Between Truth and History
It was the most keenly fought election in American history and one that went truly global. Whether it's George W. Bush or John Kerry, it's going to land the winner with managing a difficult legacy of anti-Americanism, says SHELLEY WALIA.
THE tightest election in the American history with a statistical dead heat began last Tuesday. Everyone was on pins and needles to see if the elections went off smoothly and fierce legal battles could be avoided. The two candidates campaigned till the bitter end.
Plethora of issues
A plethora of issues, both important as well as trivial, have had an effect on the public opinion. The people in Iraq remain concerned about hunger and the rising death toll brought to their country by America. Europe's disaffection for Bush is clear from the opinion polls in Germany, France and Britain. Surprisingly, Tony Blair who has had a long honeymoon with Bush will be happy to see Kerry in the White House since Bush has virtually been his albatross. Europe undoubtedly will support the French speaking senator, although his victory will bring only some cosmetic changes in its wake in areas such as foreign policy and taxes, the removal of conservative judges, pharmaceuticals and energy. Wall Street would like to retain Bush as he is better in these areas, though paradoxically Wall Street has always prospered under a Democrat President. Black votes will matter for Kerry's victory, but as the polls show, he is not doing too well on this front. And as regards female votes, Kerry is getting six per cent more than Bush. The score is much below what the previous winners have obtained. As late deciders have always voted for change, the polls might all prove wrong. Let us see who wins in Ohio. No Republican has ever won without Ohio; Bush on the very last day of campaigning made a concerted effort to begin his last day sprint across the nation from here. One wonders if the loss of 1,50,000 jobs in Ohio during his tenure might cost him the state. On the other hand, Kerry's superstitious carrying of the buck eye in his pocket might just see him through.
The House of Representation and the Senate continue to be in the control of the Republicans. In the crucial states of Ohio and Florida, the projections say that Bush is leading. Even if Kerry wins Ohio, Bush still has the chance to take the Midwest states of Michigan and Wisconsin. When results last came in, Bush was ahead by two million votes, but the electoral votes could very well go to Kerry. The public stands highly polarised owing to a cultural and political civil war on various domestic and international issues. It is a cliff-hanger with Bush having the superior hand. Whatever the outcome, the elections signify the rebirth of American democracy in the 120 million turnout of voters. Finally one could say that the two aspirants have played their game and the media has enacted its role.
Power of the new media
It was Nixon who discovered the political power of the new media in his September 23, 1971, Checkers' speech which created a new complex and symbiotic relationship between the presidency and the American TV. After him, Presidents from Ronald Reagan to George Bush became synonymous with the screen, bringing a strong visual presence along with the vast outpouring of lies and deception with the sole purpose of manufacturing consent. This revolutionised the unquestioned role of the nexus between the media and the state. A time had come when suddenly our intellectual activities were shaken and traditional rationales which underpin our daily practices stood discredited. The self-reflectiveness in the public domain indicated one thing: we are surrounded by symptoms that all is not well. Our subjectivities found themselves suddenly locked into the structures of technological dominance, military violence and ideological legitimation. And more than anything, it was the question of American imperialism that has been topmost in the minds of people inside and outside the U.S. Emancipatory politics had come to an end; ideology and history were undergoing a slow process towards an inevitable demise. Liberal humanism had let us down. The power of the state and the media had succeeded in persuading the public to collude with the policies of the government. The hour had come to oppose all such excessive oppression of the individual.
This propaganda, full of deceit and misrepresentation, is integral to the working and the subterranean strategies of the Western state systems. As Tariq Ali writes, "See no truth, hear no truth, and speak no truth." The White House propaganda assault on its own people in the form of the Patriot Act reveals how war is used to bring about an idea of peace with the aim to cast a hypnosis on the people making them believe more in fear than in the reality of contemporary international relations that aim towards geo-political control as well as sucking the natural resources wherever there are client regimes looking up to you.
This seems to be the essential account of the times that we live in. The presidential debates that took place over the last few weeks might have influenced some people in deciding who should rule them. The victory of the Democrat, it was felt, would mean a victory for the Islamic world which, in all probability, saw to it that through innumerable terrorist acts and violence in Iraq and elsewhere, it would crystallise public opinion in favour of the defeat of George Bush who is single-handedly responsible for alienating most of the world.
