The US Presidential Elections–the Story So Far

After more than a year of heated warm-up with a lengthy and dramatic primary season, the US presidential election campaign is ready to enter the last lap. Finally. The Indian media’s coverage of the US presidential election has been most perfunctory and that is to be expected .  I myself would not have been particularly interested in it had I not been in Uncle Sam’s own country where it is impossible to be not assailed by the elections as soon as you switch the TV on, unless of course you watch only “Lost” and “Gossip Girls”.

But tuned into it I am. And here below is my round-up.

Warning: this is a long long post.

One of the best things about the American democratic process is the system of primaries where each of the major parties (Democratic and Republican) have internal elections to determine their respective presidential candidates.  Spread out over many months, it allows registered party members in each state to vote for their preferred nominee and allows their voice to be heard inside the party to which they are affiliated.

As an Indian used to seeing monolithic parties with the same faces in leadership positions for years on end, sometimes as a matter of birthright, the primary system seems to be a great way of enforcing intra-party democracy and in letting alternative viewpoints within a party have the chance to present their case to the party base. This is sharp contrast to the Indian system where political parties sell the hoary myth that internal elections of leaders are “unanimous” and where  as a result of this “consensus by fiat” the only way for a party-member to express disapproval at his/her parties policies or stances is to split and start one’s own political forum.

Democratic primaries: Ever since she became senator of New York, Hillary Clinton had built up her resume for the 2008 Presidential elections, with the same single-minded determination that people start preparing for their IIT exams from Class 9 itself. Over the years, she had built relationships with different power centers inside the Democratic party and most importantly with fundraisers and party donors. Her biggest weapon was considered to be her husband Bill, a smooth slick mass mobilizer and orator who could bring the votes in like no other and who had been one of US’s most popular presidents, as loved among the Democratic party base (especially by African Americans and Hispanics [Clinton took in nearly 80% of the Hispanic vote when he beat Bob Dole in 1996]) as he was reviled by the Republicans. In fact the only concern that people initially had was that Bill Clinton would overshadow Hillary and the presidential campaign would be all about Bill and  his attempt at a “third” term through proxy.

Even on her own, what made Hillary [image courtesy here] so electable as the President of the United States  was that she had a powerful emotional connect with a significant section of the US electorate who were considered to be her bedrock demographic—-urban, white above-fifty women for whom  Hillary’s ascension to the top post as the country’s first woman president would serve as a symbolic destruction of the proverbial glass ceiling, a barrier that most women in the above-50 demographic had to struggle with throughout their lives.

So confident was the Hillary camp about her success, that in an interview with Katie Couric she almost refused to accept the possibility that she could lose the nomination.

Lesson for the future: Its usually not a good idea to come on national TV and give the message to the voters: “Yeah yeah there is a nomination process to take place. But hey what the hell, it’s gonna be me. So we can just go through the motions, however we all know how it’s gonna end”.

It was not as if the Hillary camp was not aware of the challenge that might be posed by Barack Obama, an African-American son of an immigrant father, a Senator for 4 years who had shot to national limelight in 2004 on account of a spectacular speech at the Democratic National Convention. But the common consensus was that he would at best be a feisty challenger who based on the support of a significant number of  African-Americans could, at the best, win a State or two. That’s about it. He would ultimately be no match, in terms of his ability to raise money and sustain his campaign, in front of the well-oiled Hillary machinery. So sure were the analysts of Hillary’s victory that the consensus was that Obama’s best outcome would be to be selected as Hillary’s running mate as the Vice Presidential candidate, a possibility deliciously depicted in this hilarious Mad TV spoof.

And yet a few months later, there was total and absolute reversal of fortune as Barack Obama emerged as the Democratic presidential nominee after a hard-fought though emphatic victory over Hillary Clinton, doing what was hitherto considered to be impossible—raising more money than the Clintons .

So what happened to the best laid plans of mice and men, of men like James Carville, considered to be one of the country’s best political strategists and the brain behind the Clinton campaign? What happened over the course of a few months that changed the political future of the United States?

Let’s analyze.

First and foremost for Obama’s campaign, the man became the message. Saddled by an unpopular war bleeding billions per month, a housing crisis-triggered recession, record job losses and soaring oil prices if there was one thing that struck a chord in all Americans, regardless of race and gender, was Obama’s  word of the day for everyday—“change” : the variation of which Obama would use every 3rd sentence in every speech he gave. While changing the system is something every politician claims he/she will do, in the case of Obama, that tired rhetoric took a life of its own.

That was because his very persona symbolized change. An African-American son of immigrants, he was very different from anyone who had ever seriously contested the post of the US president. His inexperience in Washington DC, vis a vis Hillary, considered to be his biggest Achilles Heel pre-campaign became his biggest advantage. As a relative “outsider” to DC politics, he could claim that he was not associated with the “old Washington” with its lobbyists and special interests in the way that Clinton was. He publicly declared that he would not take money from lobbying firms or political action groups (which are perceived as legal ways for corporations and special interest groups to buy influence among decision-makers), instead choosing to raise money from individual contributions, which by law are capped at a low amount (Many have pointed out that his policy is not without its loopholes, perhaps intentional). While Hillary had supported Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq, Obama had the record to make the compelling case that he had opposed the Iraq war at a time when the national mood was in favor of Bush. He could draw political blood by reminding people that NAFTA, a trade agreement that is widely responsible for the flight of manufacturing jobs from the US to Mexico, was authored by Bill Clinton.

Secondly, Obama with his rockstar good looks, commanding gravel voice and amazing powers of oratory and rhetoric became an instant hit with the public. No make it an instant celebrity.The press and public just couldn’t have enough of him. When he came to speak, the auditorium would fill up hours in advance with many people coming just to “see” him as they would come to see an Elvis or a Michael Jackson in his prime. In contrast, Hillary was dowdy and frumpy with her speeches which, even though they were as insubstantial as Obama’s, were vastly less inspiring and positively boring. This difference between the two candidates, in a country like the US where image and camera-friendliness counts much more than they do in say India, translated to greater influence of Obama on the Democratic electorate and much wider diffusion of his message.

