Friday, March 14, 2008

A ridiculous democracy

I've yet to meet an American who understands the election system sufficiently clearly to explain its very basics -- how the electoral college is formed, how delegates are chosen, why there's no standardized procedure for various parties and states, why there are only two viable parties (I'm not going to digress here into viability, and how the Democrats could be so asinine as to nominate John Kerry), and so on. And that's saying something, because I've lived in the US for almost nine years, the entire time amongst politically and historically well-informed Americans (won't digress into my views on academic liberals here, either - saving them for another time). So I'm not talking about Americans who can't find the US on a world map.

So the illusion that passes for democracy in the US is largely an agglomeration of commercials, soundbites, pixels, poll numbers scrolling through our days like the codes on Neo's computer screen, and meaningless "what-if" analyses that seem to exist primarily to fill up the 24 hours on the 24-hour channels:

US politics is not a reality that's reflected in those images and sounds, but played out through them: it's 100% illusion. If M. Diderot were here, perhaps he'd say Americans, like children, prefer to be entertained rather than to be informed: take Bush's brazen "mission accomplished" spectacle and of course the Swiftboating of Kerry. How could these even happen?!!?? We in other parts of the world are fed fairly detailed coverage of the ongoing Barack-Hillary spectacle. It's of no consequence to us, yet it's been front-page news on some days. True, they're only the primaries, and we shouldn't care. But they're entertainment! (It's kind of like the bootleg copies of the Starr report being sold by urchins at Mumbai traffic lights, years ago.) However, why Americans tolerate the travesty of their democracy, though, is a whole other question.

And while I'm not surprised Hillary and Barack would play the race and gender cards, I am surprised at how crassly: after her tri-state victory last week, Hillary emailed her supporters to say, "Together, we are making history and showing every little girl in America that she can be anything she wants to be." As one observer notes,

if Barack Obama emailed his supporters to say, "Together, we are making history and showing every little black in America that they can be anything they want to be," then the response would be an almighty “WTF?”. Which leaves me feeling pretty confident in my diagnosis of Billary as the all-time passive aggressive power-hungry hypocritical pantsuit...ever.

I disagree with the vehemence of that final assessment on the grounds that there are quite a few contenders for "all-time passive-aggressive power-hungry hypocritical ... ever" (women leaders who have stooped lower than Hillary for far less power do, unfortunately, exist, even where nobody is of much consequence in the larger scheme of things--like liberal arts colleges, ha, ha). But it's true that politics remains crudely and shockingly stuck in the identity groove even in a country that's so educated, that has moved past a terrible civil war, where women do have a relatively more visible place in public life, and where most women can earn some sort of living wage. As a woman from one of the most misogynistic cultures in the world, I am astounded at how retrograde Hillary's politics are. And I'm astounded that women's studies scholars are organizing talks and discussions to guide students on "how feminists should vote" in these primaries. That's a question only for those who choose their future president based on skin color and genitalia. What's there to discuss? You just vote for the person who has the best track record and program. Oh wait, that means voters have to actually do their homework and engage with the candidates. Never mind.

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