Tuesday, February 17, 2009

West Virginia, Washington, DC and Tunceli


One of the most beloved presidents in American History, certainly, is John F. Kennedy, or JFK. He became the second youngest president in the tumultuous years of America. His administration’s economic programs were acknowledged as a foundation of “the longest sustained expansion since the second World War”. Kennedy became a hero with his forceful exertion on equal rights for all the American people and his visionary speeches. Though, how he became a nominee of his party is more relevant to today’s column.
In the book, “Kennedy vs. Humphrey, West Virginia, 1960: the pivotal battle for the democratic presidential nomination,” Dan B. Fleming, Jr. tells the story of John Kennedy’s dance with the West Virginia Primary Elections. Following the long primaries battle, the West Virginia election was crucial for JFK to clinch the nomination of the Democratic Party for the 1960 presidential elections. Kennedy, as a Roman Catholic, was against the Protestant candidate Hubert Humphrey in a dominantly Protestant State. He recognized this disadvantageous position and started to play good old politics. First, he used the religion card callously and swayed the Protestant voters that the real issue was the religious discrimination in American politics and he was a victim of it. The second and more forceful tool used was his family’s fortune to buy the votes, as many as possible.
In a book review: “Just Good Politics: The Life of Raymond Chafin, Appalachian Boss,” Raymond Chafin, an important democratic party chief in West Virginia explains candidly the voter bribing process during the W. Virginia primary. He says: “Voters willing to sell their ballot[s] ask a poll watcher for "assistance." By law, these poll watchers are from both parties. They "assist" the voter by casting the ballot for the slate he’s going to be paid to vote for and then signal outside the "house" that the vote had been cast, allowing campaign workers in the yard to make the promised payment.”
After the primary elections, former US President Harry Truman was quoted as saying “I don’t know how much it cost him [JFK’s father]; …, but he bought West Virginia, and that’s how his boy won...” Kennedy’s family fortune, funding promises to W. Virginia and the mighty campaigning machine helped him to win this important election and subsequently he sealed the nomination.

The American Congress just passed the biggest stimulus package in its history to jolt its depressing economy. So far though, it seems the package makes no one happy. Even some of the liberal writers who have been very sympathetic of Obama for the last 2 years, now pound him, his stimulus package and also the nominees for his cabinet. For instance, this year’s Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has called the most recent rescue plan “inadequate”, “disappointing” and “settl[ing] for half measures.” It is reported that the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, collected signatures from 300 libertarian-leaning economists against the stimulus package to defy the Obama administration's pinnacle economists who are in favor of it.
Whoever expects Republican law and opinion makers to be more helpful and supportive in these intricate times of the American economy would be overly disappointed. Republican think tanks and many lawmakers have been hammering the plan even harder. The package did not receive a single vote from the House Republicans during the final voting. A report published by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, DC think tank, calls the plan a ‘festival of fiscal greed’ and labels many spending items as a part of a Democrat wish list. Some of them as cited by the Heritage Report include: “$4.8 million for a polar bear exhibit in Rhode Island; $13 million for Las Vegas to improve pedestrian access to a casino, $6 million for snowmaking equipment in Minnesota, etc.”
Various surveys show 37% to52% of American people support the package, though abundant observers see this list as a chance for Democrat lawmakers to shovel millions towards their campaign supporters and traditional supporter groups. The American economy needs a big joggling, and the Obama administration undoubtedly is just trying to do that. Nevertheless, every massive crisis has its own chances and windows of doing things that otherwise would not be possible. And despite all of the speechifying and frightening natters that the catastrophic end might be looming for America, the Democrat lawmakers with House speaker Nancy Pelosi as a leading figure are using this window for pleasing the long hungered Democratic constituencies.

The nearing local elections bring some interesting occurrences in Turkey as well. AKP has been sweeping almost every single election since it came to power in 2002. And over the years, AKP’s local organizations have perfected different devices to integrate with the voters more intimately. According to recent news reports, the Governor of Turkey’s Eastern city, Tunceli, started to hand out an assortment of white appliances and sofa sets to the traditionally anti-AKP city. Though it seems the locals are having some difficulties utilizing these machineries. For instance, most of the people who receive these dishwashers do not have enough dishes to fill the machine, and the ones who receive washing machines may not have running water to use them, etc.
Additionally, the daily Radikal reports that these goods were supplied through businessmen who have links to the local AKP party organizations. Thus, AKP, with these offerings, achieves a few goals simultaneously: enriching the fellow party members and supporters, hoping to buy the locals’ votes and gaining new fronts, while not paying for these costly expenditures from the party chest. Former US president JFK was using his father’s fortune; our ruling party is using taxpayers’ kismet to buy votes and explains these activities as ‘social state policies.’ Oddly enough, none of the other Turkish cities have ever seen this ‘so called’ social state style of affairs so far.
There are still about 6 weeks to the local elections in Turkey. AKP plays hardball politics using its incumbency position, and every so often using it unethically. This is the kind of the politics played in different formats in every corner of the world and it is still the most effective way to bring the victory home.
One of the brightest politicians in American history, JFK, played old politics; the Obama administration with its flamboyant change mantra, is forced to play it at some grade and AKP participates in this hardball of politics as projected. All the same, there is still a slight distinction here: at least we do not see bribing at the ballots like 1960 West Virginia; possibly we witness it before hand like 2009 Nazimiye, Tunceli. If the opposition parties want to surmount AKP’s rasping old politics, they just need to get their acts together and work harder: much harder than the incumbent party.
Ilhan Tanir lives in Washington, DC and works for a private consulting firm as a Research Director. He can be reached at:

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