Thursday September 13, 2012
The US democratic process
By Marina Mahathir
As former US President Bill Clinton said, “democracy is not a bloodsport”. Nor are we, the voters, merely convenient pawns in a power struggle.
AS November nears, we see each side trumpet the benefits of electing them.
Each touts that they are parties of the people, ready to help make their lives better.
Each then also denigrates the other side, saying that they are living in a fantasy world, have not made anyone’s life better and have values that are unpatriotic.
Am I talking about us? No actually, I’m talking about the American Presidential elections that will be held on Nov 4.
President Obama will be up for re-election for his second and final term.
As always, the American election process fascinates me.
The Republican and Democratic national conventions have just been held and watching them, I am struck by several characteristics.
First, neither party feels a need to dress their delegates in uniforms.
The party faithful is already faithful in their hearts.
There is no need to dress them up to emphasise their unity.
Instead, they were allowed to show their allegiance with creative dress and accessories.
Secondly, I was struck, especially in the Democratic convention, by how diverse the delegates were.
There were equal numbers of men and women but among them, there were young and old, able and disabled and of every colour and religion.
I saw women in tudung and men in dreadlocks.
The chairperson of the convention was a woman.
It gives the impression of a Democratic party that is inclusive and representative of the whole of America.
In contrast, the Republican convention seemed literally white bread.
Not only are the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates two white men, but with the exception of Condoleezza Rice, everyone else looked the same.
Perhaps nothing underscored the Republicans as a party of old white men more than the actor Clint Eastwood who gave a bizarre speech which probably did more harm than good to their campaign.
It certainly changed what I thought of Eastwood.
Thirdly, I really like the idea of giving non-politicians the platform to speak.
I’m not entirely sure we should extend that privilege to wives but having those who have actually benefited from policies speak makes everything more real.
Of course nobody will put up testimonies by unhappy people.
Still, it was refreshing to listen to people who aren’t trying to get themselves elected.
Fourthly, the fact that everyone can view all the proceedings of the two conventions themselves is awesome.
Aware that they are not just speaking to the party faithful but to the electorate at large, speakers strive to talk about issues that affect those outside the conference centres as well.
This cuts down on posturing and upgrades the quality of speeches overall.
Fifthly, there were the political speeches themselves.
I have never heard any politician articulate policies, and not just rhetoric, so clearly in a language that any delegate can understand and emulate, like Bill Clinton.
In the simplest terms, he explained Obama’s policies on the economy, healthcare and education.
What’s more, while still criticising the Republicans, he also reiterated instances where Democrats had collaborated with Republicans to solve problems for the greater good.
As Clinton said, “When times are tough and people are frustrated, angry, hurting and uncertain, the politics of constant conflict may be good.
But what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world. What works in the real world is cooperation.”
If I were American, I would be a Democrat because by and large, its policies resonate better with me, especially when it comes to women and minorities.
I do, however, have many problems with Obama’s foreign policies, with his failure to close Guantanamo Bay and with his pandering to the Israelis.
But I could not possibly vote for the xenophobic and women-hating Republicans.
Their constant claims that President Obama is a Muslim implies the faith is somehow un-American.
I cannot imagine a peaceful world with another Republican in the White House, given how much Muslims had suffered during the Bush years.
Sadly, we have no say in who gets to be President.
The only consolation we can have is that every four years, there is a chance that the Americans will simply get rid of an ineffective President and bring in a new one.
And eight years is all you need to tolerate a bad US President.
Back home, we have to suffer not knowing when an election will actually happen.
Despite rules that say you can’t campaign until Parliament is dissolved and the election date is announced, we are still subjected to what are only thinly disguised election campaigns.
If these campaigns centred on what is truly important to us – the economy, security and education – then they would be worthwhile.
But when it all rests solely on how bad the other guy is, we should all feel abused.
As Bill Clinton said, “democracy is not a bloodsport”. Nor are we, the voters, merely convenient pawns in a power struggle.