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Comment - US Primaries

SHOWTIME – US Primaries
James Skinner
What do Europeans think about the US Primaries?

‘Ask the average foreigner what a caucus is and he’ll probably think it is another variation of a hamburger. Ask him about the primaries and without doubt his response will relate it to a university campus in Ohio. ‘Why they go bananas practically half way through a presidential term to start advertising for a new one is crazy,’ said Pedro a taxi driver when I asked him what he thought about the forthcoming elections in the United States. ‘They should wait until a few months before the end of the term and then start the campaign. What a waste of money!’ he continued. My butcher’s reaction was slightly different. ‘Who the hell cares who wins, it’s always the same. Whether a Democrat or Republican gets in, the first thing they say is that they’re going to make this a better world to live in. Yeah, for them! They don’t care about anybody else!’

Every four years, when the United States election campaign takes off Americans spend the next twelve months thinking of nothing else. Newspapers, magazines, television chat shows and the average morning coffee break gossip in downtown Manhattan revolves around ‘who is going to be the next person to take over at the Oval office.

On the political front, the one who is already in power is trying his hardest to keep a hand on the tiller with the other poised on the panic button. The opposition, on the other hand, is in full throttle ahead to topple the bastard! Soon, the electoral circus begins to hit the trail across the whole country attacking every household, business, barber shop, whorehouse, leaving no stone unturned with the usual hoopla of "My candidate is the best in town. You can’t live without him - or her." The merits and the weaknesses of each will hit the centre pages by the dozen, from girly magazines and hairdressers leftovers to the ‘Fortune Five-hundred Readers Only’ ones. ‘If George screwed up Iraq, he’ll sure as hell do the same to Medicare.’ Is this for real? Or how about, ‘Kerry never gave up on his buddies in Vietnam. He’s a real regular guy who knows how to fight for you.’ Or, ‘Dean said ‘No’ to the Iraq war. He was right, Godammit!’

‘They’re so bloody introvert , it’s pathetic,’ says my Spanish dentist. To the average citizen of the outside world, the only thing that matters is how long will a new president take to realise that there is just that; an ‘Outside world’!

During the whole of the history of United States’ presidential campaigns, and this has not changed one bit, most of the issues raised for future solution are concentrated on present domestic problems. In a way, this is not unusual or uncommon in democratic countries around the world. But the United States is no ordinary country. It is and has been for decades, the most powerful and influential one on the planet. The United States of America has many weaknesses, and don’t we all know them, but it also has by far a large surplus of virtues. Whatever decision is taken by its government, whatever industrial product, scientific discovery or business method is introduced across the nation, the rest of the world clambers for the same and is always ready to jump on the bandwagon. And the beauty of it is that the USA is generally willing to accommodate and promote its achievements worldwide. Yet elections are something else. Most candidates do not really appreciate the power and influence that the country has on the rest of the world. In fact, international geopolitics is the last thing on their plate when they are flying or bussing around the country waving the ‘Stars and Stripes’ and letting off balloons at the stadiums.

When the time comes for promises on action directed at international issues they will undoubtedly relate to the ‘trouble of the month’ which is usually the one that is continually hitting the news headlines. If you go back in history, just a short while, Hitler’s threat to Europe in the thirties, the ‘Cold War’ through to the eighties, and now terrorism and the Middle East are the kind of foreign situations that the American electorate can relate to. They have been taught by the politicians to do so. They can link the crisis, and it usually is a crisis as a threat to their American way of life. On a parallel, they are influenced by consistent media bombardment of these themes. So when it comes to decision time, Aids in Africa, Global Warming or depletion of the Brazilian rain forests mean nothing to Mrs. Jones, who works in an Arkansas beauty saloon or Mr. Woodley, who runs a bakery in Minnesota. When they decide on Dean, Kerry, Bush or whoever, the vote will go for the candidate that offers to bring back the ‘boys’ from Baghdad by Christmas!

Let’s continue with this issue. The American public were brainwashed to think that the President of the United States actually had a direct control over what was happening in Iraq. They believed that a wrong or right decision could affect their own particular life style. Yet look what happened. There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction. The non-discovery has seriously undermined the present US government’s judgement of the situation and damaged its credibility. So what? Has it really affected life back in the US? Apart from hysterical security measures and grieving relatives of dead soldiers, not much. Mrs. Jones or Mr. Woodley will be no better or worse off.

But it has certainly turned the rest of the world upside down. Suicide bombers, travel restrictions, uncertainty on future world prosperity or lack of, are of more concern to the massive world population. These are real issues that can have a real catastrophic effect if equivocal future resolutions are taken by a new US presidency regardless of the political convictions. Every newly elected US President goes through a learning curve when it comes to what happens outside the country’s boarders. Sure, they are briefed until the cows come home on foreign policy, but nevertheless stumble into a pit the moment they open their mouths. Remember the famous statement of ‘Axis of Evil’? What good did that do? Not much except that it upset half the world.

The world respects a US President, whether they like him or not. But does the US President respect the rest of the world? That is the real question that the US electorate should ask before they place their votes on a incumbent candidate to the White House when he presents his electoral program on foreign affairs.’
© James Skinner. Feb 9th 2004.

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