Slowly by slowly I start realizing that last night, watching the US election results coming in and then listening to the speeches I witnessed history in making. Whether or not you agree with political view of Barak Obama, last night was a really good example of how democracy can work. Until you live here for a some time, it is difficult to realize the depth of racial and cultural cleavages in the US society. Being able to bridge over those with a lead in both electoral college and popular vote, is quite an achievement. Last night was indeed another way of demonstrating the power of the American dream – a country where anything seems to be possible, not just in business, but also in politics. This election campaign is already being studied (for example for its use of information technology), but I believe there will be more of it making to the books of political campaigning. If Barak Obama is going to govern the same way he ran his campaign, there may definitely be reasons for hope.
The US was like a computer running Windows for a very long time – it needed a reboot. After eight years of Republican government, it seemed like the system became slower and buggier. Spending the last summer in Washington DC, I have not met a single republican who would be happy with the President Bush’s government, not to mention a democrat. And last night the people rebooted the system. As with rebooting Windows, you can be sure that it will feel better at the beginning, but you can never know how it will behave in the long run. It can work better, but it can also work worse with new bugs and glitches may come out as you go. It will be now up to Barak Obama to demonstrate that “he can” and in his speech last night, you could also sense him being more cautious.
Regardless of how it will eventually work out, it seems like the USA is now in sort of an euphoria. It is in an euphoria not only because if the election of the first black president, but also (and maybe mostly) because they see that the democratic system still works. Following the election even closer in the last few days and talking to people around me, it is amazing to see how inspired and hopeful most of them are. Being chronically skeptic, I do hope that there will be no hangover following this excitement, but right now it feels good for most people I meet. In fact, watching the election results last night and listening to the speeches, I felt inspired. If he and his team made it against the odds, many other things seem suddenly possible.
Inevitably I couldn’t help, but thinking about the upcoming Israeli election in February. I wonder, if such a reboot is possible in Israel, which seems to run that Windows system for even longer than the US. Even though in the last decade and a half, Israel had election practically every two years, there was no real change. All the leaders who came and left, arrived from the same apparatus, held very similar views, and more so acted more in a reactionary way instead of taking active leadership positions (with an exception of a few stand-alone cases). As a result, it is more like running on the same boot of Windows for a while and only keep on logging in with different users. There is no real difference in performance, but the bugs keep on piling.
Unfortunately, it seems to me that even if a young politician starts in the Israeli political system with drive, energy, ideology, and leadership aspiration, by the time they get to a position where they can actually make a difference, they are too much socialized into that culture of impotent party-based politics. In order to make it to any change-enabling position, they need to navigate party politics for such a long time, that they become part of these ideologically-corrupt systems. By the time they get to any role that can make a difference, they are alraedy not that young and are deeply indepted to their respective parties internal “acocunting” of favors, that they cannot do anything substantively bold.
One of potential reasons for that may lie in the Israeli electoral system. In Israel we vote for parties, not for leaders. The head of the largest party in Knesset is usually assigned with a task of assembling the coalition and forming the govenrment. We do not directly elect the head of the state. The result is what i described before – by the time you reach a position in your party that allows you to realistically run for Knesset or more so compete for the post of the Prime Minsiter, you are deeply embeded into the micro-party politics and is lacking the drive, the energy, the vision, the optimisim, and the ability to dare in order to make a substative change.
There was an attempt to try and directly elect the head of the state in the past, but that failed. I think it failed because in the quickly changing Israeli realities, we didn’t have time to mentally adjust to that change. Even more so, the political system didn’t have the time to adjust to that change. People who ran for election during that trial period, were the same people whom we see running today through their parties. So, although there was a nominal change, there was no really substantive change in the way people think or the way people function. Hence the failure.
Watching the American people celebating their reboot and their democracy, makes me wonder what would it take to reboot the Israeli politics. Some of their enthusiasm is definietly rubbing off, but I still wonder if “we also can”…?