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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 11

The US Elections: Excellent Spectacle and Jamboree

Saturday 1 March 2008, by Manan Dwivedi

This article reached us some time ago, but could not be used for unavoidable reasons. It is now being published as its contents have not yet lost their validity. —Editor

Jean Kirkpatrick, the former Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations, once gave a be-all and end-all definition of democratic practice in any godfearing and citizen-loving nation-state. She is known to have commented that, “Democratic elections are not merely symbolic....They are competitive, periodic, inclusive, definitive elections in which the chief decision-makers in a government are selected by citizens who enjoy broad freedom to criticise government, to publish their criticism and to present alternatives.”

Democratic elections are indeed competitive as Opposition parties and candidates enthrall the audiences with a rare gift of freedom of speech, assembly and movement necessary to voice their criticisms of the regime of the day and to bring alternative policy programmes and endear the candidates to the citizenry of the nation-state, who might do a lot of gerrymandering later on in their tenures. Elections, in which the Opposition is made a taboo entity bereft of timeframes and slots on the airwaves, with its rallies uncovered and the Fourth Estate censored, are not democratic at all. Alex De Tocqueville drew a parallel betwixt the grinding machine utilised in building constructions and the gurgating and debating presence of the twin dominant political parties in United States during the middle of the 19th century.
Democratic elections tend to have an inclusive periodicity. Democracies do not anoint monarchs and dare devil demagogues-for-eternity. Elected officials and mediocre parliamentarians are bound to be the hotchpotch of the hoi-polloi. The rumbustious telemanagers and peace pontiffs need to return to the hustings at prescribed intervals to seek their mandate to continue firmly in the stead of power and pelf. This tantamounts to that the parliamentarians must accept the risk of being voted out of office, unceremoniously. The one exception is judges who may be anchored for life and eliminated only for serious incapacitiousness.

Inclusiveness, too, has its own veritable meaning and a sanitised sense. The definition of citizens must be inclusive to include a large segment of the adult population. A government chosen by a small, exclusive group is not a democracy, no matter how democratic its internal workings may appear. One of the great dramas of democracy throughout history has been the struggle of excluded groups—whether racial, ethnic, or religious minorities, or women—to win full citizenship, and with it the right to vote and hold office. In the United States, for instance, only White male property holders were bequeathed the right to elect and be elected when the Constitution was signed in the halcyon year of 1787. The property qualification lost its rationale by the early 19th century, and women were granted the voting parity in the year 1920. Black Americans, however, did not enjoy full voting rights in the southern United States until the civil rights agitation of the rolling and rollicking sixties. The year 1971 saw younger citizens earn the right to cast their ballots, when the United States lowered the benchmark of the voting rubicon from 21 to 18, after much heated Congressional debates.

Democratic elections are naturally definitive as they determine the leadership of the government in consonance with the laws and Constitution of the nation-state. Mere symbolic substitutes to monarchy and grandiose puppets do not gel with the sacrosanct ethicality of democratic practice, especially when the spectacle of elections is on an upswing in the star spangled United States of America.

US Elections: How does the Chief Executive gets Elected?

ARTICLE II of the US Constitution enumerates very vividly the grandiose provisions which entail the selection of the most powerful man in the world:

Section 1: The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the term of four years, and, together with the Vice-President, chosen for the same term, be elected, as follows:

Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the state may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit
under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.

When the shots are being called through mailers and telemarketing in the United States, the election event amounts to a widely followed and cheered superbowl game which always culminates in a nail-biting finishe. The showmanship associated with elections in the US is similar to the hysteria spawned by the media during the time of national catastrophes and wartime, as was the case in the Vietnam War, the mother of all battles, and the twin Persian Gulf Wars in the years 1991 and 2003 in the Mesopotamian wastes of Iraq. American Elections 2008 are no different than the past spectacles in oratory and rumbustious rhetoric emerging out of the television screens with the polarised scenario in the La Politique in the United States.

