Martin Jacques and the U.S. Election

November 7, 2012

This is as close as I’m going to get to a reaction post about the U.S. election. I wasn’t all that thrilled about it, to be honest. Obama is the lesser of two evils, I suppose, but that’s as positive as I can be.

What’s more interesting is that several billion dollars were spent on television advertisements, consultants and, I don’t know, balloons, and what was the result? The vast majority of incumbents won. Huzzah. Obama goes back, the Senate stays Democratic, and the House stays Republican. You have to wonder whether that money could have been better spent on something else.

So the U.S. government moves forward, same old same old, and I’m wondering what Martin Jacques thinks about it. You might have seen his recent nonsense column over at the BBC entitled: “Is China more legitimate than the West?” His answer: yes. His supporting evidence for this contention: very little.

I was originally planning a lengthy response to this Op/Ed, but as the days went on, I found myself unable to gather enough energy to do so. Every time I started cogitating on what was wrong with Jacques’ argument, I ran right into his biggest problem, which is that he never actually defines what “legitimacy” means. Sam Crane makes the same point, in much more detail, at The Useless Tree.

I suppose one could say that Jacques bases his entire argument on some 2010 poll data showing that when you ask a Chinese person whether they like the central government, they say yes. How this equates to legitimacy is a mystery to me, but unfortunately Jacques never clears that up for us. I wonder what Putin’s poll numbers look like these days?

He spends a lot of time talking about the competency of government, saying (I guess) that Chinese folks appreciate good government but Americans do not. At that point, I realized he was making the same old “China model” argument, which says that because China’s economy has been growing rapidly since the late 70s, this shows its political system is that of “the West.” Or something like that. I guess.

For some reason, folks can’t seem to content themselves with saying that Beijing has done quite well for the Chinese people in the past 30 years — and leave it at that. I actually support some parts of the China model argument, but I wouldn’t jump on the Jacques bandwagon. With this kind of logic, I don’t think he could coax a canary out of a sack full of cats.

If you really want to read a point-by-point evisceration, though, head over to ChinaGeeks, where Charlie Custer went to work on Jacques with a blowtorch and a lead pipe. Good stuff, although I think Charlie veered off into an irrelevant pissing contest about whose Chinese language skills are better. That was just running up the score and looked rather unsportsmanlike.

So Jacques thinks that China’s government is more legitimate because the public supports it. What would he say about the U.S. election? It looks like President Obama received about 50% of the vote, which after one takes into account the percentage of Americans who actually bother to vote, comes out to a rough total of 3,271 people. Would Jacques therefore agree with the Tea Party and other mentally challenged whacktavists that this is an illegitimate administration? What about the U.S. House and Senate? Terrible approval ratings, but most of those suckers just got re-elected.

I don’t know. If you ask me, both the U.S. and China are doing pretty well when it comes to stable governments (and how about the UK and much of the Commonwealth?). In the PRC, after that nasty civil war ended in the ’40s, leadership transitions have gone fairly well, all things considered, even in the 1970s. Sure, this year has been a tad bit bumpy and Beijing is getting down to business a few weeks late, but things are moving forward more or less as planned. The government has been remarkably stable, one of the reasons why so much foreign investment has flooded into the country over the past couple of decades.

And the U.S.? With the exception of its own nasty civil war in the 1860s and an inappropriate White House blowjob, things have been remarkably stable for well over two hundred years. Not bad. Hard to have that kind of staying power without legitimacy, wouldn’t you say?

I’m not exactly a big fan of the U.S. plutocracy government, and this election in no way appealed to me, but where’s the illegitimacy angle here? As usual, I’m confused.