Thirdly his African-Americanness. While that identity gave Obama a ready vote-bank that had traditionally supported the Clintons, it also attracted many white voters, especially the wealthy liberal “Starbucks” crowd, in that it gave them an opportunity to purge themselves of the historic guilt that the USA, in all its years of democracy, had yet to elect an African-American to the highest post. Of course Obama was not the first African-American candidate for the Democratic party nomination—Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton had already tried their luck in previous election cycles. But while Jackson and Sharpton had defined themselves solely by their race and had focused exclusively on issues of interest to African-Americans, Obama deliberately de-emphasized racial identity in his speeches and consequently was able to step beyond the constricting “Black politician” tag and so appeal to a wider audience.

Fourthly the entire spectrum of the press, from the liberal to the conservative, showed themselves to be remarkably anti-Clinton. The consistently negative portrayal of Hillary in the media severely dented her chances since many people, especially the ideologically undecided, are consciously and subconsciously influenced in their electoral choice by how the Press portrays a political figure . In the conservative republican press, the negative vibes were not unexpected as Bill Clinton had always been the conservative’s historic enemy, never forgiven for being insanely popular.

What however was surprising was the vitriol reserved for the Clintons by well-known liberal i.e. Democratic party-supporting media outlets like MSNBC and leftist blogs like the Huffington Post and Daily Kos. While initially the reason for it might have been empathy for the underdog Obama, as the season went on and even after Obama became the top dog, the  liberal press’s distaste for Hillary showed no signs of abating.  One of the reasons for that antipathy is conjectured to be the following: Bill Clinton was so popular in his days and so successful in getting his message directly to the people, he felt he did not need the media. Which is why he often acted flip and arrogant with them in his salad days. Elephants do not forget and neither do pressmen.

Throughout the campaign, liberal commentators made no secret of their admiration for Obama,  sometimes throwing journalistic objectivity to the dogs. In televised debates, Hillary got asked the tough questions while Obama was given softballs. When Hillary’s campaign ran what I felt was a legitimate attack advertisement on Obama questioning his foreign policy credentials, namely his ability to handle political crises at “3 oclock at night”, Hillary was hounded for fear-mongering and playing low and dirty.

Things became so blatant that Saturday Night Live, a comedy hour on NBC that has over the years become an American institution, ran a skit showing different TV anchors fawning over Obama like teenagers in front of a movie star and reserving their grim journalistic “tough questions” demeanor for Hillary.

Much of the Obama mystique has in fact been created by the US electronic media and I am sure many political science PhD dissertations will be written on the role of the press in making Obama the Democratic nominee or if he goes forward, the US president.

Aside from the effect of Obama’s larger-than-life status that grew ominously huge with every passing day, Hillary had other problems. Namely that Hillary’s perceived biggest strength Bill Clinton became her biggest weakness. While the original plan was to let Bill be Hillary’s attack dog i.e. for him to go negative on Obama, this hopelessly backfired when Bill Clinton dismissed Obama’s victory in the South Carolina primary with a statement that even Jesse Jackson won that state twice. The message was obvious—Clinton was trying to say that with its large African-American population South Carolina would always support a fellow African American and have done so in the past even for lightweights like Jesse Jackson.

This was exactly what the Bill Clinton-loathing media was waiting for—-within one news cycle, he was being accused of having brought race to the forefront. So persistent became the chorus against Bill and so negative the blowback for Hillary that Bill had to be gradually phased out of the campaign till a stage was reached where he was rarely seen in public rallies.

Hillary did try to play the female card for her benefit more than once with her campaign often hinting how the men (which included the Press) were all ganging up on her because she was a woman. Just the way any attempt to pin any kind of charges on Laloo Yadav or Mayawati is spun as an attack on Dalits. Some of the spin worked. A minor breakdown on television, where the “strong” Hillary was shown getting teary-eyed (which the press  lampooned as being stage-managed) gave her a break at a tough time in her campaign, exposing what pundits called the human being behind the “robot”, but there is only a level to which one can take this subtle victimization angle , especially when the press is by and large unsympathetic.

For me however the biggest difference between the candidates was the way in which they handled crises. Hillary had one crisis brought on by her saying on camera that she had, in the course of her diplomatic efforts, landed in Bosnia on a tarmac under heavy fire and with snipers everywhere. Then footage was discovered of her on the said tarmac being greeted by smiling, relaxed officials and even by a girl with a flower—heavy fire and the pervasive presence of death indeed ! Caught in a lie, Hillary hemmed and hawed and said that she had been tired when she had made the speech—though why someone would start spinning heroic yarns about themselves when fatigued was never explained in much detail.

In contrast, Obama faced a much more serious and potentially candidature-ending crisis when footage of the pastor of the church he attended and his personal friend and spiritual advisor, Reverend Wright surfaced in which the Reverend was shown making inflammatory anti-American statements and of accusing the US government of having manufactured the AIDs virus to decimate African-Americans. Obama moved swiftly and decisively condemning Reverend Wright, distancing himself from the Reverend’s stance and cutting off, at least publicly, all links with him. Not only that, Obama turned this whole sorry mess into a positive by using it to give a powerful speech on race relations in the US which I would say was one of the best (if not the best) speech I have ever heard from anyone.

As Obama goes for history, his biggest weakness (and paradoxically his biggest strength) remains that he has not yet defined himself and that he has no past baggage to carry.  This makes him at the same time untested as well as fresh, depending on your point of view. In order to handle the gaps in his resume (namely his inexperience in foreign affairs) he has made a solid though unspectacular vice presidential choice in Senator Joe Biden, an old hand in foreign affairs, a DC insider and more importantly a great negative campaigner who would be asked to go after the Republicans. Now whether the “generational candidate” can make his tryst with destiny remains to be seen as he goes up against the immensely well-financed Republican political machinery.