The Electoral Process: Process of Indirect Voting

WHAT Graham Wallas commented in his Human Nature and Politics, appears to be the order and calling of the US Presidential candidates. Graham Wallas aptly commented for politics in general: “If a man were to be followed and televised by a seasoned by an able and capacitious, cinematographer and a director and presented with his daily activities on the next day, then he will be immensely perturbed and disturbed at what he had been doing throughout the day. He would be taken aback at the picturisation of the myriad illogical and irrational tasks which he has been undertaking throughout the day.” Thus, such is the busy, complex and often followed life of a US Presidential candidate if he or she is willing to let his or her wares out early in the presidential campaign in order to woo the multitude of voters for the electoral college. American denizens do not directly vote for the candidate-designate but instead vote for the electoral colleges composed of voters present all across the length and breadth of the state.

The US electoral college comprises of delegates from the respective size and demographics of their state. Each state votes with all the delegate strength for the candidate after the delegates at the state level have been chosen by the electorate, that is, an adult population of the whole state. The process is repeated twice, once for the primaries which is an inter-party selection process for the designation of the Republican and the Democratic parties, which are the twin political parties in the fray in the political firmament of the United States. Apart from that, the in-party election takes place in the states wherein all the coterie of the delegates decide to cast their vote in the favour of one single presidential delegate. Thus, the process of the primaries begins from the first week of January when the states of Iowa and then, New Hampshire go for the election of their party candidates for the plum position of the President.

The first five primaries of the order of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida are the deciders before the time limit of February 5, 2008, after which another twenty states will go for their pristine primaries. Nevada is an earnestly Hispanic dominated state; South Carolina is infested with Black dominance and Florida happens to be one of the sizeable states in the American Union. Thus, the humanly concerns of immigration and race relations rule the roost in the US jamboree. In Iowa and New Hampshire alone, 4.3 million of the US populace thrive and make a telling statement in the all significant elections. Also, the pricey Pentathlon has been unnecessarily metamorphosing the two- year calendar of the happening and a multi- dimensional American polity. Too much of an early significance is attached to the small states, kicking-off primaries and the caucuses.

Concurringly, the US election procedure till the end of the year witnesses the states polling their votes for the Presidents. The American Commander-in-Chief takes the sacred oath, on the first Monday, following the first Tuesday of the month of January. This time around the spectacle will come to a fruition in the month of January 2008, when the humdrum Hillaries, omniscient Obamas and the redoubtable Rudy Guiliani take the oath of office after the year-long cascade of political developments and shifting sands of time posit the issues before the hoi polloi of the United States of America, the Citadel on Mount Sinai, as perceived by the Grand Old Party, the Republicans.

Every President is constitutionally permitted two Presidential terms of two years each after which he or she is directed to abdicate in the favour of the elected candidate. This process has been religiously followed since the Grand Old Presidency of President Roosevelt by a constitutional amendment. It’s party time for the candidates and their dedicated supporters, since the election jamboree gets flagged off. The contest at the television hosts’ doorsteps gets initiated and the entire compendium of the adherent machinary gets embroiled in the year long spectacle populated by pristine placards and bedecked rostrums. Fun, gaiety and propaganda machineries are set rolling for the greater and tougher electoral battles that lie ahead. The basic process of selecting the President of the United States is spelled out in the US Constitution, and it has been modified by the 12th, 22nd, and 23rd amendments. Many additional steps have been added over the years, by custom and by state law, the process has changed quite a bit over time.

The President and Vice-President are elected every four years. They must be at least 35 years of age, they must be native-born citizens of the United States, and they must have been residents of the US for at least 14 years. (Also, a person cannot be elected to a third term as President.)
As an interesting and tongue-in-cheek snippet, shortly after JFK’s inaugural address, his Republican opponent Richard Nixon graciously related to Ted Sorenson (Kennedy’s aide) that there were certain things in the address which he himself would like to have said. “Do you mean the part about ‘Ask not what your country can do for you’?” Sorenson asked. “No,” Nixon retorted back, “the part beginning with I do solemnly swear....”

