Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Week From Now

In a week from now, the circus aka the US Elections will have ended and the tragi-comedy will once again begin its four year march to the next denouement.

It has been a very exciting journey so far even though - at times - it bordered on the near ludicrous. In fact, it even felt like watching an episode of Survivor: The White House, and at other times, a little bit like watching a really corny soap opera with its parade of stock characters.

But in a week from now, it will all be over and the debate will focus on the more pertinent question: what next? The ongoing economic crisis, the Iraq imbroglio and the Iranian nuclear puzzle will provide enough material for the president-elect to chew over, ponder and even look for real answers, if any.

So far, if the polls are any indication, it does look like Barack Obama will be the next occupant of the White House. But then, again, people talk of the Bradley effect, laziness of some Democrat supporters, and other 'surprises' that may sway the votes towards the McCain-Palin camp. So one should keep one's fingers crossed and hope for the best.

And therein lies the rub... who is the best after all? Or should we even bother measuring the candidates on some vague bestometer? This search for the best whatever has taken the discussion to some absurd levels.

For instance, the word 'elite' became such a bad word that suddenly ignorance, lack of education, absence of well-cultivated manners were seen as right qualifications for one of the world's toughest jobs. Joe the Plumber (who incidentally was not a plumber) and Hockey Moms became the ultimate brainiacs who are in 'touch' with the real world, and graduates from Ivy League were dismissed as irrelevant to the concerns of the common man.

Now at a certain level, there might be some truth to this railing against the elite but dismissing the elites as spent force and a disqualifier does come across as totally idiotic... and even scary. If lack of education and culture is seen as something to be proud of, then, its logical conclusion endorses a future society akin to this one.

And then, there is this over-excitement over polls.

Quite frankly, the only polls that matter are the ones on November 4th, but opinion polls have acquired a life of their own and no media pundit will be without one. We are told that polls indicate that Obama is leading but at the same time we are cautioned about the Bradley effect, which in retrospect, implies we need to take these polls with a pinch of salt. Of course, this begs the question: if one has to take it with a pinch of salt, then, why on earth are we discussing it in the first place.

But I guess they do indicate the pulse of the moment, and that seems to be beating to the tune of Obama.

All said and done, this is a historic election... and not just for the obvious reasons like either the first non-white President or the first female vice-president... the historicity of this election will also be a big burden on the next president who will have to juggle between being FDR and JFK. The economic crisis requires urgent attention to prevent a repetition of the Great Depression and some sort of a 'new deal' has to be created if the economic 'world' order is to be preserved. And then, again, the new President has to possess the kind of charisma that would inspire and engage everyone to work together for the common good and be filled with hope.

Now that's a tall order for anyone, but these are not ordinary times and the demand is such that nothing less will do. It's not just the US that awaits the outcome with bated breath, but the world at large, is desperate for a different kind of US leadership that does not follow the formulations of the last eight years but takes a chance at a much brighter vision.

Of course, the bigger question for those of us in the Middle East remains the same. Will the new leadership take concrete steps towards ensuring that the region is more peaceful, less war-torn and economically vibrant? Or will we see a return to deja vu?