The American Vote This Year

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american-vote.jpgBeing an American in this hour of crisis isn’t easy. It comes with a feeling of responsibility and it does not come easily. There is a sense of expectation now, particularly amongst certain people, especially those who are not presently in America. They are not especially involved. Theirs is a perspective that is more distant, more open to other possibilities, of the idea that the outcome of this election need not necessarily ‘change’ things.

Last year, I read ‘Living History’, Hillary Clinton’s autobiography. In the book, and from it, I derived a sense of purpose unlike any I had read of before. Politically, it is difficult to be purposeful anymore; decisions and political contingencies are directed by a formlessness in the minds of a collective political ‘agency’ which decides things in ways that are unavailable to public scrutiny, or even the public imagination. The public imagination normally catches on to the important issues of the day, and it, ideally, spurs decisive action forward. In these times, it’s difficult to decide what the ‘agency’ wants, or what the ‘agency’ thinks necessary for its own survival. Most of these decisions are later very petrifying. In India, we languor under the imposition of gargantuan laws that forbid the movement of society on the right path forward, like in the direction of ‘egalitarian’ opportunities. Here, we labour under a very scary delusion – we think that political short-cuts and ‘affirmative’ privileges will propel us toward the best society conceivable. In fact, I think we don’t even do ourselves the dignity of a delusion. We just move along, complicit in the guilt that comes with the knowledge that some of the system is open to the worst kind of abuse.

One of the great things about the US presidential election is that it never seems to end. In theory, it is held once every four years on a single Tuesday between November 2 and 8. (In 2008, it’s November 6.) In reality, it amounts to several years of round-the-clock speculation, careful positioning, and fundraising. And then it starts all over again.

The campaign begins with an informal series of public gestures and fundraising. Future Democratic and Republican party candidates proclaim that they’re ‘undecided’ and must first conduct ‘listening tours’ in, naturally, the most electorally significant parts of the country. Those who are more serious usually form exploratory committees – halfway houses on the way to a candidacy – that allow them to fundraise without risking a full-blown, embarrassing campaign collapse. Those who get a warm-enough reception formally declare that they are seeking the nomination from their respective party.

One of the great things about the US presidential election is that it never seems to end. In theory, it is held once every four years on a single Tuesday between November 2 and 8. (In 2008, it’s November 6.) In reality, it amounts to several years of round-the-clock speculation, careful positioning, and fundraising. And then it starts all over again.

The campaign begins with an informal series of public gestures and fundraising. Future Democratic and Republican party candidates proclaim that they’re ‘undecided’ and must first conduct ‘listening tours’ in, naturally, the most electorally significant parts of the country. Those who are more serious usually form exploratory committees – halfway houses on the way to a candidacy – that allow them to fundraise without risking a full-blown, embarrassing campaign collapse. Those who get a warm-enough reception formally declare that they are seeking the nomination from their respective party. Those party nominations are determined by a series of state primary elections, most of which are scheduled between January and April of the election year. Each state has some latitude to determine how this process plays out and, because the earlier states are the most influential, there is significant pressure to grab a spot at the front of the calendar – pressure that has led to a glut of primary elections on February 5, known as ‘Super Tuesday’.

There are also slight differences from state to state, in how these primary elections are conducted. On the basis of these primary returns, the individual states send delegates to national party conventions, which are held sometime during the summer before the November general election. All the while, candidates must travel the country – giving speeches, participating in candidates’ forums and debates, and, of course, raising money. Candidates are allowed to raise a maximum of $2,300 (£1,150) from each individual donor in both the primary and the general election – for a maximum of $4,600 per person. The primaries culminate with the two parties’ national conventions, which are held over the course of several days in carefully selected cities. (This year the Democrats are holding their convention on August 25-28 in Denver, and the Republicans on September 1-4 in Minnesota.) But even though the candidates are, with rare exceptions, in place when the conventions roll around, the weeklong summits are important: they are perhaps the best – and most public – occasion a candidate will have to generate fresh excitement about his or her campaign. The rare exception is when there is a “hung convention” – when no candidate has a clear majority of delegates. But in the modern era of primary contests, dating back to 1972, this has never happened.

One of the scariest things about the possibilities opened up by one of the campaigns is the use of ‘race’ as leverage, as an issue that determines the reasons why one person qualifies, yet again in a strange, retributive kind of way against a system that has a history of denied opportunity. This again , bears some resemblance to the Indian system- the idea that past denial of some kind serves as reasonable qualification in the present. It doesn’t, and it can never. It serves as an invidious wall that barricades actual affirmative action. It plagues the whole system in a way that cannot be corrected logically. It cannot even be seen from the outside. It becomes this improperly hidden thing that refuses to show. That’s why it will be worthwhile noticing the repercussions this inverted prejudice produces and will certainly produce in the coming time if the election turns successful for the candidate who stands for ‘change’. Change is such a frightening euphemism for things we cannot understand.

Arjun Rajkhowa

[Image Courtesy: www.intute.ac.uk/…/images/feature59.jpg]

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