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The US Elections: This Time It’s the Issues, Not Just Images

by María Suárez Toro
Costa Rica/Puerto Rico

Although the image of the various candidates has been a central target in almost all electoral processes in the recent past, the US elections might not focus quite so much on that this time around. I believe this time, issues will have to speak louder than face.

On the one hand, the Republicans currently have – due to Bush’s performance – the lowest level of popularity they have had in a long time. So much so that it would not be an exaggeration to think that a Republican candidate stands little chance in the 2008 elections. The image of Republicans in government is not popular.

A recent AP-Ipsos poll showed an all-time low 68% disapproval rating of the government’s performance, both domestically and abroad. The survey, released on July 6, reflects widespread discontent.

On the other hand, the two most popular candidates in the Democratic Party so far have identities that are obviously different from candidates in the past and that are hard to sell a public that has forever voted male and pale. After all, one is African American and the other is female. What a change!

Obama knows it. He told Newsweek recently that the electoral debate says very little about him and much more about America’s state of mind. “I think America is still caught in a bit of a time warp: the narrative of black politics is still shaped by the ’60s and black power.”

Hillary is the only former First Lady to run for president of the country. Being a woman should be an asset to her candidacy – but even that is not working as it should, because many women apparently do not trust her. Aside from the fact that the United States voters have never elected a woman president, some estimates say that one in three Americans would never vote for Hillary under any circumstances.

Journalist Lakshmi Chaudhry of The Nation reports that the once fervent supporter of Hillary, acclaimed essayist, novelist, director and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nora Ephron has become a self-described “Hillary resister”. As Ephron wrote on her Huffington Post blog, there are “those who believe that she will do anything to win, who believe she doesn’t really take a position unless it’s completely safe [and] who believe she has taken the concept of triangulation and pushed it to a geometric level never achieved by anyone including her own husband, who can’t stand her position on the war, who don’t trust her as far as you can spit.”

Chaudhry adds that this change of heart expresses one of the great ironies of Hillary Clinton’s race for the presidency, adding that “Many of the very same feminists who were her most ardent supporters as First Lady are now fiercely opposed to her historic bid to become the first female President of the United States. The woman once described by Susan Faludi (Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of Blame It on Feminism) as a symbol of ‘the joy of female independence’ now evokes ambivalence, disdain and, sometimes, outright vitriol.”
What Are the Issues That Will Matter?

War and peace, and perhaps foreign policy issues in general, are clearly among the topics that rank highest in the electorate’s concerns. Other major concerns are about social issues such as housing, health care, jobs and salaries.

On the issue of the Iraq war, the once silent majority which sided with the President when he took the country (and the whole world) into a supposedly preemptive war against possible weapons of mass destruction is now quite vociferously against the war. Furthermore, that the Republican President lied about the weapons of mass destruction is clearer than ever by now.

Yet, Republicans have steadfastly tried to avoid the issue in electoral debates and interviews. However, silence sometimes speaks louder that words, as the Republican Party bears the most responsibility for a war that is going nowhere in bringing peace and prosperity to Iraq.

Senator Clinton, who in 2002 sided with the war mongrels in the government, does not rank high on this issue, either.

Obama, the former Illinois state legislator who is now the junior US Senator from his state, has not been tested by having to vote on war and peace issues yet: he was only elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2004; the war began on March 20, 2003. He has made statements against the war, but then so did Hillary before she reached Congress.

At the United States Social Forum held in Atlanta, Georgia between June 27th and July 1st, more than 9,000 participants from more than 1,000 social organizations gathered to send a clear message to the world and their nation that they are against present US policies, both nationally and abroad, and they fully intend to mobilize in order to shift the electoral debate away from images to focus on issues. These 9,000 people are part of a growing and politically active organized grassroots movement. They recognize that candidates are always after votes, so they plan to organize to hold state and federal public officials accountable for an agenda that includes social justice and peace abroad.

People in the USA are beginning to make the connections! The African American feminist Ruby Beth Buitekant, a university student from Atlanta, told me at the Forum that “we can no longer isolate issues; we have to make the connections and challenge everyone in government to account [for making] those connections. What I like about this Forum [are] the analysis and actions emerging from it.”

A new face may indeed be emerging in this US election, one that will hopefully force candidates to address real issues. This time, they have to face the faces of those who will vote them in or out, based on whether they address the people’s demand for a new agenda emphasizing the principles identified at the US Social Forum – social justice and peace – both at home and abroad.

And in their every action after the elections, they will be judged.

Ever since the Bush/Cheney ticket won the 2000 elections by a narrow 5-4 decision of the US Supreme Court, dissatisfaction and disenchantment with government has steadily grown. And in response, new social movements have not only sprung up, but become strong and vocal agents for change. The face of US elections has changed, for good. – Ed.

About the Author

María Suárez Toro is a journalist, feminist and human rights activist in local, and international arenas through her work as co-director of FIRE (Feminist International Radio Endeavor), a position she has held since 1991. She has covered most UN conferences since 1992, in addition to numerous other local, national and international conferences and events. She worked as a human rights activist and literacy teacher at the grassroots level in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras in the 1970s and 1980s. María is the recipient of numerous awards for her work.

María holds a Ph D. in Education from the University of La Salle in Costa Rica, Licenciatura in Journalism from the Universidad Federada in Costa Rica, and a Masters Degree in Education from New York State University.
She was the Professor of Communications at the University of Denver from 1998-2002 as well as at the Institute for Further Education of Journalists (FOJO) in Sweden from 1995-2000.

Most recently, María has co-authored a groundbreaking book entitled, Se Vende Lindo Pais (Lovely Country for Sale), which focuses on a controversial plan by a U.S. oil company to drill for oil off the Atlantic Coast of Costa Rica, and the grassroots democratic movement organized to stop it. The book includes the voices of indigenous women and other Costa Rican and European expatriates living along the coast.

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