Saturday, May 24, 2008

U.S. elections, from a world away

By Carol Gee

The 2008 Presidential Elections are on the minds of many people. So much so, that it is hard to maintain any kind of a rational perspective. As my regular readers know, it is my practice to seek information from abroad as a way to combat that recurring problem of distorted reality.

Yesterday's visit was to Doha, Qatar, the headquarters of the notorious (in some quarters) mideast media giant, Aljazeera. In FOCUS US ELECTIONS 2008, Aljazeera's Special Section, we found some very good stuff. This intro to my post was chosen because I had a blog visitor from Doha, Qatar (World Atlas map; location - 25º 15' N, 51º 36' E ) recently. If that reader looked at Aljazeera's U.S. election coverage, he would notice it has a bit of a different take than the way the press here does. Other elements of the Middle East's premier news site's journalistic slant are entirely familiar.

McCain's about-face -- For example, the lead story reports on McCain's rejection of Pastor Hagee. The section has the entirely predictable (and probably useful) "Timeline: US elections," three standard candidate profiles, and "Q & A: The US electoral system." In an excellent feature article by Rob Reynolds in Washington DC, "US election diary: under par," the author's most "outrageous" passages included these, beginning with a quotation:

If I had my way, no man guilty of golf would be eligible to any office of trust under the United States." - H L Mencken.

The pre-emptive war in Iraq, started with lies and falsehoods, has gone on for more than five years now. It has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and fighters, killed either in clashes with US troops or other attacks, and many more driven from their homes. More than 4,000 troops have been killed as a result of the war, tens of thousands have been injured, and the total cost of the war to US taxpayers will run, by one highly respected economist's estimate, up to three trillion dollars.

But George Bush has also sacrificed something for the war effort: Golf. In a rather obsequious and fawning interview with the US newspaper Politico and Yahoo News, Bush disclosed that he was enjoying a game of golf in August 2003 when he got word that the United Nations building in Baghdad had been bombed. Bravely, Bush decided to make what in his mind he no doubt considered a major sacrifice: He put his clubs away for the duration.

. . . Unlike the US media pundits, who tend to focus on the ephemera of gaffes and goofs, many scholars studying deeper patterns of voter behaviour point to three factors as being decisive in a general election.

The state of the economy is first and most important: The party in power almost always suffers defeat if the economy is going sour. Second is the popularity (or lack thereof) of the incumbent president - if the sitting chief executive is unpopular, voters will spurn his party's candidate. And thirdly, there is the element of change: Rarely will the electorate support the party in power if it has already ruled for two four-year terms. By those criteria, McCain's chances of winning the White House do not look good.

Compare and contrast the two "Bs" -- It was worth the trip to Qatar just to read Marwan Bishara's fascinating piece, "Barack and Bill." A side by side comparison gives the perspective you will not find in the mainstream U.S. press. Here's a tasty morsel:

Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama grew up in broken families in modest homes but retained a dream that some day they would be president. They both had strong free-spirited mothers who left home and remarried, leaving the handsome little devils with their grandparents.

Both struggled on the border between Black and White America, and learned to confront racial tensions with a cool temperament and accommodation.

They attended Catholic schools as pupils and went to prestigious law schools, where they dabbled with drugs and married their college sweethearts, Hillary and Michelle, respectively.

After a difficult beginning, is now doing well. I recommend a visit there every now and then; it can be very refreshing. Use an aggregator such as Bloglines to gather other non-traditional sources such as the Haaretz daily newspaper from Israel, and Asia Times Online -- Middle East Headline News.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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