March 16, 2008


Why US is the great democracy (David Burchell, March 17, 2008, The Australian)

A FEW years ago I joined some colleagues on an academic conference jaunt to a large private university in the American northeast. The approved conference itinerary was to take us directly from our swish Chicago hotel to the campus gates, in the hygienic manner of the modern business traveller.

For reasons too complicated to retell, on the return trip we found ourselves becalmed in a village in the backwaters of rural Indiana, in the old American heartland. The streets we strolled down were lined with wooden bungalows, and there was a flagstaff with the Stars and Stripes in every other front yard. We ate in rural diners by the highway with orange-tinted windows, stained wooden cubicles and waitresses with chequered aprons.

Much like Columbus, we had voyaged in search of streets paved with gold, and instead we had accidentally discovered America.

It's a pity more Australian observers don't discover heartland America in this fashion, especially in this historic election year. Because we have more to learn from the rambunctious drama of American democracy than we are prepared to admit. [...]

ast week in New Republic magazine a young Texan journalist gave a worm's-eye view of his experiences in the Precinct 426 caucus in the city of East Austin. It reads like a chapter out of Tocqueville, suitably updated and digitised.

There are more than 8000 precinct conventions in Texas. They will elect some few dozen of the 4000 delegates at the Democratic National Convention in August. They are, in other words, the merest tip of the electoral iceberg.

Yet this year, when the Precinct 426 chair arrived with her sheaf of manila folders, more than 250 people were lined up outside the doors of the local elementary school. Most had never caucused before; some were old enough that they remembered voting for John F.Kennedy.

But there they all were, white, black and Hispanic, college-educated and high-school graduates alike, forming lines and making impromptu, hesitant speeches.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 16, 2008 10:58 AM

How cute. He described Chicago as being in the American northeast.

Good article though.

Posted by: Bartman at March 16, 2008 6:08 PM

For Australians, everything in America is "the northeast"....

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 17, 2008 3:25 AM

Draw two lines through the center of the US, lattitude and longitude, giving four quadrants. Chicago IS in the northeast. (It's always bugged me, living on the Left coast, that Chicago is part of the "western" U.S.).

Posted by: Brad at March 17, 2008 4:54 AM

It is the west, historically speaking. The Great Lakes region was the northwest when the country was founded. When they spoke of western regiments in the Civil war, they were talking about soldiers from Illinois and Wisconsin and Iowa, et cetera.

That concept of 'west' and 'east' hasn't fully gone by the wayside.

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 17, 2008 7:58 AM

That's why we call the northern part of the middle of the country, the Midwest.

Posted by: erp at March 17, 2008 9:03 AM

It's all flatlands and not worth saving next deluge.

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2008 1:17 PM