Republican Primaries: The Republican or conservative party base is  ideologically more rigid and their philosophy so much more well-defined than the more amorphous “liberalism” of the Democrats.  The Republican world view is defined by political conservatism (a strong military and an aggressive foreign policy of engagement), economic conservatism (small government, lower rates of taxation, decreased expenditure on welfare schemes, reliance on the power of the market, and anti-immigrantism–legal as well as illegal) and social conservatism (anti-abortion, anti-Darwin’s theory of evolution, closer ties between the Church and the state and against accepting same-sex relationships as legal marriages).

Pundits had written off John McCain as a competitive candidate the moment he announced his second bid for the Republican presidential nomination (he had been thrashed soundly by George W in 2000). The reason for the pessimism  was because McCain had, throughout his life, been on the “wrong” side of many of the core conservative’s pet issues. Dubbed a “maverick’ because of his often contrarian positions, McCain has been ambivalent about abortion, believes in evolution, had recently been the primary sponsor (along with uber-liberal Ted Kennedy) of an immigration bill that would have given large number of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship (a bill which was killed by massive Republican opposition) and had been scathingly critical of George W Bush’s tax cuts. Though McCain was the poster boy for political conservatism, favoring increased troop deployment and ultimately a permanent US presence in Iraq as also a military solution against Iran, he was still looked upon with suspicion and barely controlled antipathy by the influential Conservative base so much so that many of the extremer sections of the party publicly were even ready to accept Hillary Clinton rather than John McCain. Add to it McCain’s advanced age (unlike in India, age is a disadvantage for US politicians), his propensity for flying into fits of anger and his lack of funds in the initial stage of the campaign (he was almost bankrupt) and one can understand why his challenge was predicted to implode.

The favorite to snag the nomination, before the race began, was “America’s mayor” Rudy Giuliani  (yes that’s him to the left) who had close to $17 million in campaign cash, compared to the next candidate, ex Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney, himself a billionaire. As in politics everywhere, the one with the most cash typically wins.

But there were more than a few things that were messed up with Giluliani’s “make-up”.

For one, he like McCain was not closely aligned with the Republican party base—-having liberal ideas on gay marriage and abortion. Also the thrice-married Giuliani, with two estranged sons, just didn’t cut it as the “family values” candidate, which is a concept that Conservative voters attach much importance to.

Mitt Romney, a thoroughbred conservative whose political, social and economic views found resonance with the base, was considered another strong contender. There was a minor problem—he was Mormon, an isolationist sect of Christianity that had deliberately avoided integration with the mainstream.

Another contender was the affable Mike Huckabee, the governor of Arkansas and an ex-preacher. His strength was his solid political base among evangelical Christians (another word for rigid Christian conservatives) and thus was expected to be a formidable force in certain states. However his appeal was considered to be too limited to  attract moderate Conservatives and independents (i.e. who identified themselves as neither Republican nor Democra) and hence no-one seriously expected him to be anointed the party’s nominee in a general elections.

The first stick to fall was Rudy. The reason? People just didn’t like him. One of the primary qualifications that a presidential nominee in the US has to possess is likability—he has to be someone the common man would want to have a beer with.  That affability was one thing Giuliani had never possessed—-both as an ambitious public prosecutor and also as mayor of New York City where he was looked upon as arrogant, authoritative and self-serving. Had not 9/11 happened, he would have left the post of mayor as one of the most loathed politicians in the land. As he went around meeting people, it was evident that he was a one-trick pony unable to go beyond glorifying his own role during 9/11. And did I say he was quite unlikeable? I think I did.

Rudy’s early drop-out gave the McCain campaign a big boost as the independents and moderate Republicans, who were expected to support Giuliani, hitched themselves  quickly to McCain.

However more than Giuliani, if there was one man McCain had to thank for his ultimate victory it would be ironically his rival Mike Huckabee.

First of all, Mike Huckabee ate into Mitt Romney’s ultra-conservative vote-bank, in the process severely denting his performance and giving the initiative to McCain. Secondly, Huckabee, as part of a conscious political strategy, almost never went after McCain, instead concentrating his firepower exclusively on Romney. So hands-off was Huckabee with respect to McCain that many felt he was trying to curry favour to be McCain’s vice presidential choice.

And then Mitt Romney made a tactical blunder. Fed up of having had his votebank eaten into, he went after McCain using a series of negative advertisements. Going negative on an opponent is a two-edged sword—-if done right, it can wound your enemy but if done wrong, it can lead to a tidal wave of public resentment directed at the attacker.

In case of Romney, he did it wrong.

For one, McCain wisely decided not to rise to Romney’s bait by counterattacking Romney in an equally ugly fashion. In a way he could afford not to—because Huckabee was going hammer and tongs at Romney in the debates, taking any of the ill-effects of negativity on himself while freeing McCain to take the high road. And most importantly, everytime McCain was attacked he would bring up as his shield, his status as a war-hero, someone who had endured torture and imprisonment from the Vietcong for years on end. And why was this relevant? Well to drive home the point that unlike Romney, who had spent his life serving his company and making money, he McCain had worked for the country.

The point was indisputable and Romney was forced to take the McCain punches on his face. A torn lip and bruised nose soon led him also to pull out from the race. Huckabee continued as McCain’s sole rival for some time but the nomination had already been sealed.

McCain had made a remarkable comeback. Of course, in order to get this far, McCain had to pander to the religious right—a section of the party he had never been comfortable with. He publicly accepted he was wrong to support the Immigration Bill. He stressed how even though he opposed the Bush tax cuts initially, he now supported their perpetuation. His stance on other issues of interest to social conservatives became more aligned with the party base so much so that many of McCain’s old supporters were disappointed at how much he had sold himself out to gain acceptance. And just to show that it wasn’t just hardcore Republicans he wanted to mend bridges with, he went out and apologized to African-Americans for opposing a national holiday for Martin Luther King in Arizona, whose senator he is.

