The democratic process, or at least versions of it, played out on either side of the Atlantic this week. In both instances, conclusions were long-fingered. The protagonists must meet again, possibly many times, before matters are settled.
In Leinster House yesterday, the 160 deputies elected to the 33rd Dáil did as they were, genetically and politically, expected to do and declined to elect a taoiseach. This orchestrated fall at the first hurdle may be the first of many before the finishing line is eventually crossed.
That Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who must surely be playing his last cards in his long game to be taoiseach, suggested it might be April before agreement produces a government is hardly inspiring but the calendar — St Patrick’s Day and Easter — justifies his analysis. It may have been a vote for change but that change, whatever that means, still comes dripping slow.
Whether Mike Bloomberg’s analysis of his performance in Wednesday night’s Las Vegas debate between aspiring Democratic presidential candidates inspires him or persuades him to curtail his already record spending on advertising remains to be seen. Bloomberg has spent almost €400m on television ads and more again on digital campaigning.
Even if that money is his own — he is worth almost €60bn — the scale, the depth of the war chest he brings into play, has unsettling implications for the democratic process and access to it. Since January, Bloomberg has spent more on Facebook promotions than rivals Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, PeteButtigieg, and Elizabeth Warren combined.
That he is using his own money means he is not scrutinised by legislation overseeing donations adds another layer of unease to his bid to buy the White House.
Robert Reich, the American liberal economist, professor, author, and political commentator who served with presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton and was secretary of labor from 1993 to 1997, has warned that a choice between Bloomberg and Trump is a choice between oligarchy and tyranny and therefore, in so many ways like our own election and Britain’s last election too, no real choice at all.
Rather than clarify prospects, the top six Democrats’ debate muddied the waters as a rejuvenated Elizabeth Warren recovered lost ground. “Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another,” she warned, cutting to the very core of an increasingly pertinent argument as wealth becomes more and more concentrated.
It will take some time however to establish whether her, or any other candidates’, passion and exposure of Bloomberg’s shabby record as mayor of New York wins the nomination. It underlines, though, that the race is not between politicians but rather between Bloomberg’s vast fortune and all others.
The quirks of the American system can offer a distraction but our own system, and how we use it, is hardly perfect.
Despite our newfound enthusiasm for social progress, only 36 out of the Dáil’s 160 seats are filled by women — a paltry 22.5%. And, most of all, yesterday’s votes showed that even in this shiny new Ireland, we’re still, unlike America, stirring the eternal flames of our own civil war.