Some Jamaicans have complained about the undue length of this year's summer-long election campaign. Nevertheless, it's a blink compared to the American marathon. Half a year old, the U.S. presidential campaign still has more than a year to run.
U.S. presidential campaigns have been growing longer for decades. Still, this year's sets a record. This 'runaway inflation' raises serious concerns about a system which has raised the cost of campaigning so high that politics is becoming even more of a rich man's club. Serious candidates must be able to operate nationwide campaign machines, and sustain advertising campaigns, for nearly two years. Already, candidates who are raising merely millions - and not tens of millions - of dollars are seen as laggards.
On the other hand, some analysts maintain that long campaigns are a positive development for the U.S. Because it is not a parliamentary system, there is no government-in-waiting in the form of an opposition. That means there has been no scrutiny of the candidate's own legislative record, policies or manifestos. Analysts point out that a star candidate, like Barack Obama, has shot to centre stage without much in the way of a record to analyse. Accordingly, the long campaign will enable the country to do just that.
Significantly, this year's campaign suggests that the rich man's club may be able to make a little room for at least one woman. Hilary Clinton may not be the first American woman to launch a presidential campaign. However, she is the first to have a serious chance at winning the coveted prize.
Equally, this year marks a significant break, in that, for the first time, a black candidate is also seen as a serious candidate. It is perhaps a sad commentary on the state of U.S. society that so many people are contesting Mr. Obama's claims to 'blackness' on the grounds that he is not really an African American, but the child of an African who migrated to America. One hopes that this campaign will not descend into a politics of 'identity' in which Mr. Obama's ethnicity, rather than his ability, becomes a dominant issue.
Nevertheless, the gains in gender and ethnic diversity that the U.S. is seeing should be set against the increasing class homogeneity of U.S. presidential elections. Perhaps it is inevitable that the rich shall govern. But, if so, Americans should confront the myth that any boy or girl can become president.
We cite the American election scene to invite comparison with our own behaviour in at least one respect. The vigour of the campaign so far ahead of the fixed election date is hardly likely to provoke the kind of violence which once more threatens to mar our own electioneering.
Forty-five years into political independence we are still to feel confident that both major political parties can compete with civility, eschewing the rancour of open hostility to the point of murder and mayhem. In recent weeks platform speeches have descended to the level of scurrility and disgraceful utterance - as cited in today's Letter of the Day below.
For the first time there has been open hostility to the political ombudsman, a clergymen bereft of any real power to calm the hostility. The two days of fasting and prayer scheduled for this weekend may give some peaceful pause, along with the platitudes of Monday, August 6, when the nation marks the 45th year of Independence; hopefully with the dawning of real political maturity.
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