Finally in a move that stunned one and all, McCain announced as his running mate one Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska,  an unknown quantity who had never been heard of before on the national political scene. Possessing virtually no political experience and no apparent strength other than her radically right wing views, her “all-American”  Hum Aapke Hain Kaunian family (of course Sooraj Barjatiya would not approve of the unmarried pregnant teenaged daughter of “abstinence education” champion Sarah Palin but you get the point), and her good looks (a sharp contrast to McCain’s “old gramophone” appeal ), Palin’s candidature was seen as McCain’s ultimate concession to the party base, the final sell-out of principle and policy in favor of cold-blooded populism, the last nail in the coffin of the old idealist McCain. Whether the new  hardened-conservative image of McCain will fly with the party base however remains to be seen.

The Near Future

The polls call it even between the candidates at the time of writing. The introduction of Palin into the equation has been a master move as it has galvanized the Republican party base. Being a woman and a “hockey mom”, she is expected to peel off a section of the female moderate Democrat votebank, who are perceived to be angry that Hillary did not getting the nomination.  Palin is also easy on the eyes, can bring in the crowds to the election rallies and has shown a gift for rabid demagoguery at the Republican Convention, a skill that the colorless McCain solely lacks.

She also serves as a pleasant diversion—her right-wing rhetoric and virulent attacks on her opponent keeps the conservative base engaged leaving John McCain to play to his old strengths —that is take a more conciliatory tone and pursue the more centrist and moderate Republicans, the undecided Independents and even moderate Democrats.

As to the Democrats, their principal strength is that after eight years in the wilderness and after the Bush years,they are hungry to get back to power. They have never, in the recent past, have had someone as charismatic and as media-friendly as Obama to lead them (think Gore and Kerry and you realize the difference). All this means that come election day, no Democrat is going to sit at home. They are going to be out there, making sure their candidate wins. Except of course those still smarting from Hillary’s defeat, for whom the most important thing is to see a woman in power,regardless of her political positions. Whether these people will be significant enough to be a game-changer remains to be seen. My opinion, like many others, would think not.

The eternal Desi question: Who will be better for India?

Very difficult to tell. Foreign policy with India is not a significant campaign issue for either candidate—in contrast to say foreign policy with China or with Israel. This is because China is the country the Americans are, rightfully, the most concerned about and Israel ,because of the strong Jewish diaspora in the US and their substantial campaign contributions, is always a top foreign policy priority for the American president.  In contrast, the Indian NRIs are insignificant players in DC politics. This is why US’s interactions with India will be dictated mostly by the State department since there is unlikely to be any political-pressure-driven initiative from the president.

One thing: many Indians assume, based on history, that Democrats are, on principle, more friendly to India than Republicans. In the past, when India was economically weaker than it is now and it was perceived to be a beggarly third world country, the Democrats, the party of the “little guy”, had a natural empathy for it. Not any longer. Expect a Democratic administration to make more uncomfortable noises about the environment and green house emissions, trade practices and nuclear controls than the Republicans would.

Some would point to Senator Joe Biden’s remarks at the Democratic debate where he identified Pakistan as a more clear and present danger to the US, even more than Iran, as a sign that India may have a sympathetic ear in the White House. Those who do would do well to remember that it is the same Joe Biden who is behind giving Pakistan a $15 billion handout spread over the next 10 years, technically for “non-military” purposes . Yeah right ! We all know where that money will end up being siphoned off to.

If there has been any silver lining for India in the Obama-Biden ticket it has been Obama’s acceptance of the fact that US money for fighting the war on Taliban terror has been used to fight India. (” For example, we are providing them military aid without having enough strings attached. So they’re using the military aid that we use to Pakistan, they’re preparing for a war against India”). Of course I am absolutely convinced that this is simply political hot air to disparage the policies of the Republican administration and that the Democrats have no desire to fundamentally change US policy in Pakistan—a fact that is evidenced by Biden’s attempts to still keep on dangling carrots to get Pakistan to fight the war on terror. Of course Pakistan fighting terrorism is like a dog barking at its own tail, it’s not going to really do anything except bark. Of course everyone and their uncle knows this but yet the charade will continue—-regardless of whether the US elects a Republican or a Democrat president.

62 thoughts on “The US Presidential Elections–the Story So Far

  1. hehehe…
    what about Ralph Nader and Ron Paul and Ipod?

  2. Long but very well summarized. Like the last paragraph best. Little will change for India, and somehow I guess little will change in how the world perceives US regardless of who gets elected. The mistake in Iraq has been made. To a fanatic jihadi it does not make a difference if Bush sent the troops and Obama vetoed it.

    But a change in DC might turn around the economy.

  3. @ JT

    To a fanatic Jihadi, it does not make any difference, even if troops were not sent to Iraq. Only the Quran and its message makes all the difference.

  4. Hi greatbong,
    I have followed the elections and to be very honest I am a bit disillusioned about democracy. I think the primaries are the only positive in this whole process, rest is theatre or a soap opera. The elections are not about issues but about images, not about competence but about propoganda.

  5. Nice summary GB:

    A point on the Darwin thingie: There is no other “theory” of evolution. Conservatives here are opposed to the idea of evolution (which they term “Darwinism” or whatever) occurring and want to replace it with creationism or “Intelligent design” – neither of which have anything to do with evolution. Small point but still… I’m a bio major.

  6. Also for all interested, Swaminathan Aiyar had an interesting viewpoint on the candidate best for India. You can find it at, the article titled “India needs McCain as US President” (April 2008)

  7. Thanks Arnab.
    Suddenly i know so much. Haven’t heard any speeches, or seen the convention- republiccan or democrat.
    All i did was saw HIllayry, Barack and Michelle Obama on Ellen Degeneres show, which is far from political.
    This post was educational, thanks again

  8. Excellent summary – like a “Decision ’08 for Dummies” :). One thing – Sarah Palin is governor of Alaska, not Arkansas.

