Friday 19th September, 2008

 

Selwyn R Cudjoe

 
 
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The economy, stupid

  • No sensible person can be unaware of the role in-grained racism has played (and is playing) in the American political system.
  • It doesn’t take much for a serious student of US politics to locate the double standards in the politics of the Republican Party.
  • The Republicans believe in little save getting elected. Values can be sacrificed.

Last week’s article drew some interesting comments. I asserted that in spite of the bump in the polls the Republican Party received because of Governor Sarah Palin’s presence on the ticket, ultimately “the performance of the US economy is likely to remain the key to the election’s outcome.”

This prediction has been substantiated by the events of the US financial markets this week.

I also asserted that although racism is at work in the election, it was difficult to see white Americans cutting off their noses to spoil their faces, to which an ardent American (well, he sounded American) responded:

“Stay out of American politics Mr Cudjoe, unless you have something positive to contribute. If you want to see racism first hand look no further than your backyard in T&T where over 90 per cent of government employees are Afro-Trinidadians, where Cepep and URP are basically a blacks-only club. I won’t go into further details of the negative and illicit (?) contributions made by Afro-Trinidadians in the destruction of Trinidad.”

One can forego the observations about Afro-Trinidadians and their illicit contributions although it is difficult to see how illicit contributions lead to the destruction of an island. Yet, no sensible person can be unaware of the role ingrained racism has played (and is playing) in the American political system.

Prior to the American Civil War (1861-1865), the three-fifths clause of the American constitution in which every African American was counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of the appointments of member to the House of Representatives, resulted in most of the Presidents of the US being elected because of this racial manoeuvre.

Race has never been a part of T&T’s constitution. It is not embedded in our constitution nor is it a more important factor than, say, religion in shaping our election outcomes. In the US, it took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to eliminate the pernicious requirement that prevented citizens from voting because of their race and/or colour of their skins.

Another reader zeroed in on the case with acuity when he wrote:

“Selwyn, I envy your optimism. I hope your prediction is correct. In Texas recently in conversation at a barbeque a white woman said to me, ‘Bob, Obama is smart but my ancestors will turn in their grave if I voted for a N-----.’ Even my white friends were astonished and embarrassed but I suspect this is a deeper revelation of a fundamental part of the American psyche.”

This reader’s comments reveal a perplexing frame of mind, although evidence suggests that Americans under the age of 40 are shedding this fundamental racist outlook and trust more to their humanitarian instincts. Herein lays the hope for an Obama victory.

But Republican hypocrisy only perpetuates this cynicism and continues to manipulate the racial categories as well. I must confess that I thought little about Governor Palin’s pregnant daughter until a cousin brought the contradiction to my attention. The next day, Franck Rich of the New York Times was on the case. Quoting Byron York of the National Review, he acknowledged the Republican double standard:

“If the Obamas had a 17-year-old daughter who was unmarried and pregnant by a tough-talking black kid, my guess is if they all appeared on stage at a Democratic convention and the delegates were cheering wildly, a number of conservatives might be discussing the issue of dysfunctional black families.”

It does not take much for any serious student of American politics to locate the double standards—and yes, racism—in such a blatant about-face in the politics of the Republican Party. In 1992, the “family values” theme was central to the Republican Convention. Dan Quayle, the Republican vice president, inveighed against the loss of such values when he castigated Murphy Brown, the TV character, for having a baby without the benefit of marriage. He even condemned the distribution of condoms to those who are “squandering the gift of youthful innocence in premarital sex.”

But the Republicans believe in little save getting elected. Values can be scarified on the altar of expediency. There is an election to be won and nothing should prevent a favourable outcome, even if they have to remake themselves; even if they have to deny eight years of deregulations; even if John McCain has to prevent the public from believing that he voted with President Bush 90 per cent of the time.

Over the last two days, the Dow industrials have fallen by close to 1,000 points and fears of the 1929 depression are beginning to resonate as we talk about today’s financial market.

A recent New York Times/CBS poll reports that the “Palin effect” was merely “a limited burst of interest” although her presence on the ticket consolidated the Republican base. The same poll reports that 60 per cent of Americans as opposed to 53 per cent believe that Obama is better prepared to get them out of this economic crisis than McCain.

It is a message that Obama must bore home with all his oratorical skills over the next 46 days before the election. His window of opportunity is now.

 

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