive control over the military and electorate accountability. Civilian control of the military also restrains military coups and uprisings, outlining only certain conditions for military intervention such as in the state of emergency. Many countries have suffered under the hand of despotic, military leaders and cruel, anti-civilian martial policies. It is imperative in the name of democracy to bridle the military’s power under executive restraint. A civilian commander-in-chief effectively plays this part as the U.S. President wields the authority to elect and dismiss members of the armed forces.
As an electoral democracy, America also upholds full and free rights of political participation. This rule encompasses universal adult suffrage, the one vote per person electoral system, and the freedom to run for office. Universal suffrage is described as the freedom to vote without regard for race, religion, sex, or taxation issues. The 15th, 19th, and 24th amendments assert “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged … on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude (1870), on account of sex (1920), and by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax (1964). These laws point the growing perfection of American unity as the constitution states. The set age for electoral eligibility is eighteen, whereas when first introduced in the constitution, adulthood was defined as twenty-one. The ability to run for office is also inextricable from full and fair political participation. Citizens which form part of the body politic are also qualified to compete at the polls for any political party. The Powell v. McCormack case set a precedent which has consolidated America’s stance on the citizen’s right to run for public office. Moreover, the first amendment bestows the protection of the right to participate in the function of rectifying wrongs (real or perceived) where “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The one person, one vote principle also ensures that the citizen’s vote is counted as one only. Although this rule might seem obvious, in America’s fledgling democracy it was not the case. However, great strides have been taken through the 15th and 19th amendments to secure and uphold the one vote per person political doctrine.
Free and fair political competition is also an indispensable element in both electoral democracy because it ascertains that powers do not become autocratic and tyrannical. Competition and multilateral control increases accountability and decreases the chances of power-intoxication, diversifies the voting tendencies, and promotes a higher caliber of democracy. America’s bi-partisan system has laid the basis for strong and active political opposition. The democrats and the republicans espouse divergent views and usually compete against one another in Congress, and never the twain shall meet. The right to oppose and compete with the ruling party or government constitutes an integral component in movement towards ‘a more perfect union’ and democracy.
Civil liberties include freedom of expression, press, religion, and organization and conform to the standards of a liberal democracy, nevertheless terrorist attacks and suspicion has interfered with civil rights such that America can no longer be regarded a liberal democratic state. These civil liberties are maintained according to the constitution where freedoms are protected and qualified according to certain limitations for example in the world of work and government spaces. The First Amendment decrees that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press…” As a nation formed under the banner of religious liberty, each citizen can exercise the freedom to worship, join a religion or not. Press freedom is also the barometer which measures a country’s fidelity to democracy since press freedom keeps the citizenry abreast of the happenings and decisions affecting the life of the country. Attempting to use the media to disseminate propaganda, manipulate, or stifle the media is unconstitutional.
Although Americans live in a democracy and currently presume to hold certain rights, it is surprising that the US Constitution does not mention the right to privacy, nevertheless, since the onslaught of the 9/11 attacks, some of the rights of the citizens of America have been taken away by the government in order to boost security. Private searches, the gleaning of information by bugging personal calls on anyone, internet tracking, etc all represent the government’s withdrawal of civil liberties of the people. Whether or not for the sake of fighting terrorism, civil liberties ought never to be tampered with. Liberty of expression and organization have also been restricted in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks because the gatherings of the masses can be constructed as seditious. International Surveillance systems present in America, Europe, Canada, and Australia come into force after September 11, 2001. Under Echelon (an international spyware system) according to the BBC, “every international telephone call, fax, e-mail, or radio transmission can be listened to by powerful computers capable of voice recognition.” These eavesdropping systems are only the tip of the iceberg and contravene the rights to privacy. At the same time, as the US government demanded a show of patriotism after the 9/11 terrorism, the Patriot Act has subtlety robbed citizens of their rights to privacy in order to facilitate government-sponsored scrutiny without the citizen’s knowledge. The United States of America Patriot Act was drafted and enforced in the Bush Administration since October 26, 2001. Standing for “United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001,” the act begun as a temporary provision but has now been permanently enshrined as a law since 2006. The Patriot Act facilitates easier access to personal communication and history in the areas of education, finances, medical records, family history, personal relationships, business contacts etc. The encroachment of the Patriot Act on civil liberties has seriously undermined America’s semblance of a liberal democracy, since these liberties are compromised.
The legally-based, limited, and well-functioning state element within the liberal democracy definition is also in jeopardy. Although this provision promises “an operative bureaucratic system of administration, an uncompromised judiciary, and minimizing of political and bureaucratic corruption” (Siaroff), the American government has given private entities the license to almost unrestricted control of means, resources, and information. Although liberal democracies are limited in that the government can supersede certain bounds, step by step, political policies are beginning to resemble an autocracy. Corruption in both the bureaucratic and judicial systems has caused a dimming in America’s light as one of the major beacons of democracy in the world. Replete with hidden agendas, the government can now break its own laws ‘for the greater good’ (whatever that might be).
Siaroff, Alan. Comparing Political Regimes: A Thematic Introduction to Comparative Politics.
Higher Education University of Toronto Press. Toronto, 2009.