Posts Tagged ‘Democrats’

Back when Barack Obama was still duelling banjos with Hillary Clinton over the Democratic Party nominations, there was a huge flurry of speculation as to who black women would vote for, and how conflicted they must be feeling, forced (as the media had it) to choose between the first African-American president and the first female president.

If the language of those discussions was anything to go by, many people were already sure the Democrats would win; or maybe, given that neither candidate was the first woman/African-American to run for president, it was simply more exciting to assume that one of them would succeed. Whatever the reason, however, more commentators than not focused on Clinton as the (potential) First Female President, just as Obama was then, and is now, the First African-American President, and these perceptions dominated discussion.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been cheering for Obama since last year, and the significance of his being the first African-American president is not lost on me. That being said, the Democratic primaries and all their attendant speculations on whether race would trump gender made me extremely angry: because the ultimate display of non-prejudice is to vote in someone regardless of ethnicity or sex, simply because that person is the best candidate for the job. When the media based all their commentary on the face of these two qualities, they only served to emphasise the problem: that these are things we should be above considering, but aren’t.

Look at this another way. Historically, when both candidates have¬†shared the same gender and¬†pigmentation,¬†the media¬†focus has been on policy. If (and, inevitably, when) the debate has veered¬†into personal territories, it’s been¬†understood as the triumph of our human fondness for gossip, but not lauded as a vital part of the political process. Often, in fact, it has been condemned – rightly, too. So when Obama and Clinton first locked horns, it angered me that here we had¬†two powerful, intelligent competitors – equal underdogs, if you like –¬†stuck in a process where most of¬†what passed for commentary hinged on¬†the twin novelties of their¬†gender and parentage.

To cut a long story short: I am vastly more enthused by the idea of Barack Obama as an intelligent, forward-thinking¬†leader¬†than I am by his being¬†the first¬†black president. Because the real point of mentioning his race is, ironically, to prove that it doesn’t matter: that skill, regardless, of the body in which it resides,¬†should always¬†speak for itself.

Which brings us to Sarah Palin; or, rather, to the nebulous-yet-worrying notion that she¬†plans to¬†run for office in 2012. Maybe.¬†It’s less a plan at this point than an unfertilised potential plan, and¬†at best, it’s a tiny wee zygote. Nonetheless, moose-lovers and moose-haters everywhere¬†have pounced on it with a kind of animal glee, whipping themselves into a frenzy over what is right now, and will be for at least the next three years, zip,¬†nill and nada.

But. (You knew there’d be one.)

Even from her supporters, and especially not from her critics,¬†the obvious phrase which hasn’t stuck to Palin – ever – is First Female President.¬†The¬†women¬†who rallied to Clinton (and who, pointedly, threatened to turn Republican¬†once Obama won) have not subsequently rallied to¬†Palin.¬†There’s a variety of good reasons for this, ranging upwards from She’s¬†Not My Type, through She’s¬†A Republican and into the land of She’s A¬†Raving Imbecile, Are You Insane?, because to say that¬†Palin polarises is an understatement akin to comparing the Grand Canyon with a cracked pavement. But the point,¬†the lesson we should take from Sarah Palin,¬†regardless of what happens (or doesn’t happen) in 2012, is this:

That supid people can run for president too, and that not all of them are middle-aged white men.  

Because stupidity doesn’t have a gender. Poor leadership doesn’t have an ethnicity. The flaws of the human race are universal. Margaret Thatcher’s femalehood didn’t make her a fluffy bunny, nor did it make her intelligent, left-wing, determined, frivolous or anything other than biologically capable of falling pregnant. Obama’s race, undeniably, was responsible for the influx of black voters this past election, but it’s not what makes him suited to leadership, nor should it be the sole reason for which we laud him.

The moral of this story is: don’t be dazzled by what shouldn’t matter. If we truly are building a world of equal citizens, we should be free to vote¬†for or against¬†women and black candidates, not because of who they are, but because of the strength of their policies.

Now that’s democracy.

Dear America,

You are imploding. You are imploding so powerfully, so utterly, so comprehensively, that the ever-hungry vortex of your doom is like a star gone nova. Last night, I dreamed that John McCain and Barrack Obama could both fly like Superman, debating each other as they pirouetted and bounced off the skyscrapers of New York, only to look down and notice, all-too-belatedly, that the ground was collapsing beneath the city, giant sinkholes opening up as chunks of pavement crumbled into them, yawning into great black¬†depths of nothing. I don’t mind saying, I woke up with a feeling of dread like I should apply for a Goddam prophecy permit, but then again, realising the obvious hardly makes me Miss Cleo. You are hurting, America, hurting bad, and like a dog with a broken leg, you’re lashing out with crazed, unbalanced¬†mania.