  9. Palin is Governor of Alaska not Arkansas…
    Nice post GB. I got hooked onto the elections here …very interesting…rooting for Obama!!!

  10. Nice touch and analysis. Think you need to take a step ahead and explain what an “Electoral College” means in the US.
    Obama while accepting the Democratic nomination did touch upon how he would cut down on outsourcing. This, I would say would impact all the Johns (Jais)& Marks (Manish) of India.

  11. Good One…..

    But then Mr. G. dont u find it a strange irony that while u criticize(in other posts) about the Indian government, the Indian Cricket Team,the Indian politicians…u urself are safely ensconced in the US and working for their economy.

    I mean how different are u from the self-serving politicians in our country…who take care of themselves first…before thinking of the country.The argument that it is their job to take care of the country has validity, but then isnt it also the job of every Indian citizen?

    Would u step into politics?

    Or would u come to India and impart some of that PhD knowledge to the millions of illiterates that we have?

    This rant is not directed at you personally….as u have noted we have a lot of hypocrites in our country who shout against the US and then go and work there and even become citizens there.

    I myself am working in the Gulf,and I used to enjoy your posts especially for the creative sarcasm.You have very good brains, and the kind of creativity that is quite enviable.

    But then,it is used for another economy.And sitting thousands of miles away and criticizing doesnt solve the matter, does it?

    I know this has been a long one, but I dont intend to offend you in any…I am only a humble B.Tech. with mediocre brains……..I just said what I felt…

  12. I just don’t get this desi tendency – ‘which outcome will be good for India?’. How insular can we get.

    In 2004, the desi bloggers were unanimous that a George Bush second term will be a better prospect for India. However, his second term proved to be just as disastrous as the first for the whole world.

    Typically, a ‘what’s good for India’ analysis includes only geopolitical factors, while ignoring domestic economic policy which does have enormous implications for the whole world.

  13. Isn’t Sarah Palin’s nomination reminiscent of the Pakistani team back in the 90s springing unknown players who have played 3 galli matches in their lives into the national team?

  14. @ Arnab

    Nicely narrated. If you could vote , who would it be?

    @ Martin

    I am just curious…personally what does patriotism mean to you?

  15. “Sarah Palin, governor of Arkansas,” .. shouldn’t it be Alaska ?

  16. A few of my observations about the US elections:

    1> Whatever happened in the primaries is actually irrelevant now. Its a fast food country with impatient people. 99% people wont even remember Huckabee a year from now.

    2> America would have never voted for a woman president. At heart, this is a deeply misogynistic country. Clinton could never have made it to the final finish line. But she provided enough drama. The conflict of hatred between “black man or a pussy” actually helped Obama in some cases. But white women loved Clinton. Just how much their disgruntled votes go towards Sarah Palin could well determine the election. And they are secretly angry with “lipstick on a pig.”

    3> That was a small blunder by Obama. Instead of insinuated attacks which could offend a major part of the population, he could have indulged in personal attacks on Palin. Her family closet is riddled with skeletons even apart from her 17 yr old daugh getting knocked up recently (result of true abstinence). As Paul Krugman premonitioned recently in NYT, the right side can successfully whip up hatered towards Obama, by portraying his coolness as arrogance, thereby swinging small town votes.

    4> I am in a dilemma about how Obama’s intentions with Pakistan. If he meant it, he is a rare honest guy. I would love him to death if thats the case. But it could also be a clever ploy to get rid of the Hussein tag. But by accident it may yeild unforeseen benefits. With the Bush thing in Pakistan coming out, people are actually calling Obama prescient. And since the R’s and Hillary hush hushed Pakistan, they are appearing dishonest.

    5> Palin’s selection was better than Biden’s. A woman under a man is completely acceptable to ‘family values’ espousing R’s. And she kinda compensates for his lack of glamor. Her appeal is bland, even repelling to many people, but these people are mostly outside the target demographic of the R party. Biden was specifically chosen to help Obama with blue collar whites in Ohio, WV,Penn, GA etc., but it remains to be seen how much his impact actually is. Palin’s selection also gives a new lease of life to Maureen Dowd. She is at her best when attacking other women…for some reason…dont ask me why. I think she has a crush on the eclectic Obama. But she is also correct about Palin.

    6> The R party is not a free market supporting party. It seems closest to capitalism, but it actually practices hyper capitalism. The bailouts of Freddie and Fannie are a case in point. Greenspan also kept the rates just a bit too low which resulted in a lot of harm. US may have avoided a recession, but as now Lehmann faces bankrupcy after Bear, it is clear that the financial system has been afflicted to the very core. And the economy actually growed significantly more under D’s since ww2 than R’s. That is because even though the R’s cut tax directly, they compensate this by taxing insidiously, by spending indiscriminately in wars and by devaluing the dollar. Only the very very rich people and big companies benefit from this kinda tax cut. But Rush Limbaugh would like you to believe that the poor is being benefited from tax cuts. Not in this kinda market. No way. So even if Obama is opposing NAFTA, do not think that R’s policy is more free market. As I said, the R party doesnt follow capitalism, they follow hyper capitalism. Now Obama will say a lot of things. But he cannot do any outrageous ‘changes’ as Congress will stop him. Being a nominee of the Left, it is unfair to expect him to shout too conservative things. But he remains an enigma. Who knows what lies in his heart!

    7> As you said, educated whites (latte, cappuccino, lean meat) will vote for Obama. So when Tom Friedman in NYT asks young college goers to remember the energy policy and not vote for McCain, he talking to the rich kids sons who go to college. The white factory worker in Pennsylvania (thick steak, draught beer, bowling) will still NOT vote for him.

    8> R party is good at conning the common man. This Pakistan stint just before the elections is a ploy to convince the average moron that they are finally closing the net on the big fish. But the big fish was never their target. They knew there was no WMD. They knew Pakistan was misusing that money. As that was all a part of the plan to fight this farcical war. The regular joe is also very happy that gas prices have fallen below 4 bucks due to “future plans of offshore drilling”.

