B S Raghavan

Greatest shows on earth

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on September 09, 2012

I watched, glued to my chair and in utter fascination, the telecasts of the national conventions of the Republican and Democratic Parties nominating Mitt Romney and Barack Obama respectively as their presidential candidates. As frenzied extravaganzas, they have no parallel. Indeed, they are the greatest shows on earth.

They also provide the amusing spectacle of the candidates vying with each other in maudlin expressions of gratitude for their wives and children and moms and dads for their ‘unconditional love’, personal sacrifices and inculcation of values, but for which they claim they would not have made it to where they are. True to this US political tradition, the Republican Party candidate, Mitt Romney, his wife Ann, his Vice-Presidential mate, Paul Ryan, the Democratic Party hopeful, Barack Obama, his spouse Michelle and Joe Biden, his Vice-President — all devoted half their speeches to dwelling on the minutest details of their exemplary upbringing.


The huge gatherings of the Party faithful are also unstinting in according standing ovations to each line of the candidate’s acceptance speech as if it is a clinching punch line. The conventions reach a crescendo of excitement at the conclusion of the acceptance speeches to the constant waving of thousands of placards bearing the party slogans (‘Believe!’ for the Republicans and ‘Forward!’ for the Democrats) and the deafening acclamations reverberating for miles around. Remember, though, that these are, by themselves, no measure of either candidate’s chances of winning.

Further, the peculiar two-stage voting system by which the US President is elected can also affect the ultimate outcome.

In the first stage, the general mass of voters mark their choice on the ballot paper; but the presidential candidate getting the majority is not automatically declared elected.

In the second stage, the electoral college, constituted by each State, takes over. It consists of ‘electors’ whose number is equal to that of the Representatives and Senators of that State in the US Congress. It is they who formally and finally elect the President by casting their votes on the principle of “Winner takes all”. Which means that all the votes of the members of the State electoral college are assigned to the candidate who receives the majority of popular vote in that State.

The candidate who gets the majority of the total number of votes of the State electoral colleges is declared elected as President.

Under this system, sometimes, a presidential candidate who gets the majority of popular vote at the national level could lose because he failed to get the majority of the electors’ votes! In four instances, the latest being that of Al Gore (2000), this has actually happened.

There are two other points about US Presidential elections that deserve to be noted, especially by the Indian politicians and candidates.

Not one vitriolic or vicious word is exchanged in the run-up to nominations and elections by any of the candidates and their opponents. Hitting below the belt is unheard of.

The high standards of decency and moderation with which they conduct themselves in regard to each other are unthinkable in the Indian context. The campaigns are all about issues and their merits, and they never descend to the level of personal abuse.


Even when, in 2000, Al Gore was declared the loser, though he had secured over half a million popular votes more than George W. Bush who was declared the winner by just one ‘electoral’ vote, Gore and the Democratic Party accepted it with quiet dignity.

Imagine what would have happened in India in such a situation: Riots would have erupted on a massive scale, resulting in the loss of many lives and destruction of public property.

The other noteworthy feature is the preference shown by the two major political parties for young candidates. The average age of US Presidents has been 55 years, with nine out of 44 becoming President in their forties.

Of the candidates for 2012 Presidential election, Mitt Romney is 65, but Paul Ryan, the nominee for the Vice-President, is only 42, while Barack Obama is 51 and Joe Biden, 69. Not too bad, considering our gerontocracy!

Right. The question now is: Where and how will the cookie crumble? Is it Barack Obama, the incumbent, or Mitt Romney, the challenger? Watch my next column!

Published on September 09, 2012

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