12 September 2008

Who should decide - Part 2

[This is a continuation of a posting I put up yesterday.]

Let us have a look at Jonathan Freedland's piece first because it comes from the same stable that tried to influence the last presidential election by urging Guardian readers write to voters in Ohio, suggesting to them that for everybodys sake they should vote John Kerry (D). Ohio, incidentally, the last major State to declare, went Republican.

Mr Freedland's piece is riddled with inaccuracies. He rehashes all the accusations against Governor Palin, having clearly not heard the truth about any of them; he calls Andrew Sullivan a conservative, something that has not been true for some time; he assumes that it is black candidates who do worse in elections than in polls, whereas the truth is that it is left-wing candidates; and he actually thinks that the ill-fated Berlin rally was a good thing. Then he delivers what he thinks are the killer punches:

If Americans choose McCain, they will be turning their back on the rest of the world, choosing to show us four more years of the Bush-Cheney finger. And I predict a deeply unpleasant shift.

Until now, anti-Americanism has been exaggerated and much misunderstood: outside a leftist hardcore, it has mostly been anti-Bushism, opposition to this specific administration. But if McCain wins in November, that might well change. Suddenly Europeans and others will conclude that their dispute is with not only one ruling clique, but Americans themselves. For it will have been the American people, not the politicians, who will have passed up a once-in-a-generation chance for a fresh start - a fresh start the world is yearning for.

And the manner of that decision will matter, too. If it is deemed to have been about race - that Obama was rejected because of his colour - the world's verdict will be harsh. In that circumstance, Slate's Jacob Weisberg wrote recently, international opinion would conclude that "the United States had its day, but in the end couldn't put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy
irrationality over race".

Even if it's not ethnic prejudice, but some other aspect of the culture wars, that proves decisive, the point still holds. For America to make a decision as grave as this one - while the planet boils and with the US fighting two wars - on the trivial basis that a hockey mom is likable and seems down to earth, would be to convey a lack of seriousness, a fleeing from reality, that does indeed suggest a nation in, to quote Weisberg, "historical decline". Let's not forget, McCain's campaign manager boasts that this election is "not about the issues."
Well now, let us try to sort this rubbish out. First of all, one cannot start by dismissing Sarah Palin, whose one great fault is that she is an outsider by Washington DC standards and then demand that Americans vote for the insider and call it "change" and "fresh start".

Furthermore, after the Democrats discarded Hillary Clinton, surely not voting for the McCain/Palin ticket would mean that the American electorate is motivated more than anything else by crazy irrationality over gender. If not voting in Obama is racist, not voting in Palin must be sexist. You see, Mr Freedland, two can play that stupid game. (As a matter of fact, whoever loses in 2008, Palin will emerge as the winner. Tough luck Mr Freedland.)

But, of course, it is more than that – we are talking about Americans not recognizing their own “self-interest”, which consists of being liked by Mr Freedland and Slate’s Jacob Weisberg and the mob in Berlin who applauded wildly whenever Obama mentioned completely irresponsible things such as solving the Darfur problem and global warming. (Incidentally, Senator Obama’s contribution to the problem of global warming is not, as you would expect, very helpful, as this account makes it clear.)

The conclusion one finally draws from that attack column is that as far as Mr Freedland is concerned Americans have to prove their non-racist credentials by voting in a black man (or, in this case, a mixed race one) and any black (or mixed race) man will do as they are in Mr Freedland's mind completely interchangeable. Ahem, isn't that rather racist?

I know of a very large number of Americans who read everything Thomas Sowell or Shelby Steele writes, are followers of LaShawn Barber's blog (woops, she is a black woman so she does not count), think Clarence Thomas is a good Supreme Court judge and would happily vote for Michael Steele (more here). (Incidentally, the last two of these have received a staggering amount of racist abuse from the left. Clearly, this does not bother Mr Freedland.) But they will not vote for Barack Obama not because he is black (well, mixed race) but because of who and what he is. He himself, not the rest of the male black population. That is what politics is about, Mr Freedland, in a democracy and not the sort of oligarchic government you are happy with.

Nor do I see why America needs to prove its anti-racist credentials to countries where ethnic minorities do not exactly prosper (a look at the situation in France might be instructive). The present Secretary of State and her immediate predecessor are both black. The fact that neither has managed to overcome the problems with the job is irrelevant. Their white predecessors did not either.