    It will be a close …..very close fight and will fluctuate many times to either side. But it is also very delicious. May Barrack Obama win. He deserves it. Perhaps, secretly, deep down, John McCain admits that too.

  17. Wonder how Indian politicians will react if they are forced to go through a nomination process in their own parties.
    Come election time, the party tickets go up for sale, and naturally the major portfolios namely home, defence, finance etc are arbitrarily awarded. The next line of portfolios are obviously dangled in front of the coalition partners to keep them in the game. I’m sure the insignificant portfolios do go up for sale.

    A far cry from the politics of the far west, i guess.

  18. Do you have a time out set to type out a comment by a reader? Yesterday I typed a nice paragraph in response to your review of Rock On but suddenly I was taken back to your blog page and my comment vanished! Was too lazy to type it again!!

  19. Good to have an ‘insider’s view’ on the greatest political battle of our times, as the Press would have us believe.

  20. Good clear post greatbong, Ive never followed the american elections much,and it was always a fuzzy gray area of understanding

    Youre good at taking apart the details without bringing personal biases in, nice.

    lets have more articles like this!

  21. Wow! Great post! You should have titled it ‘Everything You Wanted To Know About The US Elections But Were Too Embarrassed To Ask For The Fear Of Coming Across As Ignorant’. Or maybe that’s just me 😉

  22. Informative post. Cleared up a lot of confusion I had about the U.S. presidential election process & why it takes so long.

    Incidentally, I was going through McCain’s wikipedia entry & boy, has he had some experiences in life. I think when it comes to having a proper geo-political world view, he should be the most informed candidate.

    As for who’ll be ‘good’ for India, well we should stop conjecturing & simply concentrate on improving our lot. Other things will take care of themselves since power respects power.

  23. Funny, my earlier comment vanished too.

    Either way, this is one of your best posts because it clearly brings out the politics scene there. Youre a clear thinker and writer when need be. 🙂

    earlier, the american elections were just another distraction for me, whats happening was too far away to be of any interest

    and I read the link for obamas speech –

    I have to admit, Hes one of the most clear and genuine political leaders Ive come across and id ask everyone to have a look see

    brilliant stuff that

  24. The Obama Speech… substitute ‘black’ with ‘dalit’, ‘white’ with ‘upper caste’ and imagine Mayawati delivering it…
    That would be the day!!!

  25. Dear Arnab

    Very well written…. i have been a silent reader of your posts for th e last 2 years and of late had felt that the quality of ur posts was sliding(compared to old gems like the ones on Prabhuji and the 1983 cricket finals).Its indeed a real ( and compared to your last 20 posts, a rare) pleasure to have read a quality post again.Great to see you back in form.


  26. Forget India Centric policies..the question is which administration would screw pakistan quickest…

    Now the Afghan war is entering a stage where the US forces are openly attacking Pak tribal regions with ground forces…i reckon Obama or McCain, both will go after Taliban in pak..pakistanis however are damn lucky, they have got out of similar shit holes smelling of roses..

    However as they say in Sweden..’Luck only lends for the time being, to claim back later with the exact interest’..or words to that effect

  27. Sorry ..but it felt like I have already read all this before..

  28. What effect does any future US military intervention in Pakistan, have for India and Pakistan?

    The US enters Pakistan’s badlands to fight the Jihadis in a limited tactical conflict. To some extent, it is good for India’s security concerns, because it will divert critical resources and manpower of the Islamic groups towards absorbing Uncle Sam’s mega-punches in their own frontyard.
    But we must refrain from construing that as a panache for our Islamic problem.

    We have to understand that India’s Islamic Jihad movement has, over the past 8-10 years depended less and less on their ideological and logistical mother ship (Pakistan), across the border.

    -After the ouster of the Taliban from Afghanistan, relatively lesser number trans-national Jihadis have come to Kashmir and other parts of India. In fact, barring a few India-centric groups, the entire Jihad machnery has been engaged in dealing with NATO and the US in Afghanistan.

    -Because of a soft glove approach of both state and Central governments in india, and a supportive media and intellectual class, the Islamists have successfully created a multi-layered jihad strategy, with deep penetrations in the socio-political heirarchy, intelligensia and public discourse. That leaves them with lesser and lesser need of underground elements for infrastructural support.

    – Porous border with Bangladesh provides a never ending supply of trained manpower, when needed.

    So, either Blues or Reds, controlling the White House and bouncing inside Pak, may not be as rosy a scenario for India as we might hope it to be. On the other hand, it could well mean internationalization of the Kashmir issue. The US may want to pacify Paksitan (after it has beat the crap out of its badlands) by offering them a carrot in Kashmir.

  29. GB … what makes you say that the indian media is covering the US elections perfunctorily ??? Both TV & Print media has been assailing us with Obama / Hillary / McCain… and now with Palin and her oversexed teenage daughter thrown into the circus there is little else I get to see on news channels ( other than Bihar floods and Mamatadi’s escapades in Singur which have derailed Rotondada’s Nano plans ).

    Heck, some channel even ran the Obama acceptance speech … where he kept intoning “Thank You” a zillion time in that rasping, irritating, semi-baritone of his and kept going till i was forced to change the channel to some demented reality show 🙂

  30. Barack is spelled with a single ‘r’.

  31. Besides being affable and religious (he is a former pastor), Huckabee is known for losing 110 lbs weight, having a FAT family and being corrupt. Governor’s office in Arkansas had a reputation for accepting gifts.

    25 years ago NY was one of the most dangerous cities in the US. Crime-ridden, filthy and unfit for families. Giuliani is credited for changing it into a safe and friendly place.

    If McCain is a maverick, Romney is the uber-flip-flopper. He was very liberal till he was interested in Governorship of Massachusetts. During the late stages of his governorship, he slowly started announcing a change of heart for abortion, education, what have you… moving towards the right in a shameless attempt to ready himself for the presidency. He would have been canon fodder for the media / democrats.

    McCain won by elimination.

