DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA:
A EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE ON
THE MILLENNIAL ELECTION
There are still many for whom the basic constitutional structure of the United States is regarded as an attractive model for what the European Union ought to become. The attraction of the United States in this respect is obvious. The political structure established by the U.S. Constitution is perceived as having provided a remarkably stable institutional framework over a span of more than two centuries. During this time, the United States was able to develop from little more than a coalition of rebellious colonies into a global power whose cultural appeal, scientific prowess, economic prosperity, political clout, and military might have few if any historical equals. Most important, the U.S. Constitution as it is understood and interpreted today has established a federal system based on the universally appealing principles of liberty, equality, democracy, and the rule of law— the very principles the European Union professes to be based on. From this point of view, when the presidential election gives rise to intense public debate and a barrage of litigation, ultimately resolved by the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds, important lessons of principle promise to be learned. Given the extensive debates in Europe about how to constitutionally organize democracy on the level of the European Union, such lessons would promise to be both timely and useful.
There are a variety of claims that undermine the idea that there is anything of interest that could be learned from looking at the United States generally and the events surrounding the 2000 election specifically. They all have in common that they are based on an exceptionalist account of either American democracy or European constitutionalism. First, there are two kinds of exceptionalist claims focusing on political culture. According to these accounts, nothing can be gained by engaging in a comparative endeavor because American democracy is exceptional. American democracy