mispronouncing democracy: an article on the presidential debates

dear readers,

how do you pronounce democracy?

in the throes of debate season–that red, white, and blues tinged discussion between presidential candidates barack obama and john mccain–commentators are wondering: will mccain ever learn to pronounce the names ahmedinejad and zardari? why does obama pronounce pakistan so well?

but aside from the historic spectacle of this election, we are on the eve of unprecedented change in the rise and fall pendelum of america, and this political poet wonders: how do you pronounce democracy?

if democracy is currently pronounced “lowest common denominator,” then we are mispronouncing democracy.

//www.democracycellproject.net/blog/archives/workshop-democracy.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

the lowest common denominator is a numerical agent to bring a fraction to its knees. powerful, yes. reduced to its smallest vision, yes. with careful, top-down development, both of these qualities can be true of a citizenry– powerful and absolutely reduced. take for example the populace condition in the populist state of nazi germany. that powerful and dumbed down citizenry. that pre-world war II, dumb struck, dumb scared citizenry. a fraction of humanity reduced to its knees.

does anyone else feel like they’re being talked down to? are we reduced?

are we reduced to evaluating monolingual (at best) candidates by tallying verbal flubs? reduced to counting trips abroad like a facebook application? reduced to watching a $700 billion dollar beach ball bailout get tossed between fingertips reaching for more fun at a concert of greed?

are we reduced to short term memory (at best)? so that we may forget that welfare as we most know it, the hotly debated aid to families with dependent children, was at its highest $26 billion a year (according to the u.s. dept of health and human services). which is a measly Four Percent of $700 billion.

the news today said that the bailout was rejected in the house. i still wonder when any of the current political discourse is going to add up to democracy.

i watched the first debate at educational institutions in new york city. first at NYU, then at pace university. en route i passed bars and classroom windows filled with big screens. black and brown youth speaking and watching in a bright lit classroom. middle aged white folks drinking and watching in a dark glow bar. i hopped on the R train to city hall, crossed the still flowing flountain, and landed up at the schimmel center. this pace university theater is a cascade of tiers, dotting it was a cross section of students, diverse, responsive, laughing, groaning, and silent. together we were a sitcom laugh track, bearing witness to the scripted prime time show.

what a long way we are from the famed lincoln-douglas debates. 1858, abraham lincoln and stephen douglas battle it out for an illinois seat in the united states senate. the main topic: slavery. the format: candidate 1 speaks for an hour, then candidate 2 speaks for an hour and a half, and in the end, candidate 1 gets a half hour rebuttal, to make it so each candidate gets a hour and half. the format was rhetorically strong enough to forge a new framework, still utilized, of political debate.

if democracy is currently pronounced “lowest common denominator,” then we are mispronouncing democracy.

since when have our standards for civic engagement become addicted to the empty calories of red and blue states and verbal fuck-up tallies? the framers of the united states constitution checked and balanced the shit out of the office of presidency in article II precisely because they were so concerned with the tendency of a presidency towards monarchy. and we should be concerned about that too.

right about now, republicans and democrats alike should be wondering about the rapidly consolidating power of the executive branch. a branch which lightning passed the USA patriot act through the intentional molasses of the legislative branch. a branch which expedited bush v. gore to and through the united states supreme court, forcing wide the thighs of the political question doctrine. a branch that tried to force through a $700 billion package, an amount that’s simply hard to grasp. the spending of which is slated to be controlled by the treasury, a department of the cabinet of (you guessed it) the president.

but the next debate is coming on in a few hours. and i wonder if mccain will intentionally mispronounce middle eastern and south asian names as an inside wink to his constituents. and i wonder if obama will sharpen his rebuttals past “i have a bracelet too.” i wonder. how do you pronounce democracy?

because if democracy is currently pronounced lowest common denominator, then we are mispronouncing democracy.

you need me and i need you. stay tuned for more from your favorite political poet.



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2 thoughts on “mispronouncing democracy: an article on the presidential debates

  1. Peter says:

    I’m gonna have to take up more space than usual commenting on a song that had me, on first listen, hit repeat and f*k the rest of the cd for now(then). And post those lyrics.

    Your Vision was Never Mine to Share

    Your vision was never mine to share
    Too occupied with your shit to even care
    I smell a world filled with dirty green
    Wanna refill it with gasoline
    To live for tomorrow seems so sad
    Small-town revolution in this dream I had
    Ever felt you’re being pushed aside?
    Their piece of the cake, always oversized
    Reality’s far too unreal for me
    The kings and the queens won’t get my sympathy
    They stumble and fall, blinded by dirty green
    Fake communication through TV screens
    Your vision was never mine to share

    Am I talking about the government that sits in capitol hill or the one that sits in living rooms and bedrooms all over the world? What were my thoughts/logos 7 years ago when I first heard it? I had many, not as much prophetic as my gifted ability to think the worst of it all and at least hope I’d be wrong. Apparently I do the same with the lotto.

  2. Elias says:

    Mispronouncing democracy: inspiring poetry. When you had us read it in class, I felt inspired to listen to every word. We need more of these inspiring poems from you.

    So in the silliest internet spirit, I shall say:




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