A Tale of Two Conventions (Concoctions)
First published in The Pioneer, September 08, 2012
Mitt Romney goofed, Barack Obama spun hopes and Americans and all others in the Anglosphere, Eurozone, Arab Street and Chinatown this week prepared for the lousiest show on earth seven weeks away. The only thing unsurprising, say pundits, is that more is coming... of the same.
Last week, the United State's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, made a historic statement accusing Pakistan's ISI of involvement in terror activities. Shocking as it was to Americans, and indeed Indian observers too, because for the first time we were seeing a serving US high official vindicating an age-old New Delhi position-there was, realistically speaking, a sense of deja vu hanging over his exceptional remark.
One of the jokes that made the rounds during the previous week's Republican National Convention went like this: "Four doctors meet. The doctor from Israel says: ‘In Israel the medicine is so advanced that we cut off a man's testicles, we put them into another man, and in six weeks he is looking for work.' The German doctor comments: 'That's nothing; in Germany we take part of the brain out of a person; we put it into another person's head, and in four weeks he is looking for work'. The Russian doctor says: ‘In Russia we take out half of the heart from a person; we put it into another person's chest, and in two weeks he is looking for work'. Then the American doctor pipes up: ‘That's nothing my colleagues. You are way behind us. About three years ago, we grabbed a person from Kenya with no brains, no heart, and no b**lls.... We made him President of the United States, and now the whole country is looking for work'."
The joke got a lot of play among the Republican faithful but few foresaw how the week would blow up in their faces when the redoubtable Clint Eastwood took the stage in what was billed as the surprise of the evening. Just before the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, was ready to deliver the speech of his life, Clint Eastwood stood there with hair rumpled, looking disoriented and angry, with an empty chair next to him. The twelve-minute harangue that followed will go down in history as the most stupid, vapid, vulgar set of remarks ever made by a speaker at an American national political convention. There was no recovery possible after that and Mitt Romney, the mega-millionaire Mormon nominee, a man who has been willing to bend every which way the wind blows, and who has been unwilling to tell us how much he has paid in taxes before 2011, could only deliver a bland broadside against President Obama that bordered on the deceitful and the fanciful -- throwing what in American parlance is called "red meat" to the angry White, mostly old "sharks" circling to gorge on whatever morsel of falsehood about Obama thrown at them. These are the men and women of the "Tea Party" who have chafed and fumed the last four years that an intelligent, articulate Black man has occupied the White House besmirching their idea of America.
Political conventions these days, pundits opine, are not what they used to be: forums for bargaining and negotiating, persuading and pleading with delegates to select those men the party bosses considered strong candidates to be president and vice-president. Instead, what they have now become is "made for TV' tamashas costing the American taxpayers about $68 million apiece. Big convention halls are decked in red, white, and blue, with balloons and streamers falling and blowing in choreographed cadence as speakers well-known or little known, articulate or uninspiring, perorate for the television cameras. Television network marquees are prominently visible for the viewer at home, and the 24-hour news channels like CNN, MSNBC, and FOX deliver non-stop blather dissecting not the policies or the programme proposals of the two parties but roping in spin-masters from both parties to do their verbal pirouettes for the party faithful.
The party platforms are hammered out in backroom confabulations, and if they get any coverage at all it is when there is something egregious that gets inserted: for the Republicans it was the language on abortions—with the 110-member platform panel passing a so-called 'Human Life Amendment' that called for a ban on abortion, without mentioning the more common exceptions for victims of rape or incest, "Faithful to the 'self-evident' truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed," they wrote making it government policy to infringe upon a woman's right to be in charge of her own body.
The Democrats had their own "oops" moment when the words "God" and "Jerusalem" were included in the party platform after Israelites and God's keepers were, by sleight of hand, made to prevail in what seemed to be an evenly split platform committee. God is invoked for unholy purposes and it was political pandering that forced the Democrats to sneak God back into the mix of politics and matters of state. As to Jerusalem, there is absolutely no doubt that Jews do wield tremendous power in Washington, DC, and President Obama, who has been pushed on his back foot by the pugnacious Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and accused falsely of ignoring Israel's security concerns should not be allowed to be painted, again, as a socialist, Muslim-loving, Israel-hating president, the party handlers felt.
This is a two-billion-dollar election, with each of the parties raising about a billion dollars to convince a thin slice of "undecided" voters in "swing" states with television ads short on facts and long on tall claims and syrupy sanctimony. Most of the money raised by Republicans is through "Super-PACs", which are a new kind of political action committees that are the result of a July 2010 Supreme Court ruling. Technically known as independent expenditure-only committees, these Super PACs, organised and led by the likes of Karl Rove, former President George W Bush's crafty and cunning adviser, may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, and individuals like the Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who has said that his wallet is open and he is willing to contribute up to $100 million!
The race is even at this point, and the conventions may not do much to convince the undecided voter. Jobs are still scarce in an economy that is in the doldrums, not because of Obama's policies but because of the world-wide recession, the European debt crisis, and a multitude of other factors including the awful mess that the country was left in by the previous occupant of the White House.
If Americans end up electing Mitt Romney then President Obama will go down in history as one of the most loved and most reviled presidents. That he has not lived up to the expectations of those who with stars in the eyes ushered him to the big mansion is clear to all except only the die-hard Obama fans. His misstep in choosing to accept the Nobel Peace Prize even before he had achieved even a minor breakthrough in international conflict soured even some of his ardent supporters. His inability to bring to heel crooked Wall Street firms and banks has made him seem weak. His use of drones to kill the Taliban in Afghanistan is considered by many to be unethical.
Despite all this, the Republicans accuse him of being anti-business, pro-Islam, and anti-American! With Super PACs naming themselves oxymoronically as "Restore our Future" we have two more months of such absurdities where the future is conflated with the past, the good confused with the bad, and the nonsensical taken for God's own panacea.
America is indeed exceptional -- as so many Americans believe it is -- in its uniquely messy, expensive, and extended season of political gamesmanship that leads to the choosing of its chief executive. Come November, one hopes the false promises of the Mormon multi-millionaire will be rejected by the voters, and the promises that the first Black president made in the first term will be kept in his second term.