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Convenient Distractions: The Role of Gender and Race in U.S. Politics

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In the context of United States electoral politics, real issues almost always have a way of getting sidetracked by distractions. “Race” and “Gender” amply illustrate the point.

By Cecile Pineda

"My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California."
— Hilary Clinton, May 23, 2008

“That [loud noise] was Barack Obama. He just tripped off a chair…..Someone aimed a gun at him and he…he dove to the floor.”
— Governor Huckabee speaking to the NRA, May 16, 2008

In the context of United States electoral politics, real issues almost always have a way of getting sidetracked by distractions. “Race” and “Gender” amply illustrate the point. That misogyny and racism exist in the social landscape of contemporary United States is undisputed. If there is doubt, we have Katrina to remind us; and we have the U.S. Constitution which allocated to slaves three-fifths of a human unit. If there is doubt we have ample sociometrics to show that a behavior praised in a male is the same behavior decried in a woman. The present hue and cry (in the week of June 9 Obama won a sufficient number of delegates that his candidacy was assured) “Can a ‘black’ man be elected?” “Can a woman be elected?” reflects a stereotypic view of both race and gender. We could for example say: “Can a person of mixed blood be elected?” Or: “Can a multi-ethnic person be elected?” Or perhaps more to the point, “Would a person of mixed culture accurately reflect the present demography of the United States?” Or we could ask, “Can a pushy woman be elected?” or How about a pushy man? Or: How about a lying man? Or woman? Isn’t it axiomatic that all politicians, male, female and otherwise lie? Is it a correlative however to imagine that they may lie because the electorate and the media want and expect them to?

For some time I have viewed the U.S. presidential “races” as television-fodder. They serve to increase viewing ratings by appealing to our cultural bugaboos of racism and misogyny, of “winning;” of game competition; and of violence. Lest there be doubt about this last assertion, I refer to the two quotations which form the epigraphs to this article. When it became apparent that squaring off against Mr. McCain we would have in the opposite corner someone whom the public would perceive as a “woman” and in some circles, a disliked woman, and someone whom the public would perceive as a “black man” (although by the same token that he is described as a black man, he might equally be described as a “white” man) I began to suspect the whole game of being a set-up, a clearly calculated theater orchestrated by our corporate masters and their media that all but guaranteed that voters would be sufficiently distracted, not to say disinformed as to vote against their own self interest thereby insuring the continued movement towards a conservatism whose oppressive policies place increasing pressures on domestic—and foreign—populations. (Even New Yorker cover of July 21 hued the corporate media line.)

Since this article was first prepared for publication, I have come across a 2004 article with no specific attribution that I have so far discovered, but which makes a very pertinent claim: “There are some facts about the American system of elections many people do not realize. For one thing, there is no governmental or citizen body that computes the vote totals. For decades, the counting of the votes in Presidential elections has been handled by a private company owned by the TV networks. (Itals. mine) While it may change its name from time to time to stay out of the public eye, it is in fact the same company, owned by the major TV networks. That's right; in the United States, the Presidential elections are counted and decided by the TV network news departments. And nobody checks up on them. Nobody is allowed to.” Stolen Nation

There are two ways of viewing elections in the United States:

1) They are the means guaranteeing that people will have a voice in electing leaders who will represent their best interests in congress.

2) They are the window dressing necessary to PR the country as a “democracy” when it is nothing of the sort.

In my view we have heard at least one truthful declaration from the female contender for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. Mrs. Clinton claimed that she and Sen. McCain were the only two candidates capable of governing the United States. Although her statement aroused a great deal of consternation because by making it, Mrs. Clinton crossed the line of what politically is not acceptable along so-called “party” lines, in fact, it represents that rare moment in a politician’s life, a moment of truth. The implication was: It doesn’t matter whether Mrs. Clinton or Mr. McCain govern; they will adhere to very much the same agenda, aided and abetted by massive corporate financial backing and corporate media propaganda. By making it, Mrs. Clinton—unconsciously perhaps— acknowledged that the United States has a one-party system. That party is the Business Party; its two branches are referred to for convenience as “Democratic” and “Republican.” To achieve fairer and more balanced representation, the United States would have to have a party genuinely representing the interests of the majority of its citizens, who, whatever their social pretensions, are the wage earning/payroll deduction class. For a well considered truly Second Party platform, readers may refer to Cindy Sheehan’s Labor Platform .

