2004 is a vital year for everyone interested in the future of democracy.
At its heart is the United States: its election and its relation to the rest of the world.
In November 2000, George W. Bush became US president with 540,000 fewer votes than his rival Al Gore. He won a majority of the electoral college only after an especially contentious outcome in Florida with charges that its electoral register was rigged, its recount intimidated and the Supreme Court decision about it politically prejudiced.
One thing leaps out immediately from this curt summary: to understand how America appoints the most powerful man in the world calls for a grasp of the bizarre, the arcane and the arbitrary.
Todd Gitlins new column has taken on the challenge of trying to explain all this and to decipher the political forces that will decide if George W. Bush is re-elected in November 2004. openDemocracy.net has asked him to express his patriotism and not to hold back on his passion for his country, while speaking to readers of every nationality.
These readers include many Americans. A number may share the judgment that more is at stake in their countrys election than solely national well-being and security. In the age of the single superpower, Americas president is a ruler who matters to people in every corner of planet earth.
Hence the title of Todds column: Our election year. This is Americas election, but also the worlds. The we behind the our is both we the American people and we the peoples of the world.
In other words, this is an argument about global democracy.
The issues raised by this election year may start from the strange mechanisms of the US election, but they reach much further from the universalism of human rights, to the globalisation of markets, communication, culture and military power.
Throughout 2004, and into 2005, openDemocracy.net will track the US election in a global context, drawing on the growing, international spread of our readers and contributors.