The Butterfly Vote: An Exercise in Isolation

ANOTHER comicality intertwined with the US elections involves the Presidential candidate, Al Gore. In December 2002, Al Gore gave a much-lauded performance as the host of “Saturday Night Live”. The good news about not being President is that I have my weekends free,” he announced in the opening monologue. “The bad news is that my weekdays are also free.” Gore’s best line about “losing” the election in 2000 is known to be as follows. “America is a land of opportunity,” he joked, “where every little boy and girl has a chance to grow up and win the popular vote.” This intended sarcasm casts a doubt at the sacred intent of the US electoral jamboree, where too much of a democracy can be quite a handful for the Citizen Caines in the US if the selection turns out to be a faulty and besmirched—one akin to the Butterfly vote—wherein Al Gore lost to George Bush Junior even after winning the largest chunk of votes till the infamous Florida recount.

The Florida Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the Seminole county absentee ballot application challenges. At about 10 pm EST, the US Supreme Court issued the 5-4 decision in Gore versus Bush reversing the Florida Supreme Court and ruled that the manual recounts cannot be conducted in a constitutional manner in the time remaining. On December 13, seeing no legal recourse from the US Supreme Court ruling, Gore conceded defeat. Further on, the December 14, Florida Supreme Court dismissed Gore versus Harris on a remand. Thus, the butterfly vote scandal, wherein the US electorate was duped nationally by President Bush and his Floridian judicial cabal, witnessed a manual recount in some Florida counties which were later on annulled by the US Supreme Court. Thus, this subtle electoral obfuscation persisted for the crucial months of November and December, thus sealing the fate of Al Gore, who dually and ceremoniously telephoned the Republican-designate, Bush, to concede defeat but the Florida Constitution was invoked in a studied matter-of-fact manner which settled the presidential bull-run for a recount as the margin of the lead was too slim according the Floridian electoral code.

Immigration, too, appears to be an unnerving theme de facto for the American voters. In fact, Republicans of the order of John McCain, who also happens to be a presidential candidate, break ranks from their mother ship on election day and support themes like driving licenses for the illegal immigrants, once their unfortunately placed lot has been regularised. “From a political perspective, having a candidate that takes on all the tough issues is not always the most politically expedient thing to do,” said David Roederer, the chairman of McCain’s campaign in Iowa. Asked what he would like to see happen on immigration, Roederer laughed and said: “Wind the clock back and forget that this issue ever came up!”

Democrats of the yolk of Hillary Clinton, too, perforce promoted the alien citizen theme, but when it comes to pinpointing preferences, she ducked the baton and did not ride astride the bandwagon of legitimising “driving licenses” for the naturalised immigrants. Also, the Republican candidate Rudy Guiliani, the ex-New York Mayor, was vehemently attacked by another presidential hopeful, Mat Romney, and alleged tjat the Point Zero-Mayor had turned the city into “A Sanctuary City”, where illegal immigrants, were being schematically homogenised in the proud and varied American population. In his feuding turn, Rudy Giuliani, nomenclatured Mat Romney to be surviving in a “Sanctuary Mansion”, wherein one of the land mowers tending to his garden was an illegal immigrant. Thus, it all amounts to a valueless joke but the impact of it is of mammoth and telling proportions.

Which Side will the Jungle Turn: The Funny Stead or the Ebullient Elephant?

AROUND this furlong, the nation’s “voting visage” focuses on the twin elements of “change” and “experience” conditionalties. Barrack Obama might be indubitable and unfazed despite his want of years in the Administration, still he has committed less flip-fops in the critical light of the Hillary’s persona as magnified under the public lens. Hillary has turned her auspices into hilarious proportions by unduly aiming for the throat of Barrack Obama’s persona on the national radar and apart from that she has seemingly initiated an unceremonious revolution by jumping off her husband’s free trade bandwagon, which leaves her in a tricky no-man’s land. Thus, she has been transformed into flippancy and intemperance personified, but Obama has not come under the public scanner in a massive transparent manner by now. All this mighty and wordy analysis comes into play when one assumes that the Iraqi conundrum hangs like a dragon over Republican heads; so the chances of an indomitable and gutsy Guiliani and a hungry-for-success Huckabee are perceived to be a long shot in the sky. Whoever pips the rest to the post, the themes of immigrations, international terrorism, Homeland security, personal freedoms and Iraq and the much talked about health sector remain every soul’s pet peeve. The “Surge” cannot be tapped in by the Democrats as it is reflecting a palpable success for Uncle Sam since its much crucial inception in the land of the Baghdadi “Green Zone”, which is emblematic of what the Middle East is all about.

