Monday, April 14, 2008


US elections and positive change
11 April 2008

TO MOST Americans and to many of us it was received wisdom that a
democrat will win the US Elections in 2008. Not anymore. Many analysts
fear this may not happen. They point out while Clinton and Obama are
destroying each other and the democratic party in a war of attrition,
Republicans are making progress with an unquestioned leader, unifying
political jargon and with the nuts and bolts of a successful campaign
in place.
They may be right. But irrespective of who wins and who lands in the
18th century House on the Pennsylvania Ave, the Democratic campaign we
have seen was special. It was special for it brought out the yearnings
of a changed US society. Agreed, the primaries were mostly registered
Democratic voters and not the whole America but nevertheless the
impact of the economic and social movements of the last few decades,
and the values that were espoused, were reflected in the kind of
choices people made.

To begin with some one like Barack Hussein Obama surviving till the
end was in itself a testament of the changed times; a tribute to a
changing America. Hilary Clinton is not just a twice elected New York
Senator, or the former first lady; in many respects she epitomises the
sphinx of power, authority and continuity in the traditional American
consciousness. I remember during the height of the Monica Lewinsky
affair the joke used to be: fire the president and her husband too.

The mere fact that a coloured man, whose ancestry could be traced to a
Muslim father, who from the beginning took a position against the Iraq
war gave tough time to the Ms Clinton that blue eyed scion of the
American establishment was in itself a little miracle in this age of
profanity. But then it does not end here. Obama sustained the support
of the white middle class delegates; which only serves to show that
how among educated white Americans idealism, political belief and a
shared sense of identity prevailed upon the traditional considerations
of race and colour.

But there are even more interesting symptoms of a changing American
society. My friend, Professor Adil Najam, currently at the Boston
University, was explaining to me that how older American women
identified with Hillary Clinton. To them she is the symbol of womans
cumbersome struggle in a mans world. Not anymore for the younger ones.
Poll after poll, contest after contest, showed that how younger women
under 45 swung towards Obama. They are the products of a fast emerging
post-feminist America where issues and concerns transcend boundaries
of gender.

But whereas the changing social dynamics of the US might have found
their way into the political preferences, there is as yet little
evidence of a similar adjustment to global concerns. Difficult
questions persist.

Two ways of looking at this will be instrumental. In an article, Can a
Democrat change US Middle East Policy? an excerpt from his updated
book: Perilous Power: the Middle East and the US foreign policy Noam
Chomsky, argues that even someone like Obama is not up to any real
change in foreign policy towards Middle East.

Chomsky was one of the most original American thinkers of his times.
Since most of us are happy in imprisoning or exporting our own
iconoclasts, we envied an America that can bear such self-flagellating
critics in its midst. Even today we listen, read and cherish him but
in a changed American context he is less relevant; to many on the
campuses he is an academic of a bygone era and I am afraid not many on
the campaign trail or on morning trains will care to read his
arguments however cogent they may appear to us.

Visakha N Desai, president of the Asia Society, however, refers to
something which may be more understood. In a recent provocative
article, Questions for Americas next leader she wonders how the next
US president will provide a clear understanding of how he, or she,
will prepare America for a twenty first century in which the local
issues are tied with the global developments?

American ears may be deaf to what is perceived as Chomskys old
fashioned rhetoric; but Desai is raising questions from the
perspective of new market economy; she is concerned that the US
election campaign by both the Democrats and the Republicans has not
touched on the question or issue of US global responsibilities in an
age when global trends can have local implications? And she is worried
how Americas international authority will confront or adjust to Asias
new found clout?

To their concerns I want to add mine. And contrary to Chomskys well
rehearsed analysis and Desais own sophisticated market economy related
thoughts I have a basic fundamental and dumb question; why is our fate
being decided by the American voters?

Whether we like it or not, the US government for all practical
purposes is a de-facto global government. Ok! The US has not designed
it to be so but this is what the strange reality is. What will happen
in Iraq, or Afghanistan; will there be a war with Iran; how will
energy policies be developed; everything affects us. Yet a US
president, elected primarily on the strength of local concerns,
understandings and prejudices, will bring his or her team and together
their decisions will affect the whole world; for good or bad they will
control and shape our lives. Yet we the people of the world do not
have the slightest input into who should win the primaries and who
should sleep in the white House? Isnt it funny?

Folks, I am not a poet, just someone wedded to the school of political
realism. I am not condemning the current situation either; merely
pointing to the sheer irrationality of a global power design. With
United Nations dead or worse a rubber stamp, the term sole superpower
is a mere euphuism for global government; yet the system for its
selection is patently undemocratic and destabilising for the planet.

Every age throws up new problems and needs new solutions. The changed
preferences of the democratic voters in the primaries reflected an
admission of new realities inside the US; my question, like that of
Vishakha N Desai, relates to a changed global reality, it may look
irrelevant at this moment but with every passing year this will assume
greater significance?

Moeed Pirzada, a broadcaster and political analyst with GEO TV, has
been a founding member of the Association of Pakistani Professionals
(AOPP) in New York. Email:

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posted by u2r2h at 11:29 AM


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