Rants 1 – On Politics

by vpundir | November 4th, 2008

Hopefully this is the last day of 24-hour politics that has had a 360-degree cobweb around us for almost 2 years. The 2 years have been very interesting, of course.

It is very intriguing that the party professing laissez-faire economic policies favors government intervention on social issues while the party in favor of government supervision actually supports a more “hands off” approach on social issues. It is quite clear, to me at least, that neither party believes in either “laissez faire” or “government mentoring” as a matter of principle. It is more about the voter groups that they have sewn together and what the top concerns of those groups are, however incompatible those demands may be at just one higher level of abstraction.

The only candidate to actually stick to “matters of principle” in this election season was Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, who ended up being a superflop in the Republican primaries.

In this context, I find it quite funny that the “right wing” party is represented by the red color (red states-blue states), which is also the color associated with communism (Red October, Red China, even Red Dawn).

This election has been called “historic” so many times based on the gender or race of individual candidates that many nations watch America bemusedly. Many of them are surprised that there’s (or at least was, till August) even so much talk about the gender or race of the candidates. Margaret Thatcher didn’t shock Britain probably because they had had a Queen for a little while, but even “backward” nations like Ukraine, Bolivia, Panama, Dominica and Sri Lanka had had female premiers by 1980.

India, yes that other big democracy, has had Presidents from Muslim (13.4% of population), Sikh (1.9% of population), and agnostic communities, in addition to the majority Hindu community, all without any hoopla. And yes, female too. Incidentally, in terms of party politics, of the 12 Indian presidents elected so far, 8 are identified as “Independents”.

But then again, India is a parliamentary democracy. So Prime Ministers are “more important” than Presidents. What about them? Hindu upper castes, Muslim, Sikh, Female, North Indian, South Indian, and, in a country often criticized for its legacy of caste-system, Hindu backward castes. In fact the scenario presented by the last election was very interesting: In a Hindu-majority country, a foreign-born Christian lady led her party to victory and asked a Sikh to be the Prime Minister, who was sworn-in by a Muslim President.

The point here is not to wax about how great India is, but that the candidates’ race, gender, religion, etc. should really be non-issues in the most advanced country in the world, and non-issues should not get much attention, leave alone such widespread media coverage, discussion and debate.

On that note, there has also been a lot of noise about Obama’s middle name, and the insinuation that he may be Muslim. The response from the Obama campaign, the Democratic party, almost all commentators with a pen or microphone, and Sen McCain has been that this simply is not true. It is a shame that these people haven’t stopped to add, “So what?” as in “No he is not Muslim. And if he were, so what?” You may like a candidate and his policies or not, but where and how exactly does the personal matter of faith come in?

And, as I tried to point out in the “Hamas endorses Obama…” post, unless a candidate is soliciting, seeking, acknowledging or honoring an endorsement from a person or organization, why should it matter who endorses him or her, when we clearly are unable to know the motives?

And about the candidates themselves:

We have one candidate who voted “present” as a state senator 129 times. On one hand this can be interpreted as apathy, and on the other as a meditated and measured attempt to not let real opinions known, and keep the option to choose popular positions later open.

On the other side, we have someone who ranked #894 out of 899 people graduating from Annapolis in 1958, crashed 5 planes (Aug 58, Jun 60, Nov 65, Jul 67, Oct 67…his first combat mission began summer 67), and in the past 2 years has abandoned almost everything (“agents of intolerance”, Roe v Wade, Tax cuts) that set him apart and earned him the maverick reputation that he’s fighting on.

While one has no foreign policy experience, the other claims he knows “how to win wars” without actually having won any war.

In politics one comes to expect the sin of spin, but one hopes that half-truths and misrepresentations, at least, can be avoided. But evidently the candidates themselves engage in the muckraking.

Obama says that McCain wants troops to remain in Iraq for 100 years, without disclosing that at the town hall meeting, McCain was referring to peace-time presence, not combat.

While McCain goes around telling everyone that Obama “told Georgia to exercise restraint” without bothering to mention that Obama actually asked “Russia and Georgia to exercise restraint”.

So what’s my point? Just that if instead of making sure that we are talking mostly about issues and ensuring that our “well reasoned” discussions are “fact based”, we see most of the discussions surrounding non-issues, misinterpretations and falsehoods, then something needs a little fixing.

Anyway, like 8 years ago, we are about to get a Harvard-educated president who promises change, who promises to elevate the level of discourse in Washington, to reach across party lines, and to exercise a non-interventionist foreign policy. Let’s see how the experiment works out this time around.

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