A quintessential Chief De Mission, needs to be a multi-utility figurehead who can symbolise what the New World and the New America is all about. He needs to rise above sham ideologies and attempt a turn around in an economy plagued by recession along with reforms in the health and pension funds stream. The foreign policy too needs to be a balanced stratagem betwixt non- interventionism and complete sequestration of the United States akin to the pre-Philippines days in the beginning of the tumultuous twentieth century. An indomitable Hillary can bounce back since the Obama lead is only for the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries and Obama is hard-pressed for his want of experience credentials. Fingers will be crossed since the September 11 histrionics of a capacitious Rudy Giuliani are a licence in an America riddled and scarred with the wounds of the “Black Tuesday” fear psychosis, best exemplified by the codes of Orange, Yellow and Red standing forth as the ballistic barometers of the homeland threats being felt by the American polity. If super-terrorism is here to stay, then Guiliani can be trusted to deliver.

“Among the novel objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me more forcibly than ‘the general equality’ of condition among the people. I readily discovered the prodigious influence that this primary fact exercises on the whole course of society. It imparts a peculiar direction to public opinion and a peculiar tenor to the laws. It imparts new maxims to the governing authorities and peculiar habits to the governed.” These outpourings from the political thinker, Alex De Tocqueville, beautifully and succinctly sum up the collective ethos of the US society and polity which gears itself up for yet another bout of a historically significant happening and an immensely engaging election process. Bon Voyage, The American Denizens!

REFERENCES

(1992) The Withering Away of the Totalitarian State (Washington: AEI Press, September, 1992), page nos. 12-50.

Alex De Tocqueville (1842), “Democracy in America” (Online: Web), accessed on December 31, 2007, URL: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper/DETOC/toc_indx.html.

John Dunn (2006), Democracy: A History, (New Hampshire: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006), page nos. 100-120.

“The Constitution” (2007), (Online: Web) Accessed on January 1, 2008, URL: http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/provisions.html

Douglas Kellner (1992), Persian Gulf Television War (Colorado: Press, 1992), page nos. 112-150.

Graham Walls (2004), Human Nature in Politics (Germany: Gutenberg Press, 2004), page nos. 100-120.

Linda Granfield (2003), “America Votes: How the American President is Elected” (Toronto: Kids Can Press. Ltd, 2003), page nos. 10-20.

Rhodes Cook (2000), US Presidential Primary Elections: A Handbook of Election Statistics (Washington: Congressional Quarterly Books, 2000), page nos. 20-60.

“The Presidential Race: In Praise of the Primaries” (The Economist, December 22, 2007), page nos. 12-15.

Ibid.

Kenneth C. Martis, J. Clark Archer (2006), Historical Atlas of US Presidential Elections (Washington: CQ Press, 2006) pp. nos. 10-50.
(2007)

“How The US President is Elected” (Online : Web) Accessed on December 31, 2007, URL: http://www.enchantedlearning.com/election/howpresi selected.shtml

Ibid.

Ralph Nader (2002), Crashing the Party: Taking on the Corporate Government in an Age of Surrender (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002), page nos. 12-50.

Garvin Karunaratne (2004), The Administrative Bungling that Hijacked the 2002 Elections (Lanham : University Press of America, 2004), page nos. 50-100.

Tony Sutin, “Presidential Election Law” (Online : Web) accessed on December 31, 2007, URL: http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/election/electiontime.htm

Michael D. Shear (2007), “Immigration Stance is costly for McCain”(Washington: The Washington Post, June 28th, 2007), page A01.

Ibid.

“Cooking up a Row: Immigration and the Presidential Race” (The Economist, December 15, 2007), page 20-21.

“Barrack Obama: The Triumph of Hope over Experience” (The Economist, December 22, 2007), pages 20-24.

“The National Security Archive: National Security Council Electronic Briefing, Book No. 55” (Online:Web), Accessed on January 1, 2008, URL: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB55/index1.html

Glenn E. Schweitzer (1998), Super Terrorism: Assassins, Mobsters, and Weapons of Mass Destruction (New York: Plenum Press, 1998), page Nos. 1-40.

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