  32. I’ve been following the US election closely since the primaries, and your analysis surprised me – there was STILL quite a bit I wasn’t aware of. Thanks.

    The US media’s coverage of the election has been outstanding, as usual. Fox can always be relied upon for the most ridiculous, unreasonably GOP-centered reporting, and they haven’t disappointed this time either – on the other end of the spectrum, the anti-Palin rhetoric on AlterNet is quite amusing to read, including this gem from Mr. Bourne himself, giving us his two-bit on why he thinks Palin may have been chosen:

    “I think there’s a really good chance Sarah Palin could become president, and I think that’s a really scary thing… I think the pick was made for political purposes… Do the actuary tables and there’s a one out of three chance, if not more, that McCain doesn’t survive his first term and it’ll be President Palin… It’s like a really bad Disney movie. The hockey mom, you know, ‘oh, I’m just a hockey mom’… and she’s facing down President Putin… It’s totally absurd… it’s a really terrifying possibility.”

    Jeez.. really?

    A fun two months ahead.

  33. Biden is true friend with Indians 🙂

  34. Wow! Wonderfully explained post. However, I have one minor disagreement : “While that identity gave Obama a ready vote-bank that had traditionally supported the Clintons, it also attracted many white voters, especially the wealthy liberal “Starbucks” crowd, in that it gave them an opportunity to purge themselves of the historic guilt that the USA, in all its years of democracy, had yet to elect an African-American to the highest post.”
    I don’t believe that this is true. While the wealthy liberal “Starbucks” crowd cheer a young black man as a presidential nominee for a change, it is because of his policies, not because of guilt. They worship his oratory skills, and they truly believe that he can change the current rotting situation in this country. They did not feel the same about Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton when they were running. The historic guilt was not prevalent at that time and is not present now.

  35. Those who think that either MCain or Obama will attack the pakis are quite wrong. The last thing the next president will do is to open up a third front of confrontation. Sarah Palin is quite a hotty I dont mind if she becomes the next VP and arrange a swim suite competition in front of the white house. I am quite sure Bill Clinton will change his party affiliation to become a member of her cabinate.

  36. @ Rish G

    I have to agree with Arnab, on the well to do liberal Starbuck’s crowd part.

    The reason Sharpton or Jackson never appealed, was because of their inability to communicate beyond the “hood” crowd.

    Obama’s message of “change” so far, I repeat, so far, is just a lot of hand waving. His shifting of stance, over the last 6 months, is worth noting in this regard.

  37. Without a doubt a Republican administration will be better for India than any Democratic administration. I live in US and dig politics. I have followed primaries closely and now following the general election.

    Democrats will do everything they can to stop outsourcing to India. They will bring CTBT back on table. They will raises strong noises about environment and Kyoto protocol. They will raise noises about labor standards. All this is against India’s interests.


  38. The “lipstick on a pig” thing was great fun though 🙂
    Ellen has a put up a social message on her site – “Say NO to animals wearing make-up. Its cruel and unusual. Lipstick on pigs? NO! Fake Eyelashes on ponies? NAY”
    See it here-

  39. In India the media coverage has been as detailed as any Indian election coverage especially regarding the Democratic Party primaries. This time the coverage has been more detailed and better than last time. There was actually a debate on Hillary as a symbol of feminism on CNN IBN with her Highness Sagarika Ghose spewing all sorts of jargons and fundas which will embarrass an MBA.

    @Martin – Everyone has the right to comment and criticize. His/her location and contribution to his/her country of birth is another issue (btw do you know that NRIs sending their dollars into India form a major part of India’s foriegn exchange inflow which is very critical considering our BOP position). Or is this post a self flagellating exercise meant to exercise your demons?

  40. Too long a post to read unless you are at work 🙂

  41. Fantastic post, Arnab! I lost any and all respect I had for McCain (who seemed the least idiotic of Republican candidates) the minute he brought in that rabid Sarah Palin. Grrrrrr It is incredibly insulting to women to think that they’d vote for Palin just because Hillary cannot become Prez. How utterly stupid is that? Err, in case anyone didn’t notice, Palin stands for literally everything Hillary and liberal women were against. Anyway, I always supported my Obama and I’d rather have a sensible, smart, compassionate man in the White House than a retarded woman like Palin.

    Also, I know desi women who supported Hillary (vs Obama) just because of the glass ceiling thing. My problem with voting for someone just because of their gender is that one of the most dangerous PMs India had was a woman- Indira of course. When doofus beauty queens like Sush say how much they admire Indira they seem to forget that her ascent had everything to do with dynasty, not merit. And also, this is the one PM we had who brought India dangerously close to dictatorship. I shudder to think one more Indira-like PM and we might have become another Pakistan with their military jokers.

  42. As an Indian used to seeing monolithic parties with the same faces in leadership positions for years on end, sometimes as a matter of birthright, the primary system seems to be a great way of enforcing intra-party democracy and in letting alternative viewpoints within a party have the chance to present their case to the party base.

    Huh? In spite of that, the US has had Bush-Clinton-Clinton-Bush-Bush and almost followed it up with another Clinton.

    Doesn’t the US want fresh faces?

  43. I think one of the reason why Hillary lost was because she was not left enough. In primaries you have appeal to your base. She was trying to be center-left or perhaps center.

    We should not link India’s relation with US on basis of US-Pakistan relation. It will become zero sum game.

  44. @Dhanajay Mhatre :

    I do not in any way criticize anyones right to comment. However my question is with respect to the hypocrisy of the commentor…..

    Now, one example….If u have been following the posts on Calcutta closely u would find that Mr. G. seems to have an issue with Mother Teresa since she gave a bad name to his home city(while she received sainthood).

    Well,u tell me, I myself do not do anything for those children that she saved(except put in some loose change), am happy with my NRI life but as soon as someone does something about it, I scream “That gives a bad name to my homeland”.

    Compare that with what religious leaders and politicians do,the country is overrun with corruption,poverty and what not and they are more interested in proving some religious myths.This particular subject has been taken up by Mr. G. before.