A `global' election
The world keenly watched how the elections in the U.S. would unfold. This was an election that truly went global especially owing to the overwhelming popularity of foreign websites, chiefly the British. The debates on the TV left the people of America all the more perplexed. Should they back the doctrine of pre-emption, the war on terrorism, or take serious note of incidents at Abu Gharib and Guantanamo? For the educated aware citizen, the war on Iraq was a wrong move, taking the attention and focus away from the real protagonists of 9-11. The U.S., therefore has for many become an anti-thesis of freedom and justice. For the middle-class American, the concern has been the fear under which they live daily because of the enemy out there and the need to go all out and wage a war on terrorism. The distinction between war on Iraq and war on terrorism stands conflated in the eyes of the latter, and thus their mounting support for George Bush.
The core issue of the elections therefore was the war on Iraq/terrorism. Foreign policy overtook domestic and social issues. And we saw Kerry accusing the incumbent of clumsy handling of the war on Iraq as well as his incompetence in winning international support and goodwill. It was a foregone conclusion that if Bush was re-elected, the war in Iraq would continue, which means more instability for the Middle East.
Iraq undoubtedly became a central issue in the U.S. presidential campaign, with Kerry pointing to the mounting violence as evidence of bad decisions and Bush accusing Kerry of inconsistency in his views. Whether it is Bush or Kerry in the White House, the American policies in the Middle East and the entire Muslim world will not change in substance. The neo-conservative agenda for the support of greater Israel would have also remained the political dictum of Kerry's Democrats.
Implications for India
And for the Indian Government, Bush was always the favourite in view of the deepening strategic partnership with India and access to U.S. technology and sharing information on terrorism. Whether the U.S. supports Musharraf or remains reluctant to support us in our bid to get a seat in the Security Council has been conveniently swept under the carpet. But, interestingly people in India were as bewildered about their preference as the Americans.
As a political analyst remarked, "Bush can shoot but cannot aim whereas Kerry can aim but cannot shoot". The ideological confidence trick by both the presidential candidates led to nothing but public confusion and thus a neck and neck fight. It is the age-old affiliations with the Democrats and their inclination towards putting pressure on countries like Pakistan to return to democracy and to show some respect for the UNO that were among the reasons that found favour with many Indians. On the other hand, Kerry's emphasis on the Human Rights programme being applied in Kashmir and the nuclear programme in India kept under full surveillance was seen by many India leaders as a reason for not backing him. Outsourcing was another area that Kerry opposed and will oppose in the days to come if he enters the White House. Keeping in view the rising stature of India in the field of commerce, it really does not matter who wins; both Bush and Kerry will be inclined fully to support India in making its contribution to stability, both economic and political in South Asia. There will be no change in substance, only a change in style.
The last few months have shown that the American society had come to a juncture where it was adrift with lack of self-knowledge and memory. Liberal democracy, the end of cultural relativism, the overwhelming predominance of globalisation has ushered in an era of homogenisation. In the new techno-scientific world the absence of the human has led to the demise of dissent. Paradoxically, the two candidates have debated in an era of endism when the death of opposing ideologies and thereby of debate has ushered in the victory of unilateralism and American triumphalism. Mass unemployment, homelessness, violence, inequality, famine, economic oppression were conspicuous areas where a battle can be waged against the failed ideals of liberal democracy. Fundamentalist Christian Right has to be countered with opposition and Kerry was certainly not a very stout alternative although, at this juncture, he seemed the only choice Americans had, considering that he has always robustly assumed that he had the makings of a successful president capable of effectively fighting the right-wing conspiracies.
With Bush discredited for a needless war in Iraq as well as the misrepresentation and infringement of human rights by his state machinery in the wake of the Iraq crisis, the public deeply felt that the Democrats could now be given a chance to replace a President whose rule provoked world-wide recrimination for America. But public memory is rather transitory. It gets easily forgotten that Bush or Kerry or Clinton have always stood for a strapping internationalism to maintain global U.S. pre-eminence. Like the identical political complexion of the Tory and Labour Parties in Britain, the Democrats are not too dissimilar from their right-wing adversaries. The international security order has always been reinvented to remain in line with American interests. More than the Republicans, the Democrats' Progressive Policy Institute has often emphasised and reiterated these objectives to warrant more full-proof safety for the American nation. It is clearly known that all democrats, including Clinton and Kerry, supported the war in Iraq. Congress members say that American elections will not affect the drive for peace in Iraq.
