In the US presidential elections the big news of the week must be the endorsement of Howard Dean by Al Gore. A somewhat smaller, but still interesting, development – although this isn’t exactly new, but simply new to my attention – is the fact that someone has created an Economists for Dean weblog. Finally, if you are really short on ‘breaking news’ and if you really want to go down to the fine print of the week, you might just notice that I seem to be included in the sidebar, in amongst a variety of other economists who undoubtedly have rather more public appeal than I do. I would like to say that as a European I consider it an honour to figure in such company: this does however present us with a number of questions worth thinking about, and it is to those that I would now like to turn.
The first question which reasonably arises is what place do we, as Europeans, have in a US presidential election? Normally my answer would be, precious little. I say this not simply because elections are not one of my strong points, but also because I think we have to respect due political process. The Americans choose their president, the British their Prime Minister and the Germans their Chancellor, and there the story ends. But at the moment something seems to be different.
It is different because the current US administration seems to see part of its function as ‘remodelling the world’ – and in this case we are all, each and every one of us, affected. It is also different because the Bush administration is fuelling a level of rhetorical abuse and international tension of the kind that I, for one, cannot remember having seen before. So if we want to live in a more peaceful world, one were each of us has a say, and one which has a much lower level of verbal pollution, then we’d better listen up and start thinking. In a global world you need to think globally.
So I am convinced, not of the need to endorse any specific candidate, but of the need to dis-endorse Bush. Having said that I have, in the past, come pretty close to endorsing Wesley Clark in this column. I have been tempted by Clark since he seems highly intelligent, knowledgeable in the key global strategic questions, and above all do-able, in the sense that he could win. This is the famous voice of pragmatism.
But what about Howard Dean? Actually he does seem quite attractive on the face of things. He is perhaps the most European of candidates. He is also the David going out to do battle with Goliath. Whatsmore he does seem to be the candidate of the new technologies, and his endorsement by Gore only serves to underline this. It is my firm opinion that one of the greatest lasting failings of the Bush administration, as far as the average American is concerned, will turn out to be the emphasis on old economy interests.
On the negative side, they tell me that Dean has been flirting with protectionism. Undoubtedly there are other weaknesses there of which I am not aware. So what I would like to do here is throw this open to debate, there seem to be a number of pertinent questions to ask:
– should we as Europeans involve ourselves in US elections?
– if we do, and going by the running field we have to date, is Dean our man?
– will it be better or worse for the candidate to have our support?
– and finally, to be consistent, should we mount an equivalent campaign against the French political class in its entirety?