Traditionally the Democratic Branch has offered wage earners certain limited sops: a minimal “living wage” requiring its most poorly paid workers to rely on public services such as food stamps and WIC (women, infants & children); limited health care (16% of the population is excluded); “public” education in institutions which more and more have become recruiting grounds for the military and whose curriculum favors testing over critical thinking. As well, it has tended to nominate less conservative Supreme Court Judges. But in terms of foreign policy, both Obama and McCain are taking similar aggressive positions on Iraq, Iran, and Israel, although couched perhaps in differing degrees of sophistication. Although he might have availed himself of people like Chalmers Johnson or Stephen Zunes as his foreign policy advisors, by the week of June 23 it became clear that Mr. Obama would instead take a page from the Clinton playbook by embracing “experience” in spades: he took on board as his campaign’s advisors people dipped and dyed in decades of beltway politics: °Madeleine Albright, whose business interests in “The Albright Group” are closely allied with those of The Carlyle Group which numbers George Herbert Walker Bush as a board member, and whose interests are largely invested in defense. She is the glowing exponent of a feminism which could allow her to say of the possible sacrifice of up to half a million Iraqi children as a result of the “sanctions” that “It would be worth it.” °Warren Christopher, who as part of Bill Clinton’s foreign policy team advised him to continue the sanctions against Iraq.

°Lee Hamilton, former chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee and who served on the 9-11 and Iran/Contra investigations. Of him it has been said: “Whenever Republicans have a problem, their favorite investigator is Lee Hamilton.” Perhaps as a reflection of this new advisor team, Mr. Obama has predictably shifted to the Right, to the great distress of those who viewed in him a trustworthy agent of “change” (presumably from the Bush administration’s policies), squandering his 9 point lead to see it evaporate 16 points, giving his opponent a 7 point lead, and this one week prior to the Democratic National Convention. In passing, I wish to point out the McCain- Scheunemann Georgia “invasion” connection and the convenience of its timing.

American politics has become coin operated and media-massaged to such a degree that its paralysis is all but guaranteed. Through the vehicles of PACs and corporate contributions, politicians have become circus ponies, ready to do star turns whenever the music plays; most powerful of these Golden Calves is AIPAC, which guarantees that electability is synonymous with unquestioning support of the present-day policies of the State of Israel. Quoting from the Jewish Voice for Peace newsletter of June 11, 2008: “Last week, the presumptive presidential nominees spoke at the AIPAC conference and played to the crowd, undermining the potential of diplomatic solutions by promoting the military direction, through promising more of our American tax dollars to Israeli military aid and stridently upholding the exclusion of Hamas from the negotiating table.”

Frank Rich wrote: “For me, Mr. Obama showed signs of jumping the shark two weeks back, when he appeared at a podium affixed with his own pompous faux-presidential seal…. “For all the hyperventilation on the left about Mr. Obama's rush to the center - some warranted, some not - what's more alarming is how small-bore and defensive his campaign has become. Whether he's reaffirming his long-held belief in faith-based programs or fudging his core convictions about government snooping, he is drifting away from the leadership he promised and into the focus-group-tested calculation patented by Mark Penn in his disastrous campaign for Hillary Clinton. Mr. Obama's Wednesday address calling for renewed public service is unassailable in principle but inadequate to the daunting size of the serious American crisis at hand.” (http://www.truthout.org/ article/wall-e-president/July 11, 2008)

