Saturday, October 02, 2004

Decision 2004, Reprinted

The following is an article by the owner of this blog, from The Ridge, the official NUS campus magazine. It appeared in the October 2004 issue.

The 2004 US presidential election promises to be among the more interesting ones in recent history. As its status as the world’s sole superpower grows as a result of a series of unilateral aggressions against sovereign states (with debatable results, necessity and international support), American politics is becoming more and more relevant to those abroad.

How It Works

Contrary to popular belief, public opinion in the United States is not split into two neat halves. The great American electorate actually breaks down into thirds. Incumbent George W. Bush controls a third on the right, challenger John F. Kerry controls a third on the left, and then we have the centre, called swing-voters, who do not hold loyalties to either party. It is the swing-voters that John F. Kerry and George W. Bush are trying to woo, and it is the swing-voters that ultimately decide who the president will be. They constitute a mere 10% of the electorate.

The centre has been behind the incumbent for the large part of George W. Bush’s 4-year tenure. They supported him during his invasion of Afghanistan soon after the attacks of September 11th, 2001 and they largely supported his alarmist and grossly misinformed arguments for an invasion of Iraq.

American casualties in Iraq, however, have crossed the 4-digit boundary to a thousand and are still going strong. Pictures of Abu Ghraib haunt the American military’s reputation. With Bush’s tax cuts explicitly favoring the rich, a larger proportion of the 200-billion-dollar cheque for the war in Iraq comes from the middle class, and only two years after a record budget surplus the nation has the largest budget deficit in history.

With parameters such as these surpassing psychologically important levels, and an increasingly critical media brought to shame for its reproachfully biased dissemination of the administration’s pitch for war in early 2003, George W. Bush should have something to worry about when appealing to the votes of the centre swing-voters.

The Race

Bush’s continued competitiveness, and near lead, in public opinion polls, however, comes to show exactly how ambivalent the public is. Though not too keen on Bush, swingers do not seems too keen on Kerry either.

Bush’s lead on Massachusetts Senator Kerry owes heavily to his publicized persona as an established wartime president and Kerry’s fundamental disadvantages as a “waffler.” Only two senators throughout American history have actually gone on to become presidents. Senators have to pass many votes for and against bills of similar themes under different circumstances and these public records can be used with remarkable effectiveness to challenge a contender’s decisiveness and credibility.

In addition, re-election bids are more of a referendum on the incumbent’s performance in the past 4 years than an election. It is more of a decision as to whether or not the incumbent has done things well enough rather than a 50-50 choice, so the election is essentially Kerry’s to lose.

A Bipartisan Farce

American foreign policy as of late has shifted toward “pre-emptive strikes” and “regime change.” It insists on both safety at home and touts the noble cause of (selectively) endowing democracy abroad to those under the yoke of tyranny. Despite the noble rhetoric, America has the lowest and most class-skewed voter turnout among any Western democracy.

Tens of millions of voters regularly abstain from presidential elections, with a less than 50% voter turnout in 2000. The class gap is marked, with only 40% of eligible citizens in families with incomes of less than $15,000 voting, compared to 76% of families with incomes of more than $75,000 during the 1996 elections. The gap is projected to have increased in subsequent elections.

A significant portion of potential voters (and ultimate abstainers) in America look at bipartisan politics very skeptically. The Democrats and the Republicans, to them, is much like Coke and Pepsi; same product, different packaging. Their skepticism also owes itself to the fact that American politics revolves largely around big business. Six out of ten of Bush’s major campaign contributors are financial firms, and Kerry fares no better.

Noam Chomsky rather harshly contends that democracy in America “is to be construed as the right to choose among commodities.” Chomsky, a professor of linguistics at MIT and notable intellectual, maintains that real issues such as the economy and jobs are pushed to the background, and superficial vagaries such as “qualities,” “leadership” and “personality” are brought into the fore to marginalize the public and transfer decision-making to “unaccountable private power systems,” a “virtual Senate” of private investors and lenders.

Exploitation of a Tragedy

The Republican campaign insists that September 11th 2001 changed the face of the world forever. As such, only an experienced “wartime” president would be fit for the role, or else, as Dick Cheney stated on September 7th 2004 to reporters in Iowa, America could be hit again.

The attacks on September 11th 2001 were carried out on American soil, and represented a level of creativity not imagined possible by terrorists. Yet, according to their own investigations, the attacks were in planning for years before their near-flawless execution. It marked the beginning of a “War on Terror,” though it being dubious at best to declare war on an abstract noun.

America’s over-emphasis on terrorism has become a sickness of sorts among politicians and bureaucrats around the world. When questioned with the possibility of negotiations with the terrorists of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Beslan bungle on September 6th, 2004 Vladimir Putin cited the possibility of the United States negotiating with Bin Laden. To leverage the severity of the crisis, links to Al Qaeda were mentioned, which have since been discredited. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal called Al Qaeda attacks on Saudi soil on May 12th 2003 “our 9/11.” Former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani perversely stipulated August 30th 2004 that the nation owes it to the victims of 9/11 to re-elect George W. Bush.

When foreign and domestic politicians use a tragedy shamelessly and repeatedly to push their own agenda, it no longer becomes a tragedy. It becomes a marketing tool. The Republican insistence on a “new world” based on the gruesome events of September the 11th 2001 and the follow-up scare tactics are a masterful execution of the first rule of thumb in politics: when in trouble, change the topic.

The election next November can go either way, but both ways are similar enough in terms of foreign policy (most relevant to us) to cause worry. As the United States continues to dominate the world political and military scene, the chances of the common man coming under its thumb continue to increase. Despite the great freedoms endowed by the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Allies almost 60 years ago, the subversion of public awareness and exploitation of the media threatens the fabric of free society and the right to self-governance, and ultimately undermines international law as has now become painfully apparent. From this side of the ocean, however, all we can do is watch.

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I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)