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     Volume 7 Issue 37 | September 12, 2008 |

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Sex, Lies and The New World Order

Syed Zain Al-mahmood

It is the most important election in which we can't go to the polls. The US Declaration of Independence speaks of “a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind”. But of course it doesn't allow us non-Americans to vote.

Mc Cain's choice of running mate Sarah Palin can certainly rouse the Right.

Although we won't be turning out on November 4, it is safe to say the outcome of the US Presidential Election will impact our lives in more ways than one. Anyone who disputes this should think back to the year 2000 when George W Bush edged Al Gore in the race for the White House.

Eight years on, Bush and his clique of neo-conservatives have reinforced every negative stereotype the outside world ever held about the United States. The US economy is tanking, and American reputation is in tatters. From foreign policy to the environment, the Bush years have been an unmitigated disaster.

It is time for change. Everyone agrees that a new deal is needed. George W. Bush, hero of the social conservatives and the Christian Right, is deeply unpopular, with approval ratings at a record low. So much so that he was basically persona non grata at the Republican Convention earlier this month. Hurricane Gustav made a convenient excuse for him not to turn up. His Republican colleagues barely mentioned him. For a sitting two-term president, that is the ultimate ignominy.

“Change” has become the mantra of this election. It is fascinating to see both the Republican and Democratic candidates vying for the mantle of change. The Republican party has controlled the White House for the past eight years. Normally a party in power would be running on a platform of continuity. How bizarre that John McCain, a Republican senator for 26 years, would roar in his acceptance speech, “Change is coming to Washington!”

But is it really? And what kind of change is America ready for?

Barack Obama certainly signifies change. The historic nomination of an African-American (his father was African, his mother white) candidate occurred 45 years to the day since Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream" speech. But to say that Barack Obama's candidacy stands out because of his colour is an injustice. The man is the polar opposite of George Bush and John McCain. He is an exceptional candidate by any standards: Harvard Law degree, 12 years in state and federal government including Senate Foreign relations subcommittee - gives speeches so well that 200,000 people show up to see him..... in Berlin! He is a thoughtful and courteous man, with a knack of seeing both sides of an argument. President Obama would go a long way towards correcting the negative feelings the world has about America, and his years as a community organiser in Chicago mean he would fight for the middle class in America. Obama is young, fit and his campaign has broken new ground in using the internet to connect to voters. A once in a generation candidate. He should be winning hands down!

But he isn't.

The polls continue to show that the race is neck and neck. Barack Obama is up against not only John McCain, a Vietnam prisoner of war, but the mighty Republican PR machine. Democratic candidates from Clinton to Kerry have felt the bite and sting of the GOP juggernaut. This is the same public relations machine that portrayed George W Bush as a “compassionate conservative” who would bring America together. He turned out to be the most polarizing president in recent American history. It is the same propaganda apparatus that told Americans that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and the US must go to war to destroy Saddam's arsenal. On both occasions the American people listened. Will they listen again in 2008, or tune out? On that hinges the election.

Barack Obama is an agent of change. But is America ready for him?

The Republicans have tried to reinvent and redefine both candidates with the audacity born of their previous success in framing the debate. John McCain, 72-year old veteran of Washington, initially ran on experience and national security. McCain's campaign milked his Vietnam War experience at every opportunity. Even when the fabulously wealthy McCain was criticised for not knowing how many houses he owned at a time when Americans are reeling from the sub-prime mortgage crisis, McCain fell back on his POW experience. “Let me tell you a story. For five years in Vietnam, I didn't have a house…”

An all-American military hero, he is the man to lead us out of trouble was the Republican party line. But questions remained. If McCain was so wise and experienced, his critics asked, where was the happy warrior when we got into trouble in the first place? So the GOP decided to take the bull by the horns and try to seize the mantle of Change from Obama. At the GOP convention earlier this month, speaker after speaker painted McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin as the reformist duo. The idea that the veteran Republican senator who voted with Bush on nearly every issue would magically morph into an agent of change is a surreal one. The GOP's new deal looks like being the Bush deal in McCain's bottle. But will the American people be duped once again?

The right-wing media machine has tried to turn Obama's greatest strengths against him. When he said he would speak to Iran and North Korea to find diplomatic solutions first, the conservative pundits painted him as weak on national security. When his rallies drew phenomenal crowds all over America, they said he was nothing but “a celebrity” and ran TV ads showing Paris Hilton. When he went abroad and instantly hit it off with foreign leaders, they mocked him as “ a citizen of the world.” Harvard educated? That makes him “elitist”. Youthful candidate with fresh ideas? That means he is “inexperienced and untested”. If he is being serious he is “pompous”. If he is being lighthearted, he is “condescending”.

The Obama campaign has tried to fight back. But they are up against it. The GOP are masters of this game: overt show of patriotism, self-righteous indignation, character assassination and good old-fashioned intimidation all rolled into one potent political weapon. Nowhere was this cynical manipulation more evident than when the rookie governor from Alaska, Sarah Palin was unveiled as John McCain's running mate. Few people had ever heard of her, and the thought of this former mayor of a town of 6500 people in charge of the nation's nuclear hot button made even Republican pundits cringe. After hammering Obama on inexperience, McCain chose as his second in command someone who basically has no national or international perspective.

It is a cynical attempt to introduce sex as a political weapon. If her name was Sam instead of Sarah, would she have got the nod? The answer is no. Little is known about her, except that she has far-right views, scoffs at global warming, and is a former beauty queen.

Sarah Palin may or may not be a success. Some have called her “Cheney in skirts” for her conservative views and her support for oil companies. She can certainly rouse the Right. But the way McCain chose her speaks volumes about his judgment and decision-making. It turned out that he had only met her once before offering her the second most important post in America. It shows a potential recklessness, and a Bush-like preference for “gut-feeling” over facts that is scary. The GOP spin-doctors of course were scrambling to defend the decision. Alaska is close to Russia, said one, so she has to have some foreign policy savvy. And as commander of the Alaska National Guard, claimed McCain, “she has had national security as one of her primary responsibilities.” It turned out she had never issued a single command to the National Guard. Her reformist credentials were hurt when it was revealed that she was under investigation for abuse of power. McCain introduced her as a “great wife and mom.” And a champion of conservative family values. Then it came out that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant. No matter, said the McCain camp, it only shows that she is “real”.

At a pivotal moment in the nation's history, Republican strategists are trying to convince Americans that there are no real issues at stake here, it is all about identities. Who wears a flag on his coat, who worships at which Church, which candidate is “real” and who seems “patriotic”. And oh so subtly, this introduces the question of race.

“This election is not about issues so much as the candidates' images”, said the McCain campaign manager, Rick Davis, in one of the season's most cynical pronouncements.

But will Americans fall for it? The Democrats are hoping they won't. “The American people are smarter than that,” Barack Obama is fond of saying when confronted with smear campaigns.

For America's sake, and for the sake of the world at large, let us hope he is right.

The stakes couldn't be higher.

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