The policy of aggressive war in the Middle East, initiated through the use of cooked intelligence and supported by both sides of the aisle has proved a huge success. Never mind that troops are committing suicide in record numbers, that in order to maintain “operations” (the surgery of mayhem?) in Afghanistan and Iraq, the number of mercenaries under the corporate management of such outfits as Blackwater (soon coming to a city near you) and CACI exceeds the number of enlisted troops, and that their pay for the same work averages ten times more than that of “our brave (but penniless) men and women” whose patriotism is loudly trumpeted while they are routinely docked for their enlistment bonuses when they have the misfortune of being wounded and who have been made to pay for their meals at Walter Reed. By now, war, and its twin, genocide, have become the most profitable exports of U.S. corporations. They have made the Vice President wealthy beyond the dreams of Croesus through his former corporation, Halliburton, and its no-bid contracts to its subsidiary, KBR, many of them funneled through the good offices of “Democrat” Diane Feinstein whose husband, war profiteer Dick Blum sits on the KBR board; they have enriched politicians on both sides of the aisle. This administration’s taxation policies, aided and abetted by the Democratic Branch of the Business Party, have made the investment class rich as well. The United States has seen the movement of wealth upward so that now the top .01% of the population owns 90% of the nation’s wealth, an imbalance unparalleled since the time of the Great Depression (and thought by some economists to have brought it on.). Only in the domestic area of services and entitlements and the appointment of some Supreme Court justices do party positions deviate to some degree (and this is the only remaining justification for any “lesser of two evils” sophistry). However, increasingly all social services, including health care, prisons (if one can refer to punishment as a service) and education are being outsourced to private corporations, assuring yet more PAC money will get funneled into the coffers of ever more insatiable politicians.

In its Orwellian movement to the Right more and more the United States has come to mimic the so-called “evil empire” (the expression so dear to Ronald Reagan) of the former USSR. Besides fixed elections, vide the use of torture, domestic spying, mass deportations facilitated by the use of drugs; ICE detention centers where as has recently come to light some have died in US custody for lack of proper medical attention, and where underage children have been held (without their parents) and in at least one case, for many months; and with legally mandated racial profiling and arrests of persons of Middle Eastern origin to be held without charges and without trials, and where at least one of whom, namely Professor Sammy Al-Arian, although acquitted of all charges against him by a jury of his peers, nonetheless still remains incarcerated.

To conclude, I think it would be more accurate to hold that it is exploitation of popular perceptions of gender and race by the corporate class and their complicit media that continues to polarize the politics of the late United States Empire and at the same time helps to guarantee its eventual demise. All three primary candidates offered many of the same prescriptions for maintaining imperialist power: remaining occupiers of nations whose natural resources happen not to be under our sand; talking softly and/or carrying a big, “obliterating” stick; waging war for corporate fun and profit (at the expense of entitlements at home). That is why, in my view, the “two party” system conforms to the carrot-stick, good cop, bad cop analogy. It is a sinister puppet show, where Punch is interchangeable with Judy. It has guaranteed that the “war” in Afghanistan and Iraq, despite popular majority disapproval, would become a business bonanza like none other in history. No matter that its byproduct is the irradiation of Iraqi soils (and Kosovo’s before it) in perpetuity, and resulting contamination of their respective gene pools; the demise of upwards of l,000,000 Iraqis, the displacement of at least 2,000,000 more, and even before the great theater of Shock and Awe, the sanctions-originated demise of 500,000 children, and through government intransigence with regard to climate change, the release into the atmosphere of enough hydrocarbons to guarantee the irreversible melting of the polar ice caps. Let us by all means continue on the criminal course of global Earthmurder—call it Gaiacide—by which our Mafiosi on both sides of the aisle have so richly profited. The “election” system as we know it all but guarantees it.

Berkeley, California, Bastille Day, 2008



Cecile Pineda was born in New York City. She is the author of six novels, the award-winning Face, Frieze, The Love Queen of the Amazon (a satire of magic realism); Fishlight, the memoir of an imagined childhood, Bardo99 in which the 20th Century undergoes a bardo state; and Redoubt, a meditation on gender. The uniform edition of Pineda’s work is published by Wings Press, San Antonio. Prior to her work as a novelist, Pineda founded and directed her own experimental theater company. Recently she has completed a play, Like Snow Melting in Water which deals with population displacement and ecological collapse. Visit her web page at www.home.earthlink.net/~cecilep

Copyright © Cecile Pineda. All rights reserved.

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