Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Why is this such a big deal?

I recently went to the book store, to find a book to read while I drank beer at the bar waiting for my girlfriend to finish work. I chose a biography of Leni Riefenstahl, the 1930s-era Nazi propaganda film-maker and director who created some of the most amazing documentaries with some of the most amazing footage in history. (Her film Olympiad is still the best Olympic documentary of all time - Jesse Owens winning all those medals in the face of Hitler - and her film Triumph Of The Will is still one of the most chillingly visual pieces of propaganda of all time - a Nazi rally in1933.) On my way to the cash, however, I grabbed two more books. Dreams From My Father, by Barack Obama, and Living History, by Hillary Clinton. I wasn't even sure why I had decided to grab them, and I never really gave it a second thought until now.

The real question is, why is this election such a big deal? Why are the primaries such a big deal? Even here in Canada, people talk about this race more than they do our own elections. And what do we care who becomes the next president down south? Normally, I am not even aware of primaries. Oh, I remember Howard Dean and his ill-fated screaming fit, and I remember being vaguely disappointed in John Kerry being chosen to run for the Democrats, but really I paid no attention until a candidate was chosen. But not this time, not this year. Why? It's easy to suggest that the main reason is that a black candidate is facing off against a female candidate, and no matter who wins that Democratic primary it will be historic for the United States. Sure. This is a little true. But does that really matter in Canada? I mean, we've had a woman as our Prime Minister, (even if it was only for eleven minutes). So what's the big deal to us? The black guy? Well, again, it partly is. But there is something much bigger going on than just a charizmatic African-American and a determined woman running for the job of Most Powerful Person On Earth.

And that thing is George Bush. This upcoming presidential election will not, by a long shot, be the most important one in American history. In fact, at best it is the third-most important election in our lifetimes. The most important being the 2000 election won by Al Gore, the second being the 2004 election won by George Bush. The disastrous resluts of those two elections have had repercussions we grasp only now. And, had Gore become president, you know, as he was elected to do, we might not realize how now how important that election really was. Does anyone doubt that Gore would not have invaded Iraq? Or that the world would be miles ahead now in terms of environmental policy? Not that it matters. But the point is that this current, upcoming American election is going to be the biggest one of our lifetimes in terms of the number of people who realize that it really matters. Because all of a sudden the world realizes just how bad the world can get when there is a terrible American preisdent. Bush, and his administration, showed that 7 or 8 people, full of hubris and near-sightedness, when elected to the most powerful position in the world, can quickly ruin that world for everyone.

And so now, we watch the American race with renewed interest. We realize that it was seven or eight people who created the disastrous horror show that is Iraq. It was seven or eight people who made the decision to completely ignore any kind of environmental reports, to repeal the estate tax, to re-write bankruptcy laws to favour credit card companies, and instituted dozens of plans that made rich people, including those who work at Haliburton, richer, and quickly left the American economy - and therefore, to some extent, the economy of the rest of the world - go down the crapper. Spending trillions of dollars on a stupid war doesn't help either...so this next president will have that weight on his (or her) shoulders. People know how bad a bad choice can be, not just for the U.S. but for the rest of the world, and they are therefore invested in the process. And so am I. I have begun reading Obama's book, and it's wonderful. In fact, I got so into it yesterday that I completely forgot who he was, that he was running for president, and was completely absorbed in the reading itself. A fantastic book on race relations and his relationship with his absent father, it's one of the most compelling books I have picked up in a while. I will likely finish it today, at which point I'll be picking up that Clinton book.

These people fascinate me, this race fascinates me, and somehow I feel as though the outcome of the American presidential race will affect me more than the next federal Canadian election. After all - what will we get here? A Conservative minority that bullies it's way, as best it can, into Republicanesque fiscal policies, or a Liberal minority that backs it's way through slightly less scary social policies. I don't know how much difference there really is. But in the States, there is a difference. I think at this point it's a foregone conclusion that Obama will get the Democratic nod, and so the race will be between him and John McCain. McCain, who will run on his "I don't care how long it takes, we will never leave Iraq and we will probably invade Iran and possibly North Korea and Venezuela and Sweden or whatever" platform. And Obama who will run on his "I'm the new face and I represent real change" platform. And a guy like that comes around once in a lifetime. And when he does, we can only hope that the people doing the voting are smart enough to see that he's the only real option. For their own good, and the good of us all.

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