John Pilger, in a recent article is of the view that the "American Democratic Party comes from a tradition of liberalism that has built and defended empires as `moral' enterprises. That the Democratic Party has left a larger trail of blood, theft and subjugation than the Republicans is heresy to the liberal crusaders, whose murderous history always required, it seems a noble mantle." He continues to argue that the Democrats have been as much of "crypto-fascists" as George Bush: under Clinton we saw the biggest war budget being passed in the history of the U.S.; the Star Wars II programme took off during his regime. It is well known that Clinton's government rejected any global move towards the verification of biological weapons or the world-wide ban on landmines. Haiti and Afghanistan were invaded, the illegal blockade of Cuba was reinforced and the blockade of Iraq led to the deaths of more than a million people.
Thus, whatever case the Democrats put forward or whatever account the Republicans preach about "democracy building" or a policy of "humanitarian intervention", the world knows that these are ways of gaining international backing for the so-called motives of peace, or in other words, strategies of camouflaging lies to hide the inherent American obsession with imperialistic adventures through the last couple of centuries. Destabilising governments or labour unions and all else that comes in opposition to American interests is met with a harsh set of American values and American power which is a psychological justification of a nation in the throes of fear. It is the fear of vulnerability that has led to a nation asserting its invulnerability constantly.
A gladiatorial fight
The whole country has been pumped up during the last few days of the elections. And most certainly, the elections have been exceptionally a referendum on George Bush. Do people want Bush? That is the question. The battle is to unseat an incumbent in wartime which is not an easy task. Both candidates on the last day before the elections galvanised the activists. The TV debates had brought out a gladiatorial fight to the end leaving the public clear on at least one issue. If Bush wins, America goes on accumulating the hatred that has been rising through the post 9/11 years. If Kerry wins, the people around the world will at least heave a sigh of relief and delude themselves that it is the end of aggressive unilateralism. A handful of swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida will make all the difference. Selling the idea of hope and change might help Kerry. The recent threat by Osama bin Laden can work both ways: it can help Bush who has given the impression that he can fight terrorism and that Kerry is not decisive enough. Or it can help Kerry, as it shows the threat of bin Laden and terrorism looming larger than ever which is symbolic of Bush's failure.
By the time this article appears, the people of America would have made their choice. The success or failure of one over the other cannot be predicted at the moment. But the only thing that can be predicted is that if state institutions do not try to eliminate the tyranny of systems, the economic injustice, the questions of race, and the foreign policy of intervention and war, nothing good will come out of any presidential election.
Whether George Bush wins or John Kerry, it is going to land the winner with a difficult legacy of anti-Americanism, proliferation of conflict zones particularly the old rivals like China and Japan, the question of global warming, international law and trade. It was an inescapable conclusion that nothing was going to make much difference to the idea of free markets and the status of democracies around the world. In spite of the American obsessions with human rights and international peace, nothing concrete has been achieved to counter the ethnic violence especially after the ushering in of free-market democracies. Disproportionate wealth in the hands of an ethnic minority has led to nothing but resentment. The springing up of these "market dominant minorities" in the erstwhile Yugoslavia, among the Chinese in South East Asia, and the Indians in East Africa, has all led to bloodshed. Democracy only helps to unleash the taking over of land, of propagation of revenge, and provocation of the impoverished masses. As long as the disturbing negative aspects of globalisation are not checked, it does not matter who wins. What remains clear is that the key tenets of American political faith have resulted in a backlash against not only markets but also against faith in the reality of liberalism and freedom under the American system that has bred nothing but global instability and ethnic hatred.
A narrative with jarring notes of lies and deception as well as of action-filled overdose of perpetual war is not what the world wants. The tragedy of the last few years of blood and violence has shown no signs of a peaceful ending. Hamlet's Denmark is as unstable and unhinged as ever.
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