First: that $700 billion bailout? In the immortal words of William Butler Yeats, Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” Put another way, without land in sight, there is only so much distance you can sail a sinking ship before even bailing becomes ineffectual. What you need are structural repairs,¬†while¬†the best you can currently¬†do is¬†limp for land¬†faster, the better to haul out, turn the whole thing belly-up and work some serious shipwrighting mojo. And hey, Wall Street? I’ve got a reality check (not cheque) for you. It’s a major election year. You’ve screwed things up. You’ve screwed up royally. Maybe in the past you could take a golden handshake and walk away smelling of Midas roses, but right here, now, there’s two would-be presidents locking horns like a couple of twelve-tine harts in rutt, and you, my friends,¬†are the fat ole’ tree they’re going to shine their ivories on. Good luck with that.

That’s another thing: the election. Way back in Season 2, remember that episode of The Simpsons where Bart and Martin ran against each other for class president? Bart dominated the campagin, won all the popular support and¬†even held a preemptory victory party under the slide, while Martin ended up a sweating, shivering, nervous wreck. But Martin won: because only Martin and one other person remembered to vote.¬† And America, let me speak frankly: if you vote McCain and Palin in through apathy and fear, the rest of the world will not forgive it lightly. You have laughed – or rather, certain of your media has laughed – at Obama’s popularity overseas while simultaneously scorning his lack of foreign policy experience. The fact that this isn’t touted as an obvious contradiction should set off alarm bells, because we – the people who, in future, will need to be most impressed by the President’s l337 n3g0ti47ing s|<i11z – are impressed already.¬†Contrast to Sarah Palin, a woman I wouldn’t trust to run a primary school fete, who still thinks the proximity of Alaska to Russia¬†equals foreign policy¬†experience.

Your own media has already kept you well abreast of troubles in the McCain camp, and the economic dangers they’re so willing to hide behind in order to avoid debating¬†anything that¬†hasn’t stopped in the interim. If your eyes are half open, you know the score, even if the sacrosanct Laws of Armchair Sport forbid you to ask who’s playing or what game it is; and if your eyes are wilfully closed, there’s little I can do but weep with mine.

But oh, America, if you stumble now, then Yeats was right: mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

It’s hard to know whether the near-constant presence of Barrack Obama in the global media of late – compared to¬†the marked absence of John McCain from anything outside the American press – is¬†the result of a¬†broader campaign, a¬†reflection¬†of its success, or simply based on the novelty of a black American presidential candidate.¬†It might even¬†be a mixture of all three. But reading today about Obama’s stirring speech to a crowd of 200,000 in Berlin, it struck me that the¬†crux of this election¬†isn’t experience, race or even – to a certain extent – the age-old battle between Republican and Democrat. No.¬†Come 4 November 2008, what the American people will¬†vote on is a choice between isolationism and¬†a policy of global cooperation.

Throughout¬†history, American isolationism has had a sporadic role in world politics, notably in 1914¬†at the outbreak of WWI. While¬†George Bush’s attitude to foreign affairs doesn’t fall exactly into this category, his attitude has long been one of America versus The World, dividing the planet into those for the War on Terror and those against, an approach¬†which has¬†entailed precious little middleground and not much elbow-room for diplomacy.¬†As a policy, isolationsim¬†tends to suggest a self-assuredness that the country in question reigns supreme – in its own opinion, anyway¬†–¬†and therefore need not sully its hands in external affairs, except as a kind of global policeman.¬†Bush has simply pushed this to the next logical point: active interference, rather than passive, but still with the view that America is prima inter pares.

Should McCain be elected President, it seems likely that this approach will continue, possibly followed by a return to genuine isolationism, should circumstances allow. Certainly, I can’t see the opposite happening. Almost exclusively,¬†his pitch has been to the American people – pragmatic, in the sense that these are, after all, his voters, but symptomatic of a mindset which says: the rest of you can go hang. We haven’t asked for your opinion, and we sure as hell aren’t going to.

By contrast, Obama has set out not just to woo his constituency, but the world at large. And it’s working. Whether¬†or not other nations like America or agree with¬†its current foreign policy,¬†it remains an indsiputable superpower, and for many governments, the thought of a President who might actually bring their kind of diplomacy to the table, regardless which party he belongs to, is an exceedingly welcome change. As far as campaigns go, it portrays foresight, shrewd politics and a view that America needs to take the rest of the world into consideration – to compromise, not just¬†when a strongarm approach has failed, but because it’s good politics to do so.

But the question, as always, rests with American voters. Can¬†enough of them¬†be persuaded to care what the rest of the world thinks? Is the idea of a change in foreign policy more attractive than the prospect of same-old, same-old? Have the failings of the Bush government resonated strongly enough that McCain can’t play to the idea of change = danger, familiarity =¬†safe?¬†Does¬†increased global confidence in the President rate as an important electoral¬†consideration? Or is the idea of foreign policy beyond¬†military commitments¬†so far off the radar that when the polls open, everything will hinge on the pitch-and-toss of national concerns?

I can’t be sure. But as a citizen of the world beyond the States, I know what my plea to voters is.

Choose, America. But choose wisely.