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Richard Dawkins's Avatar Jump to comment 8 by Richard Dawkins

Democratic systems should have built-in safeguards against the possibility of a manifestly unqualified candidate ever even coming close to being elected. But it is difficult thinking what those safeguards might be. Should candidates sit some sort of examination? IQ test? Literacy test? On the face of it, such bars sound objectionable, like the infamous poll tax. But isn't it already objectionable that candidates have to have been BORN in the United States, even if they are full US citizens (like Christopher Hitchens)? And presumably they mustn't have a criminal record? So there are precedents for debarring people. Perhaps those precedents could be the basis for a broadening to debar unqualified ignoramuses like Sarah Palin.

Theoretically it shouldn't be necessary, because unqualified candidates should never even get through the primary elections, let alone the final presidential election. But since the parties allow their chosen presidential candidate to choose his own unelected vice presidential running mate, that is no safeguard. We saw this in McCain's grossly irresponsible act. Although he himself was, on-the-face-of-it, qualified to be president, he cast doubt on that by the very act of choosing an obviously unqualified running mate. Or at least by failing to have her properly vetted before choosing her.

I think it is an interesting question how the US democratic system could be modified to rule out such potentially disastrous mistakes in the future. The British system is in many ways inferior, but I think it is fair to say that a Palin-style catastrophe could never happen. This is because the Prime Minister is always the leader of a party, and leaders of parties don't suddenly get thrust from nowhere into the limelight by the caprice or whim of one individual, as was the case with McCain choosing Palin. Leaders of parties work their way up over years. This would automatically rule out downright incompetents like Palin – although it does not, of course, rule out villains (like Blair, who is a very competent villain indeed).

Richard

Thu, 18 Feb 2010 12:42:00 UTC | #442106