22 April 2008

the quirks of US politics

you can imagine my surprise at this particular headline, 'pay up or risk long battle, obama told' in today's guardian. the lead paragraph surprised me even more:

"Barack Obama has been warned that his refusal to pay the traditional "street money" to local operatives to help get the vote out in Philadelphia today could cost him the crucial percentage points needed to knock Hillary Clinton out of the race for the White House."

my immediate impression was that of bribery and gang warfare, reminiscent of politics in many parts of the world. as i continued reading however, i learned that 'street money' is apparently a normal practice in america:

"The committee people and the ward leaders have to buy lunch for hundreds of people, otherwise they won't have good workers. They have to buy coffee, orange juice and doughnuts. That's just the way it is."

i also learned that obama has not been playing by the rules, instead building up his own 'volunteer network'. if he hadn't, estimates suggest he would've paid out between usd 400,000-500,000 (just in philadelphia). wow. maybe this is why he hasn't reported any debts yet, unlike hilary.

but seriously, the amounts of money involved in the us presidential elections are
staggering. and disturbing.

another disturbing (but highly amusing) story told to my news class by scmp's foreign correspondent last week: when he was covering the 2000 elections, he went to a town in new hampshire, where al gore was to speak. there were apparently many student supporters present, ready to wave their banners and all as soon as the tv cameras arrived. none of them however, were in fact from new hampshire; they'd all been transported from columbia university and other places.

again reminiscent of political practices in other countries. countries where we're trying to change the norms.

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