By Saswat Pattanayak
The high moral ground for American democracy rests on the presumptions of healthy, competitive and fair elections. And holding these traits to be self-evident, the elections are held with utmost pomp and show. The grandeurs associated with US polls are unparalleled and are generally considered as reaffirming symbols of multiparty viabilities in the world.
Countries that do not boast of a multi-party system are considered to be autocratic, and consequently despotic. Whether or not it is important to analyze the rationale behind such a forgone conclusion where fairness is associated with competitive party system is a separate matter. Considering the timeliness of the upcoming polls, it will be prudent to conduct a reality check on the core features that sustain electoral system of American democracy itself.
The Election Farce:
Some people say we need a third party. I wish we had a second one – Jim Hightower, national radio commentator
America does not need two Republican Parties – John Kerry, former Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party
What Hightower and Kerry are expressing are concerns addressing the larger American choice-freedom fetishism. They do not question whether having two (or three, four, five) parties by itself will solve the current political crisis arising out of a tradition of lackluster world leadership, but they have at least admitted to the fact that the political map of the US does not reflect either heterogeneity, or healthy competition.
What the opinion leaders are concerned about is the lack of strong ideological differences between Republicans or Democrats regarding policy issues, rendering their separation as merely symbolic. For the most part, both parties totally agree on core issues such as nationalism/patriotic exhibitionism, neocolonialism, foreign affairs, warfare policies, health sector, concerns over the illegal immigrants, employment guarantees, among many other crucial questions. If there exist any differences, they are more in degrees than in types.
If both the parties do not have clearly outlined differences that are crucially significant when it comes to national economy, security and foreign affairs, then what is the single most important difference that exists, albeit in shades, between them, or among the candidates within them?
Political Economy of US Polls:
Characteristic of a capitalistic economy, people with more money have more access to power, and utilizing the tools of power, they eventually gain to control the power. Hence, the American polls concentrate on the most basic principle of its brand of democracy: raising funds. The candidate who raises more funds is the candidate that is certain to win nomination from his/her own party. In a recent interview to NPR, Democratic consultant Tad Devine, suggested that the election process costs between $750 million to $1 billion annually during the primaries alone!
Where do the millions go? In 2004 US elections, even after the primaries were over, between just the two leading candidates, they spent more than $500 million. Majority were spent on media publicity (Bush spent $132 million and Kerry spent $94 million). Buying TV spots and multimedia “bracketing”, the candidates make sure that the ads appear on TV morning shows, strategically can be heard while people are driving to work, they are replayed on internet news channels in afternoon, played back in evening news on television and while watching programs during late nights. In addition, thousands of paid volunteers are recruited all over the country and trained for months and paid for by the campaign money. In addition, costs are incurred for travel and events, payroll and consultants, fundraising-mail, and overhead- rent, utilities, insurance, equipment.
With the stakes so high, it is only natural that the richest lot or the candidates with access to the richest lot actually join the mainstream politics – so that in return, as history is witness every year, they can serve the military-industrial interests. 2008 is no different. On one hand we have Hillary Clinton, a woman who has amassed wealth to the tune of more than $109 million dollars during last eight years along with her husband. And far from being a result of the great “American Dream” that afflicted the protagonist of “In Pursuit of Happiness”, Hillary has always had the privilege of growing up in affluent Chicago suburbs, of being a high profile lawyer who has no knowledge of the price of gasoline in her country. Not only does she still parrot the price to be $63 for half a tank (whereas it has actually gone beyond $100 now), she also entirely fabricates the story about how she went to be part of the armed forces and faced targeted attacks by the enemies (an account which has been later regretted by her as being false). Positioning her as the representative of the white working class, she excludes discussing about her own backgrounds that are more distinctly memorable for being on vacation with Oscar de la Renta than for walking the extra mile to unionize the workers. Positioning herself as a potential world leader she talks of teaching lessons to people of Iran and China. Blatant lies, and exclusive privileges as an elitist characterize her during her several addresses where attacking her fellow Democrat Obama has been the single largest ideology she has to offer.
On the other hand, Barack Obama leads the race of the Democrats. Of course it will be too naïve to imagine him as a Black presidential candidate considering that he has been winning the majority of support in a white majoritarian country, voicing the religious sentiments and threatening to bomb Pakistan. While that sounds just stupid, what is not so noble is his clearly elitist background that speaks less of experience (which, contrary to Clinton’s claims, is of no significance for a potential leader), and more of a lack genuine intentions to represent the very people he claims to be leading. Making tall claims of not buying into the Wall Street lobbyists like both Clinton and Republican contender John McCain have, Obama himself has been raising funds worth more than both Clinton and McCain put together. As of March 2008, Obama had raised $234, 745,081, Clinton had raised $189,097,053 and McCain had raised $76,691,826, leading Clinton to take a recent “loan” of additional $5million. On personal front, Obama and his wife reported an annual income of $4.2million in 2007 alone. Of course it is nowhere closer to what the Clintons earned in 2007: $20.4millions!
In the competition among the millionaires to be the world leaders, John McCain, the Republican candidate who has already spent enough to earn his nomination tops them all. True to the hypocritical nature of the Republican fabric, McCain has not persuaded his wife from letting their incomes be public. Cindy McCain who is chair of Hensley & Co controls the family riches of McCains which runs into $36.6million to $53.4million. Additionally, they have several stocks and ownerships in businesses and partnerships.
Apart from the obvious differences in the flag colors (blue and red), both parties have nothing unique to offer as truly distinguishable. The differences seem as acutely competitive as the different colors that adorn Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola billboards.
As silly as it may sound, there is nothing historic about the “woman” candidate who runs for the post using her husband’s speech royalties and lobby money. There is nothing historic about the “black” candidate who hobnobs with the rich and amasses the majority “white” money. And there is nothing to look forward to about a “conservative” candidate who is not even liberal about disclosing his family incomes to the people whom he and his wife intend to represent as President and First Lady. Its not surprising that the media have been harping on the “race”, “gender” and “experience” factors while overlooking the most obvious social location: “class”, because the American Empire has been built upon the assurance that it is not a class society and intrinsic to this self-denial is the assertions that new revolutionary measures are unnecessary and illegal. All these candidates coming from the same “class” location would rather play by other means to make appeals, hideously suppressing the facts of their being agents of the same system of exploitation that they apparently are challenging.
For the millions of working class American tax-payers who have become so pathetic with their finances that even the Bush Government is sending them Stimulus Check to spend tax-free money, for the 2 million homeless who search for public spaces that are closed after evening, for the 36.5 million people (12.3% of population) below poverty line, and 46 million people without health insurance, a country of working have-nots class who are debt ridden for generations, such farcical superfluous billion-dollars extravaganza wasted on elections every four years should ideally cause them to feel sick to the stomach. But with the same country where Chevrolet is advertised as the American Revolution and freedom is equated with using remote control to watch television channels competing to reach higher standards of absurdities, it is rather natural that even a Coca-Cola and Pepsi battle would seem to be the only form defining “democracy” in the world. Or did I say, Colacracy?