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Arundhati Roy on US elections and democracy

Anybody who has looked at this blog more than once knows I am firmly in the Anybody But Bush camp. Still, particularly on foreign policy issues, a significant part of me has thought, “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss.”

Thus, I find a speech prize-winning Indian author Arundhati Roy gave in San Francisco last week insightful. Called “Public Power in the Age of Empire”, it was broadcast Monday on Democracy Now!, which has now posted the transcript. My most heartrending concern is that it is too late for this country to ever change or address what she’s saying.

Here’s an excerpt:

And what of the U.S. elections? Do U.S. voters have a real choice?

It’s true that if John Kerry becomes president, some of the oil tycoons and Christian fundamentalists in the White House will change. Few will be sorry to see the back of Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld or John Ashcroft and their blatant thuggery. But the real concern is that in the new administration their policies will continue. That we will have Bushism without Bush.

Those positions of real power – the bankers, the CEOs – are not vulnerable to the vote (. . . and in any case, they fund both sides).

Unfortunately the importance of the U.S elections has deteriorated into a sort of personality contest. A squabble over who would do a better job of overseeing empire. John Kerry believes in the idea of empire as fervently as George Bush does.

The U.S. political system has been carefully crafted to ensure that no one who questions the natural goodness of the military-industrial-corporate power structure will be allowed through the portals of power.

* * *

Like President Bill Clinton before him, Kerry will continue the expansion of U.S. economic and military penetration into the world. He says he would have voted to authorize Bush to go to war in Iraq even if he had known that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. He promises to commit more troops to Iraq. He said recently that he supports Bush’s policies toward Israel and Ariel Sharon 100 percent. He says he’ll retain 98% of Bush’s tax cuts.

So, underneath the shrill exchange of insults, there is almost absolute consensus. It looks as though even if Americans vote for Kerry, they’ll still get Bush. President John Kerbush or President George Berry.

* * *

[I]f the anti-war movement openly campaigns for Kerry, the rest of the world will think that it approves of his policies of “sensitive” imperialism. Is U.S. imperialism preferable if it is supported by the United Nations and European countries? Is it preferable if UN asks Indian and Pakistani soldiers to do the killing and dying in Iraq instead of U.S. soldiers? Is the only change that Iraqis can hope for that French, German, and Russian companies will share in the spoils of the occupation of their country?

Is this actually better or worse for those of us who live in subject nations? Is it better for the world to have a smarter emperor in power or a stupider one? Is that our only choice?

I’m sorry, I know that these are uncomfortable, even brutal questions, but they must be asked.

The fact is that electoral democracy has become a process of cynical manipulation. It offers us a very reduced political space today. To believe that this space constitutes real choice would be naïve.

The crisis in modern democracy is a profound one.

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