THE BLOG

American Elections Matter and the System Is Open

The silly season -- the protracted multibillion-dollar period of escalating frenzy leading up to U.S. national election -- is coming to a close. All that is said or done in this season is fair if it is deemed legal. The game ends with one winner while two parties share the uneven pie of diffuse power across the nation.

The United States and its elections matter. What other countries do not know about the U.S. system, including elections, costs them.

There is an increasing awareness of foreign countries, and enterprises, of the impact of the outcome of elections on their lives, interests and well-being. Foreign policy remains largely the domain of the Executive branch, headed by the president, while the Congress wields control over the budget strings. The Supreme Court, with its over-arching power, passes decisions that have monumental impact on the outcome of close elections, which is what happened with its decision on Bush/Gore in the year 2000. In January 2010, the Supreme Court ruled, precedent to the contrary, that the First Amendment about freedom of speech gives corporations and unions the power to spend as much of their general treasuries as they care to influence candidate elections subject to certain stipulations. This landmark decision was noticed by the alert Americans and foreigners who watch Washington to take full advantage of its decisions. In theory and in practice, corporations and organizations can legally buy influence in the United States. Those who decry and lament policies made in America would do better by understanding its system.

Campaign financing, and lobbying, are legal. Failing to obey the law, if uncovered, is costly while mastering its details, and knowing those who write, uphold and implement the law, is a good investment of time and money.

The economic and financial crisis of the past few years has shifted more power to Washington over financial and economic matters. Wall Street, although not completely humbled, is cut down to size by the creeping oversight of Washington. The American system, which was designed to be lobbied, is swarming with lobbyists who will have serious influence for a long time. They will thrive as long as they deliver results to their clients, foreign and domestic.

One often hears the refrain: How come the Arabs, or Arab Americans, have so little influence in America? A fair point, but what influence do the Arabs want or need to have?

The Arabs used to have a cause in the past which is Palestine. People still talk about it incessantly. It nominally unites them, but opinions differ as to how seriously the Arabs have defended this cause in the last couple of decades. The truth is that Arab countries have many causes and interests which they have been defining and pursuing independently. This should be acknowledged and dealt with forthrightly as we assess the impact of "the Arabs" in America. Palestinians, like all others, have to compete for political impact.

The American system is generally based on meritocracy. The more able and qualified you are to compete, the more likely you are to succeed. The American political game is a competitive team sport open to all. Examples of the impressive returns of investing in, and building, an effective team are evident for all to see.

Arab countries, and others, have serious interests in the outcome of decisions made in America. Some are more aware than others of the complexities and subtleties of the American political system. Impact cannot just be outsourced to lobbyists. There is an element of racism that works against Arabs and Muslims, at least in taking their easy money without offering them a fair service, but this is a challenge that must be met by a serious engagement of the countries themselves and their own teams.

Having a strategic partnership with the United States, and imparting a sense of it to the American people, is the single most effective way for a country, a movement or a leader to have influence here. Barring that, the opposite is true.

Elections offer an opportunity for new policies and strategies. Candidates are needy. The incumbent is approachable because he wants to correct his course and to establish his own legacy. He will look for people who can help him achieve his goals. The challenger would like to set himself apart from the "failed policy" of his predecessor. If elected, he would look for allies and dependable partners who share his vision and mutual objectives. The period of transition after elections presents an opportunity to pursue shared interests, and demonstrate like-mindedness, both of which are at a premium to the occupant of the White House.

Of course there is always the option to stay out of America and its political game, to dismiss it as a spent force, its elections as a charade, and to look elsewhere for the future. This is legitimate. But what other country comes close to having the mix of economic, military, technological and cultural achievements combined with the soft power of America? Until then, perhaps investing in impacting decision-making in the U.S. would be prudent.

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