The Clothes Stink

The Clothes Stink

By Zapiro, South Africa's most famous cartoonist
The U.S. election dominates much of the media of Africa. Should it matter to American voters what a South African diplomat thinks? Does it really matter to a Kenyan businessman if Obama wins or not?

Yes and yes, but unfortunately that’s almost beside the point. I for one have become so weary about the election that my greatest wish is that it be over. I’m not sure if I or any of my many fellow Americans regardless of their politics cares much about what the world thinks, anymore.

We just want one less week in October.

No place on earth has an election cycle as long and drawn out as America’s. No other democracy spends a fraction of what the U.S. spends on elections. So towards the end nothing really matters but getting it out of sight and out of mind.

That’s not a very healthy attitude.

“The selection of a leader for the US might be in some respects more important for other societies than for America,” writes the respected diplomat, Richard Falk, in South Africa.

Writing today in South Africa, a Jamaican-born Tanzanian activist now teaching in the U.S. writes, “The US … massive debt, devalued dollar and unchecked political and economic power of the banks threaten the entire humanity.”

Quoting Newt Gingrich he concludes, “This will be the most important election in the United States since 1860.”

Perhaps, or perhaps not for us in America. But it’s certainly true for the rest of the world.

My nonscientific survey of Africa suggests that Africans believe they will have a much more difficult and threatened existence if Romney wins. The most attention being paid to the American election is in Kenya.

That’s understandable because Kenya is in the thralls of its own contentious election, and one that is much more significant to their country than ours is today in America. It will be Kenya’s first election under a radical new constitution, and the tension is extraordinarily high; the potential for violence is real.

Writing in Nairobi’s digital newspaper, Njoroge Kinuthia recently said “this democracy thing baffles and befuddles.”

Her analysis of some Kenyan politicians is exactly mine of Romney: “They fight and change” positions “like clothes.

“When they stink– [the clothes are] discarded like dirty rags for convenience… That’s why politicians keep hopping like grasshoppers. That’s our brand of democracy, folks.”

Kenya is deeply behind Obama, but for reasons that would disinterest most Americans. Principally it was because of how the Obama administration — and mostly Hillary Clinton –helped the country dig out of the mire of violence and political chaos of 2008. And then there’s the “distant relationship thing.” You’d be surprised how many Obama relatives have popped up in Kenya.

Kenya built its new constitution heavily with American-like government institutions. It will be tried and seriously tested for the first time in national elections on March 4. Perhaps that’s why Kinuthia seems to have as much ennui as myself. Perhaps it’s the institutions, not the players, which is to blame.

North Africa is solidly Obama, but “begrudgingly so” as explained so clearly by the Reuters correspondent in Beirut. North Africans are very disappointed that Obama fell so far behind in his promises to reduce the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

But be that as it may, Romney is “too keen to project U.S. military might.” In the part of the world where most of today’s wars are being fought, this is the preeminent concern. And there is very wide consensus across the continent that wars will increase worldwide if Romney gets elected.

The cartoon that appears above is from South Africa’s most famous political cartoonist, a man who like myself is extremely progressive. His cartoon is exactly how I feel.

And of course it ignores the fact that Obama’s inability to achieve his goals is in huge part the fault of the intransigent Congress.

But we focus our democracies so heavily on the executive that we won’t countenance their failure as a leader except as their own personal failure. It’s what the candidates themselves project! They speak as if they alone can determine governmental outcomes.

(Or even more laughably, that they alone can “bring together” the intransigent polarized divisions that have to make the laws they sign.)

Published in the South African blog RAIN, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, Richard Falk wrote two days ago, “When Obama actually won the presidency, it was one of the most exciting political moments in my lifetime.”

But it was downhill from that point, Falk writes. He believes that heavily racist America is to blame. He believes that redneck Americans were so polarized by Obama’s victory that it “gave rise to an Islamophobic surge that revived the mood of fear and paranoia that followed … the 9/11 attacks.”

(See Gary Wills in this issue of the New York Review of Books for a similar analysis.)

And now, Falk argues, Obama supporters like himself frustrated with the President’s inability to manifest his agenda risk losing to a “dangerous alternative,” because their support for Obama is no longer enthusiastic.

Baffles and befuddles. Right on.

Falk’s conclusion is sadly mine as well:

“The stakes in the presidential election have been reversed – the upcoming election is more about fear than hope.”

So trembling I will drop my vote into the ballet box as an inverse image of a mushroom cloud explodes over Iran.