Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The American Presidential Election 2008 - My take on the story so far...

The American Presidential race. Well, just googling it up will yield a whole cartload of information. I could write for hours and hours on the way the whole thing has shaped up so far.

But there are a few reasons why this race for Presidency is unique.

First of all, the race comes at a time when America is in dire need of a shot in the arm to extricate itself from a recession that is ominously compared time and again to the Great Depression. People are tired of the so called aimless Government of George W Bush. Bush’s welcome party included a hit on WTC and the American perception of safety was dealt a literal bolt from the blue. During his tenure, a war was declared on Iraq and Afghanistan, a number of American youth were sent to war and Saddam was executed.

Traditionally, the Republicans have been more ‘ideological’, with ideology winning over fact, winning over science, winning over truth even – as told to me by some friends in the USA. True – as the firm belief that Iraq was out to destroy America, led to the fabrication of the whole concept of Weapons of Mass Destruction – ideology over truth! In 2004, President Bush managed to win the race by hitching on to ‘the WMD, war on Iraq, imminent terror strike’ horse. But, the absence of WMD, a fact which in effect falsified the whole reason why the war was started in the first place, and the futile loss of American lives in the flawed war coupled with a lack of a clear direction on whether the troops would be pulled out in an attempt to put an end to the continuous loss of life on Iraqi soil, have further resulted in despair among the American people. To add on to it, the Bush administration took their ideology of ‘free hand to business’ a bit too far, thereby leading to a situation of complete turmoil in the American economy. Lax laws to control banking and finance, a free hand to investment banks like Lehman, the darlings of the American Economy, complicated investment instruments, and a very strong hankering behind the bottom line, have all just seemed to ruin Bush’s farewell party as well. So much so, that people resent anything ‘Bush’. The fact that a Republican administration has been responsible for the breakdown of the economy and has been the cause of the maligned image of America in the eyes of the world has built up a strong anti-incumbency factor that McCain has had to make a very strong effort to try to distance himself from the current President and his policies.

The Democrats have traditionally been ‘for government regulation’. So they have so long been touting the fact that better regulation could have averted the whole economic meltdown. Which is true to an extent. They have also been speaking about moving out of Iraq. In a way they have put all their words in the right place, and have essentially spoken what America wanted to hear. Whether these factors can translate into a Democratic leadership at the White house, only today’s result can tell. Again, whether the new President can actually effect sufficient change to resurrect the flagging economy - only time will tell. So much for the socio-political milieu where this election is being held!

Now for the whole race in itself. Prominently, this race had more to do with a kind of ‘American awakening’, as the Democrats dared the people to challenge their prejudices. Both the Democrat candidates signified that at least one of America’s deep rooted prejudices would need to be challenged. America would need to vote either for an African American man or for a woman, if they decided to side with the Democrats. Imagine the quandary – to escape from a probable continuation of ‘terrible’ governance, they would need to fight their prejudices. They need to choose between a racial prejudice and a sexist prejudice to escape the status quo! Frying pan to the fire indeed.

This is just ideological. Look at the actual candidates.

The Republicans all along supported McCain. The Democrats were busy fighting prejudices. So while McCain began building a strong base, Obama and Hillary locked horns on who was better. It was almost as if they were the two presidential candidates fighting for the White House. Finally, whether it was on account of core issues or because one prejudice was more deep-rooted than another, Hillary quietly moved into the shadows. I remember once that Oprah Winfrey was slammed by numerous women for being vocal about her support for Obama as against Hillary, since many women took this as an affront to feminism! Whoa!!!

The candidates themselves. A 72 year old a war veteran – a PoW for five and a half years v/s a comparatively very young man who is said to be inexperienced. Both of them want to be the harbingers of change. On the charisma department, Barack certainly scores. He knows how to speak, how to connect his racial background to change, how to connect everyone by a common story. What he says, more often than not, sounds like a welcome change America needs. On the other hand, a rather resigned face of the Republicans is forced to contend with comments like ‘Obama is a Muslim’, ‘Obama is socialist’. ‘That One’ and so on. Verbal bandies, more like our very own Indian politicos!

Then come the Vice-Presidential candidates. Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. The vice president is generally someone with capacity to be President, if the situation so demands. But Ms. Palin! She still thinks that the VP heads the Senate!! Her take on foreign policy is legendary – she can see Putin fly over her house! She can’t name a newspaper she reads, or a Supreme Court judgment she disagreed with other than Roe vs Wade, or a policy decision McCain voted for! Joe Biden, not a lot is spoken about him generally. At least not in the global media, but that is perhaps because he is outshone by Diva Palin for all the wrong reasons.

Even the way in which the campaign has been conducted is different. While McCain depended on the age old Public Campaign Finance mechanism for funds, by drawing on Federal funds for his campaign, Obama, worked outside the system – from the grassroots level. Small donations by small time people who will not expect the typical huge favors for the money paid, ended up collecting into a huge ocean of resources. The result – McCain had $84 million dollars, at his disposal, while Obama managed around $150 million in September alone. So Obama could manage to get prime time slots for $4 million dollars one week prior to election day, while McCain appealed to his supporters to please help him out! Does all this really matter? Well, for a candidate who is trying to be America’s first President with African roots that extend all the way to the color of his skin, yes. The more he appears, the more he tries to break the intangible screen that lies at the heart of the racial divide, the better it is. The more confidence in his manner of operation, he can instill into the ‘America = White Republican’ population, the better it is for his chances. The fact remains that if only Obama were white, he would have won hands down. But the whole quandary of administration and the country’s future on one hand v/s racial prejudice on the other, has added a lot of spice to the American Presidential Race of 2008.

But can America really put aside age old beliefs and look to the future? Can they really allow logic to prevail and not be swayed by prejudices when they are all alone in that polling booth with an all important choice to make? Can they really think and take a wise decision for the country? I guess we’d need to wait a few more hours to see how America decides…..

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