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Opinion: The US Presidential Election – the Show is Not Over Yet | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Norman Muller is a white-collar worker in Illinois who is sure about at least one thing: he has never voted and intends never to vote in his life. And, yet, by a quirk of fate he is chosen by a super-computer as the only representative of the American electorate in that year’s presidential election which is held according to a new scientific system.

In the new system, a computer works out all the wishes, hopes, fears, prejudices and desires of the electorate and establishes the lowest common denominator representing the point at which all those eligible to vote are in agreement. It then finds one citizen who represents that lowest common denominator, in this case the hapless Muller, “hero” of the master of science-fiction Isaac Asimov’s short story “The Franchise”, and tasks him to choose among the candidates.

Those who follow American presidential campaigns, however, know that things are never as neat as Asimov imagined. This year’s campaign is even less so.

For a long time, nominees were chosen by conclaves of political barons coming in smoke-filled rooms in half a dozen big cities. Later, nominees were produced by party machines that were in turn, controlled by big business, organized labor and, yes, influence peddlers sailing close to the wind of law.

This year’s campaign has revealed a dramatic weakening of the party machines and the rise of “insurgent” groups within both the Republican and Democrat parties that still handle the transfer of the “franchise”. The process had already started with the emergence of the Tea Party within the Republican camp and the “watermelon” groups (green outside with ecological talk but red inside with Marxist beliefs) on the Democrat side.

Outside the US, much of the interest in the current campaign is due to the presence of Donald Trump, front-runner for the Republican nomination, and Bernie Sanders who has broken the “socialist” taboo by using that label in his quest for becoming the Democrats’ nominee.

There is no doubt that Trump has added a shade of color to a dull campaign. The more he plays the ordinary guy the more his audience thinks he is extraordinary.

I don’t think Trump is anti-Semite, anti-Islam or even a xenophobe in general any more than his European versions that also represent a tiny slice of opinion. Only he is at his most convincing when he is just making it up as he goes along.

As for Sanders he makes much of his role as an anti-Israeli Jew while that species is a dime a dozen even in Israel itself.

The Europeans have had a field day mocking Trump as a vulgar billionaire who thinks everything, including the presidency, is up for sale. They forget that Europe has already has its own versions of Trump, including Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, serving as Prime Minister in four governments, and France’s Bernard Tapie who was a “super minister” under the Socialist Pierre Beregovoy.

As for Sanders who has frightened the horses in the stable of the European Right, people forget that the American “socialist” is still to the right of such leaders of the European Left as Gerhard Schroeder, not to mention Jeremy Corbyn.

Despite unprecedented media hype much of it due to the mainstream media’s visceral dislike of Trump and, to a lesser extent, Hillary Clinton, the exercise, known as “the primaries” has attracted relatively few Americans.

Latest estimates put the US population at around 330 million of which some 260 million are eligible to vote. So far, however, around 6.2 per cent of those eligible have cast votes in the Republican and Democrat primaries. Because around half of those eligible often do not vote in the general election, that figure could be raised to around 13 per cent, still not a huge turnout.

Equally puzzling is the fact that the primaries did not tackle any of the big problems, including the management of diversity that modern American democracy has to face. On the Republican side, the focus has been on personal vilification, sometimes dragging the wives of the candidates into the mud as well.

On the Democrat side, Sanders has promised “good health care, good housing and good jobs” plus free education, a new version of apple pie and motherhood consensus. For her part, Mrs. Clinton has pinned her hopes on convincing voters that it is time for a woman in the White House, a laudable objective but not much of a program.

Interestingly, the latest opinion polls show that a majority of American voters would choose Ohio’s Governor John Kasich over all other candidates, Republican or Democrat. Trouble is that, apart from his own state of Ohio, Kasich has not won a single state in his own party’s primaries.

Almost a year ago in a column on the coming election I dismissed the common belief that the final duel next November will be between Mrs. Clinton and Jeb Bush, inviting readers to expect surprises. At the time neither Trump nor Sanders registered on the radar. Today, the possibility of surprise (s) is still there.

On the Democrat side, we cannot rule out the possibility of Ms. Clinton hitting a bad patch formed by shady deals attributed to her on the road to convention.
As for Republicans, the party’s Star Chamber is caressing the magic hat out of which it could produce a new rabbit in Cleveland; maybe in the shape of Paul Ryan, the current Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Trump’s defeat in the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday, also increases the chances of his principal rival Senator Ted Cruz. In fact, all American presidential elections are open to surprises because small but significant events, or a dash of shady shenanigans, could alter the results.

We now know that the “changing” of a few thousand votes in Chicago, America’s most politically corrupt metropolis at the time, and Houston, then a Democrat stronghold, ensured the victory of the Democrat nominee John F. Kennedy. Imagine if Nixon, and not Kennedy, had won.

It is possible that the US would not have staged a coup against the Diem gang in Saigon and thus would not have stepped on the slippery slope that led to involvement in the war in Indochina.

Imagine if the late Ayatollah Khomeini had released American hostages in 1980, three months earlier. President Jimmy Carter, who had been consistently topping the opinion polls, might have been re-elected. There would have been no President Ronald Reagan and no “Mr. Gorbachev! Pull down that Wall!”

Again, imagine if the billionaire Ross Perot, having made his fortune in Iran, had not entered the race as an independent candidate in 1992 taking away votes from Republicans, ensuring Bill Clinton’s election. Dull George HW Bush would have become president and colorful Monica Lewinski wouldn’t have secured a place in US history.

Finally, imagine if there had not been 312 more votes for George W Bush in Florida. The Democrat Al Gore, who had won a majority of votes nationwide, would have become president, launching a global program to save the butterflies in the Andes rather than invading Afghanistan and Iraq.

Does Norman Muller vote in the end? Well, let’s keep the answer secret so that the exercise doesn’t lose all its interest.