America the Model for Democracy? Think again…

MSNBC – Dream On America

When the soviets withdrew from Central Europe, U.S. constitutional experts rushed in. They got a polite hearing, and were sent home. Jiri Pehe, adviser to former president Vaclav Havel, recalls the Czechs’ firm decision to adopt a European-style parliamentary system with strict limits on campaigning. “For Europeans, money talks too much in American democracy. It’s very prone to certain kinds of corruption, or at least influence from powerful lobbies,” he says. “Europeans would not want to follow that route.” They also sought to limit the dominance of television, unlike in American campaigns where, Pehe says, “TV debates and photogenic looks govern election victories.”

So it is elsewhere. After American planes and bombs freed the country, Kosovo opted for a European constitution. Drafting a post-apartheid constitution, South Africa rejected American-style federalism in favor of a German model, which leaders deemed appropriate for the social-welfare state they hoped to construct. Now fledgling African democracies look to South Africa as their inspiration, says John Stremlau, a former U.S. State Department official who currently heads the international relations department at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg: “We can’t rely on the Americans.” The new democracies are looking for a constitution written in modern times and reflecting their progressive concerns about racial and social equality, he explains. “To borrow Lincoln’s phrase, South Africa is now Africa’s ‘last great hope’.”