US politics: crying out for change

first_imgJohn Marshall comments on US politics. Hilary Clinton’s tearful episode a day before the New Hampshire democratic primary appears to have reignited her camp gain. With some pollsters putting principal adversary Barack Obama ahead by ten points this left many wondering exactly what had happened.Are Americans really that capricious? Despite the notorious unreliability of US opinion polls, this result implies a sea change in active popular sentiment. Large numbers said that they decided on the day. Although polls fairly accurately predicted Obama’s vote share, Clinton appeared to take the vote of every independent and some committed to third place candidate John Edwards.The dramatic shift of many independents to Clinton signals the success, but mostly the failings of current American politics. Voter interest in politics is unusually high – the American people seem to be responding to the rhetoric that America needs change. This turn will likely support more responsible and responsive government.However, serious questions must be asked when a tearful moment from a presidential candidate is credited with winning a potentially pivotal election. This moment is symptomatic of the prevailing image politics that has replaced substantive policy debate. Personally, it is Senator Edwards’ (poorly funded) vision that most significantly differentiates the candidates, yet focus among democrats centres upon the Clinton/ Obama battle. Both are ubiquitously surrounded by boards and signs containing ‘change’; while both Clinton and Obama proffer similar views on moral issues like abortion and gay marriage, the key issues of foreign and economic policy are a more fundamental concern. Characteristic of the post-2005 Democrats, their apparently separate visions for change are vague and predominantly negative in that they argue simply against Bush’s conduct on Iraq, Medicare, social security and the high income tax cuts. Against this backdrop, it is unsurpising that issues of competency and personal charisma take hold among voters in an age that can now relay images of Clinton near breakdown on televised, 24-hour news and internet sites within seconds. When we speak of more interest in this election, this is where it is directed.Considering the reality of the policy junctures concerning Iraq, Medicare and social security, the US needs to publicly discuss its direction. When a brief chink in Clinton’s usually controlled and austere image apparently causes an almighty electoral rupture, supporters of democratic politics must worry. Clinton’s dramatic New Hampshire success admits turnout approximately double the state’s primary average and serves to illuminate the extent of the recent national democratic deficit. Although all democrats should support increasing turnout, and the greater legitimacy that such results confer, nationwide US primary turnout hovers around ten percent. It will surprise nobody that those who do vote are not a representative bunch.Given the low levels of active participation, a pivotal moment such as the potential destruction of Clinton’s campaign or the long-awaited demonstration of ‘real’ emotion (depending on how you see it) mobilising a wave of support among a minority can induce drastic consequences. This seems to be what happened in New Hampshire where the influx of the undecided and habitual non-voters (suggested to comprise many single women) finally swayed by Clinton’s outpour rushed to the poll booths to give Clinton ten percentage points more than expected and thus secure the victory that now reinvigorates her campaign.The rising interest and participation in what may prove to be one of America’s most significant political years in recent memory is to be commended. But this should not conceal the threatening and thinly-veiled problems that lurk underneath.last_img read more