Nepali Times Asian Paints
Here And There
November Second


Never mind the months of bluster and rhetoric, the charges, allegations and anger. Forget the media hype, the debates, the advertising and the surging tide of money that propelled this election campaign in the United States.

All that's left now is the result, and nobody here, repeat nobody, knows what that will be. Poll after poll point to a dead heat, a horse race so close that a digital camera might have to be used to declare a winner. Or a court decision.

Were this a novel, it would be a page turner and of course, readers would be awaiting the sting in the tail, the surprise ending. Well, I've got a funny feeling that there won't be any surprises before election day. Short of the sort of thing Tom Clancy might write about, there are only four possible results, each candidate winning by either a small or large margin. It's almost expected that there'll be challenges, and bitter acrimony long after the winner and loser have been declared. Half the country won't believe the result, but they'll get on with life regardless.

So why all the fuss? Why is the United States election this year the biggest media event the world has even, bigger even than the World cup of Soccer and the Millennium events of 1999-2000?

In three words, George W Bush. This is a man who didn't even win the 2000 election by any fair standard, who was installed as president by a politically biased Supreme Court that stopped the counting of ballots in Florida and let a disputed result stand. In the past four years, he has started two wars and thumbed his nose at international convention and opinion any number of times. America, loved widely under Bill Clinton, is now loathed more than at anytime in recent history.

And don't forget too, Mr Bush stands where he does today, with a very real prospect of winning a second term in office, because of Osama Bin Laden.

The horrific bloodletting and terror of 11 September, 2001 brought to an end months of political drift in Washington. On 10 September, George W Bush was one of America's least popular presidents. From the next day onward, he became a leader. His detractors would argue he did so by default, that a wrong and terrified people reached out to an office, not the man who held it. Others would say that Bush's undeniable moral certainty, his unwavering belief in his own gut instincts, these qualified him to be America's war president.

What of his opponent? Who in the international community can claim honestly to have even heard of John Kerry before this long election campaign? He labored for 19 years in the Senate with a number of accomplishments to his credit, none-it's fair to say-that we were aware of before his presidential candidacy. He's made it very clear that he was something of a war hero. He has twice married rich women, and has raised impressive children. But still, what he has done to qualify him to be America's leader, to be the world's leader in troubled times?

So far, he has won some presidential debates and been rather convincing in his criticisms of Bush's policies in Iraq. In all things, he promises much and, like any politician, keeps details to a minimum. Asked what the main difference is between he and his opponent, he replies, in effect, "I am more competent, just ask my friends".

In 2004, with HIV/AIDS, global warming, terrorism, economic inequity, injustice on a grand scale and countless other problems begging to be addressed by a thoughtful, clear-thinking American president, these are the choices.

Two privileged white men who've never really had to earn a pay cheque to feed their families. Two members of the cult of power in Washington DC. Two people promising much of the same that has emanated from their country for 20 years now, with the differences only in nuance and presentation.

Yes, it matters which one of them wins, but I'm not convinced that the world will be a better place, whatever the result.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)