There are numerous black Senators, Representatives, Governors, Mayors (oh yes, they are important in American politics, despite Mr Freedland's ignorant comments), State legislators. The mere fact that a black (well, mixed race) man was chosen to be the candidate for one of the main parties is a huge achievement. Then again, the fact that a woman has been chosen to be the Vice-Presidential candidate for one of the main parties is also a huge achievement. And she, unlike Geraldine Ferraro, stands a good chance of winning and, probably, going on to becoming the Presidential candidate.

So much for Mr Freedland. Let us turn our attention (and, I trust, vitriol) to the BBC World Service poll. Goody, goody, the "World Wants Obama as President". Well, the majority of the 23,500 people asked in this poll across 22 countries does, anyway. Not decisive, I should have thought, particularly as these would be people who had access to the BBC and, more to the point, to whom the BBC had access.
A total of 23,531 people in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, the UAE, Britain and the United States were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone in July and August 2008 for the poll.
Of course, one has to add that in July and August Senator McCain had had very little coverage in much of the world media (including the American MSM) as it was before his brilliant pick of Governor Sarah Palin as his Vice-President. Is the BBC going to conduct another poll that would take recent developments into account? I think not.

Several things strike me about the piece, apart from the comment:
In the United States, three polls taken since the Republican party convention ended on Thursday (local time) show Senator McCain with a lead of 1 to 4 percentage points - within the margin of error - and two others show the two neck-and-neck.
One wonders whether there was any mention of the margin of error when Obama's lead was below 5 percent, which has happened a number of times. Again, I suspect not. It's the way you tell 'em.

The summary of the figures is odd:
The margin in favour of Senator Obama ranged from 9 per cent in India to 82 per cent in Kenya, while an average of 49 percent across the 22 countries preferred Senator Obama compared with 12 percent preferring Senator McCain. Some four in 10 did not take a view.
Right. So nearly half the world, according to this, actually has no view on the subject. That's very interesting. I didn't see that in all the headlines. The spread is also interesting. The margin of preference was nine percent in India, a country that has close links with America and is worried about the defence situation in Asia.

In Kenya, that seat of freedom and democracy, the margin was 82 percent. Would that have anything to do with the fact that Obama's father (who had abandoned him and his mother when the child was two years old) was Kenyan? Surely not.

We have been here before in 2004 when we wrote about the sheer arrogance of presuming to dictate to the Americans how they should vote here and here. The subject came up earlier in this campaign as well.

Let me sum up: the American President and the American Congress are elected by the American people according to the rules laid down in the American Constitution, which has been around for well over 200 years. This is called constitutional democracy. The alternative of acclaiming the POTUS by journalists, NGOs, tranzis and people they condescend to ask is not acceptable. Though it may suit Senator Obama's campaign who lost a lot of good will in America when they had their man strut around as if he was already the President. Unfortunately, America has this small thing called an election. Oh dear, I am repeating myself.

Then there is a question of governments and elections in the countries where they so blithely tell us who should be the American President. Just how much say do the people of China, Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Nigeria, Russia and the UAE have in the selection of their own government, a matter of greater concern to them, one would have thought?

So we come to the last and, for us, the most important point. Does Mr Freedland ever mention the fact that in Britain around 80 per cent of the legislation comes from the European Union with the Parliament, even if it is aware of it, unable to strike it down? Has the BBC ever conducted a poll about the fact that legal decisions in Britain can be overthrown by the ECJ and legislation properly passed in Westminster can be declared invalid by the same body?

This is what I wrote in July in response to the notion that "we" should have a say in the choice of the POTUS:
To which one can say only one thing: who is this "we"? We, the people of European countries, do not have a say in the selection of our real government. Nor do we have a say in whether to have a completely new constitutional arrangement, to wit the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty imposed on us. When the people of one European country are graciously allowed to vote on the subject and say no, plans are made to disregard their vote. So, before we claim a right to impose our views on the Americans on who should be their President perhaps we should take a closer look at what is happening in our own countries.

Furthermore, is it not strange that "our" opinion always seems to be on the side of the Democrats and the more left-wing and anti-American their rhetoric is, the more "we" seem to like them? Could it be because we are fed a succession of … ahem … inaccurate stories about American politics by our own media and various political pundits? Or could it be that "we" are only a very small proportion of the population?
Well now, let me ask that question buried in the first paragraph: before we start interfering with the American constitutional structure are we to be allowed to decide whether we want the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty imposed on us and is Mr Freedland going to write an angry article about the need for Britain and other European countries to turn over a new leaf and resume their existence as democratic countries? I take that is a no. After all, it is so much easier to make irresponsible statements about the next occupant of the Oval Office.