    Pls correct me if I am wrong…but doesnt that sound strange?

    It may be that I am wrong…I wish to hear what u have to say…

  45. Really nice and refreshing analysis of the elections. ever thought of being a political commentator??

  46. sorry for the yawn, but there was another blast in Delhi.. 20 (or some figure like that killed)

    ok carry on..

  47. One thing this election made clear is that it is very much ok to be a Sexist but you cannot be a Racist. It is so cool, to be a anti racist but sexist, that’s a whole different story. You would hear almost every talk show host referring to Hillary as – that woman. Why is that woman so ambitious? Why does that woman think that the Presidency would be served to her on a platter? Why is that woman not giving up yet? Electing that woman means three terms of Bill Clinton presidency.

    It’s not derogatory to say that woman, but the tone was set to be derogatory and also I have to come up with these same guys referring to any of the Hillary’s counterparts as – that man.

    Hillary carried a heavy baggage of her husband’s misdeeds and she paid very much for it. Yes, I am eagerly waiting to vote for Hillary in 2012.

    Yes, Obama knew exactly how the lipstick on a pig comment would play out. He knew that would bring back the attention and discussion back to him. Also nobody observed his body language and his facial expression while he was giving that comment. He looked very angry with his jaws almost grinding, that Palin drew all the attention for last 10 days.

    Obama is a smooth talker and a showman. Time will prove how good a President he will be. His Pakistan comment does not impress me much because I do not know which lobbyist he is pandering to?

  48. The other fascinating development this time (which seems to have been omitted from the post) was the surge of Ron Paul. His has strong libertarian views (economic liberty as well as social liberty) and is thus always at the fringe of the system. Which means it is completely ignored by the media, which is controlled by the big 2. But this time, the internet changed the equations a bit. He raised a record amount of money through the internet – without even trying. It was a typical internet movement – users organized themselves into groups, created signages, held rallies, whatever, with no top-down control. Of course, he was nowhere near winning the republican nomination, but he created a band of amazingly committed activists – paulistas as they call themselves.

    His views and his charisma can be best seen in the “rally for the republic” that was held a few miles away from the republican convention.

    Check it out on youtube. This man may be the world’s next great statesman.

  49. Great recap and analysis of the upcoming elections so far!

  50. Great recap. Obama does bring in freshness and charisma which draws people to him….but he does come across a bit ‘fluffy’ at times. As for his chances at being voted President, my personal opinion is that it is going to be very tight for him. The opinion polls, as proven in the past, always show higher than actual support for black nominees. Part of the reason for this is that respondents who are interviewed prefer to be politically correct than honest when expressing opinions.

  51. U.S even today is looking at basic issues like Universal health care. It’s amazing how much of lies the Republicans can pump out and repeat it shamelessly.

    Obama Biden ’08.

  52. Very well written case by case analysis of the last few months! Thanks.

  53. I’m very surprised to see that you have not mentioned Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich, who, in spite of not having made too much of an impact in terms of votes, certainly did make waves in the primaries for their truly different takes on policy. Take Ron Paul, for instance: he was pro-life, but he was non-interventionist, wanted to cut spending, etc. He commanded (and still does, I believe) a huge internet following. Dennis Kucinich is much the same, except of course for the fact that he was a Democratic candidate for the nomination.

    Also, given that you have mentioned Giuliani, it is even more surprising that you haven’t mentioned Ron Paul, because Ron Paul was actually ahead of Giuliani in a few states. Frankly, I’m disappointed, because I expected an intelligent blogger like you to have at least tipped your hat to Paul for, if nothing else, his courage to swim against the tide of popular opinion.

  54. @The Monk: The purpose of this post was to give an overview of the US elections, highlighting the “key” players and analyzing their reasons for victory or defeat. Kucinich or Paul do not count as “key” players—-even though they might have rather radical policy stances. So did Tancredo for that matter—in that all immigrants are evil. As to Giuliani, the reason he was covered was because he was considered to be a favorite to win the party ticket. The fact that he fell below Ron Paul speaks more for his abysmal campaign than for Paul’s popularity. As to Paul’s popularity, it stems a lot from classical Republicans of the Goldwater school, who form a miniscule minority of voters but are in general liberal donors (explains the success of his fund-raising)who see Bush’s intervensionism as a repudiation of the classical spirit of Conservatism.

  55. @Martin:
    Even I have issues with Mother Teresa, her diverting of donations towards evangelical activities, her hypocracy with respect to abortion, etc.

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  57. Obama is the winner

  58. Year 2035 INDIA… re-elected Prime Minister Mr. _ _ _ _ Gandhi ( son Of Rahul Gandhi ) Promissed the nation that he will remove poverty in 20 years.. President Mrs._ _ _ _ (daughter of PRIYANKA GANDHI) was with him..

    Year 2055 INDIA… newly elected Prime Minister Mr. _ _ _ _ Gandhi ( grandson Of Rahul Gandhi ) Promissed the nation that he will remove poverty in 20 years.. President Mr._ _ _ _ (Grand son of PRIYANKA GANDHI) was with him

    Year 2100 INDIA
    Persident- Mr……. Gandhi (Great Grand son of Rahul Gandhi)
    Prime Minister Mr……. Gandhi (Great Grand son of Rahul Gandhi)
    Defence Minister Ms…… Gandhi (Great Grand daughter of Priyanka Gandhi)
    Home Minister…. Mr…… Gandhi
    Finance Minister Mr….Gandhi

    Father Of Nation M.K.Gandhi
    Mother of nation Sonia Gandhi
    Sister of Nation Priyanka Gandhi
    Brother of Nation Rahul Gandhi

    National Holidaya
    M.K Gandhi’s Birthday
    Sonia Gandhi’s Birthday
    Rahul Gandhi’s Birhtday
    Rahul Gandhi’s anniversary
    Priyanka’s anniversary

  59. Could we have a part 2 of the above post?


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