A Tale of Two Systems

You probably can’t identify these two men but they are going to have a profound impact on your life.

On Tuesday Americans re-elected Barack Obama to the US Presidency, and on Thursday, the Chinese Communist Party Congress gets underway in Beijing to choose the new leadership that will lead China for the next ten years. It’s been twenty years since these two nations transferred power at the same time, and it will be 20 years before it happens again. Two systems, two processes, two changes in government – but the transfer couldn’t be more different.

Every ten years there is a changing of the guard in China and new leadership is designated for the coming decade. Unlike America, where 300,000,000 people have an opportunity to express their opinion and vote for the President, China’s new leadership is selected by a small committee of the Communist Party. The Politburo Standing Committee chooses the next Party Chief/President and the Prime Minister and then rules by consensus through them for the next ten years. Right now there is a not so secret power struggle going at the highest levels in the party. Factions within the party are attempting to consolidate their power and promote their own agendas and candidates. They are jockeying for positions and appointment to the Politburo Standing Committee which has historically had nine members but will likely be reduced to seven which will concentrate power even more. Most of these factions and power players are descendants of revolutionary heroes, who have over the years consolidated their power and influence. The amazing thing, to me, is that the man or woman on the street in Shanghai might find it just as hard to identify Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, the two gentlemen at the top of this post, as you do. That is how uninvolved the ordinary people of China are in this important change in government. This is a one party system ruled by insiders.

Contrast that with America – which couldn’t be messier. I, for one, am exhausted from the months of campaigning and truly glad that the election is over. Yet, it was, arguably, one of the most important US elections in the last 70 years. Six billion dollars ($6,000,000,000) was spent in the process, and it looks like the result affirms the status quo. Obama in the White House, the Democrats in control of the Senate and the Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives. Republicans began campaigning against Obama in 2009, just one year after the last Presidential election and effectively blocked all Democratic legislation after the spring of 2010. Mitt Romney began his campaign for the office seven years ago. There must be a better, cheaper, fairer way to get do this.

Is campaign finance reform out of the question? Wouldn’t a level playing field seem more in alignment with our principles than one heavily weighted toward the rich? Clearly, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United has had a monumentally profound impact on how campaigns are financed and an extremely negative effect on the transparency of the process. I am a staunch advocate of free speech, but Citizens United is a perversion of the principle, because it undermines one man one vote and effectively turns the election over to the richest of the rich. I can blog my little ass off but the Koch brothers and other anonymous donors can give millions of dollars to Super Pacs that distort and mislead because they are “issue oriented.” We had a leg up on the process with McCain-Feingold but the Supreme’s killed the duck with one shot.

Nevertheless, our messy, lopsided, probably unfair and unbalanced process looks pretty good compared with what’s going on in China. It is now illegal in Beijing to possess balloons, pamphlets, homing pigeons, ping pong balls or anything that might carry a negative political message. Taxi drivers are reminded to check the back seats of their cabs for subversive materials that passengers may have been left behind. CNN and BBC TV feeds are now blocked, and 130 dissidents have been rounded up and will be held until after the transfer of power (NPR).

I’m personally glad Obama will remain in the White House. I don’t think Mitt Romney is a bad person; I just don’t believe he understood the people he wanted to govern or that he had the interests of ALL the people in his plan for America.

But – remember those two faces at the top of this page. The People’s Standing Committee is still haggling over the coming changes, but whoever emerges as China’s leaders may have more influence in your life than either of the two candidates in our election.

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