Tag Archives: presidential race

mispronouncing democracy: an article on the presidential debates

dear readers,

how do you pronounce democracy?

in the throes of debate season–that red, white, and blues tinged discussion between presidential candidates barack obama and john mccain–commentators are wondering: will mccain ever learn to pronounce the names ahmedinejad and zardari? why does obama pronounce pakistan so well?

but aside from the historic spectacle of this election, we are on the eve of unprecedented change in the rise and fall pendelum of america, and this political poet wonders: how do you pronounce democracy?

if democracy is currently pronounced “lowest common denominator,” then we are mispronouncing democracy.

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the lowest common denominator is a numerical agent to bring a fraction to its knees. powerful, yes. reduced to its smallest vision, yes. with careful, top-down development, both of these qualities can be true of a citizenry– powerful and absolutely reduced. take for example the populace condition in the populist state of nazi germany. that powerful and dumbed down citizenry. that pre-world war II, dumb struck, dumb scared citizenry. a fraction of humanity reduced to its knees.

does anyone else feel like they’re being talked down to? are we reduced?

are we reduced to evaluating monolingual (at best) candidates by tallying verbal flubs? reduced to counting trips abroad like a facebook application? reduced to watching a $700 billion dollar beach ball bailout get tossed between fingertips reaching for more fun at a concert of greed?

are we reduced to short term memory (at best)? so that we may forget that welfare as we most know it, the hotly debated aid to families with dependent children, was at its highest $26 billion a year (according to the u.s. dept of health and human services). which is a measly Four Percent of $700 billion.

the news today said that the bailout was rejected in the house. i still wonder when any of the current political discourse is going to add up to democracy.

i watched the first debate at educational institutions in new york city. first at NYU, then at pace university. en route i passed bars and classroom windows filled with big screens. black and brown youth speaking and watching in a bright lit classroom. middle aged white folks drinking and watching in a dark glow bar. i hopped on the R train to city hall, crossed the still flowing flountain, and landed up at the schimmel center. this pace university theater is a cascade of tiers, dotting it was a cross section of students, diverse, responsive, laughing, groaning, and silent. together we were a sitcom laugh track, bearing witness to the scripted prime time show.

what a long way we are from the famed lincoln-douglas debates. 1858, abraham lincoln and stephen douglas battle it out for an illinois seat in the united states senate. the main topic: slavery. the format: candidate 1 speaks for an hour, then candidate 2 speaks for an hour and a half, and in the end, candidate 1 gets a half hour rebuttal, to make it so each candidate gets a hour and half. the format was rhetorically strong enough to forge a new framework, still utilized, of political debate.

if democracy is currently pronounced “lowest common denominator,” then we are mispronouncing democracy.

since when have our standards for civic engagement become addicted to the empty calories of red and blue states and verbal fuck-up tallies? the framers of the united states constitution checked and balanced the shit out of the office of presidency in article II precisely because they were so concerned with the tendency of a presidency towards monarchy. and we should be concerned about that too.

right about now, republicans and democrats alike should be wondering about the rapidly consolidating power of the executive branch. a branch which lightning passed the USA patriot act through the intentional molasses of the legislative branch. a branch which expedited bush v. gore to and through the united states supreme court, forcing wide the thighs of the political question doctrine. a branch that tried to force through a $700 billion package, an amount that’s simply hard to grasp. the spending of which is slated to be controlled by the treasury, a department of the cabinet of (you guessed it) the president.

but the next debate is coming on in a few hours. and i wonder if mccain will intentionally mispronounce middle eastern and south asian names as an inside wink to his constituents. and i wonder if obama will sharpen his rebuttals past “i have a bracelet too.” i wonder. how do you pronounce democracy?

because if democracy is currently pronounced lowest common denominator, then we are mispronouncing democracy.

you need me and i need you. stay tuned for more from your favorite political poet.



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on obama and muslims: what desi artists are saying

Dear Readers,

The NYC based South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) has a very active listserve. There are five SAWCC messages in my inbox every day, minimum. Posts range from “Anyone know where I can get a good blow dry in Mid-town,” to “One bdrm avail in 3 bdrm Brooklyn apartment, $1400/month,” to, “Anyone have contacts for galleries in India,” to “Call For Submissions-SAWCC 11th Annual Visual Arts Show.” SAWCC is necessary, valiantly pro-art in an era where being an independent artist is both hip and a lonely road. Sometimes, SAWCC can also be confoundingly main stream. A blow dry? $1400 a month for a Brooklyn share?

But for the past two days, the SAWCC listserve has featured a political thread. The topic: Obama distancing himself from Muslims and Islam. The tenor: varied, insightful, bold. Let’s see what folks are saying.


“S” responds to post, “Obama Apologizes to Muslim Women Barred From Sitting Behind Him at Rally.”

S: “you guys are so wrong about Obama being sincere toward Muslim voters. This is pretty much evident that he’s embarrassed to be associated with Muslims.”


“This” being reporter Andrea Elliot’s front page New York Times article, “Muslim Voters Detect a Snub From Obama.” Elliot writes about how Keith Ellison, America’s first Muslim congressman, offered to speak on behalf of Obama back in December, during the candidate’s endless handshake of primary season and the state of Iowa. Representative Ellison pulled out all the stops to embrace Obama, arranged a rally and a speaking gig at a mosque and everything. But then he got royally dissed. Obama aides told him to cancel the speaking gigs. Cancel the support. Because, said the aide who visited him at his office in DC, “We have a very tightly wrapped message.”

Two “Muslim women at an Obama rally in February.” Two women in the proverbial back of the bus.

(Photojournalist: Emmanuel Dunand/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)


“MR,” a Muslim woman, responds to Obama’s “tightened image.”

MR: “Seriously though, can you blame him? I’m Muslim and honestly I’m not offended.

The reality of this situation is that if he gives even an inch the right will be all over him and develop ridiculous lies to correlate him to terrorists.

We can b**** and moan all we want, but the people we should be blaming for unfair portrayals of Muslims are the terrorists.

I would much rather him tread cautiously during this race and get elected so he can create change from a position of power.”


“SA” agrees.

SA: I do not blame him either. The GOP is waiting, just waiting to pounce. He needs to be pragmatic. Eyes on the Prize folks.


“AH” takes issue with “MA” blaming “terrorists” for anti-Muslim sentiment.

AH: “‘the terrorists’ are to blame for the unfair portrayal of

Those who committed 9/11 were insane psychopaths and complete

But it’s racist politicians, racist media and racist regular
people that are to blame for creating the atmosphere of fear and

The terrorists held out the bait, and they took it. And it
seems, so has Obama.”


“FA” understands Obama distancing himself from Muslims.

FA: I do not have issue with the photo incident either. It’s just too risky at this time and if he needs to play distant publicly from Muslims (while we know he has shared interests at heart) then I am fine with it. I really just want to see this man elected.

Sadly folks, many Muslims have to distance themselves from THEMselves these days in America.

Bless him for having the courage to issue a sincere apology, honestly.


The audacity to ask. The audacity to hope.

I made an amazing meal last night, central feature: the bangin Spanish rice. But I can’t take all the credit, the fresh, organic ingredients added crucial flava. A homemade meal is but a reflection of all that goes into it. The ingredients, the love, the music playing in the background while the cook dances with fridge, sink, counter, stove in the kitchen glow light.

Let’s say Barack Obama does become president of the United States of America. And let’s picture that win as a beautiful, steaming, home-cooked meal. What ingredients is he putting into that meal? Do I taste inclusion for many at the expense of a few? Is this meal truly different from what we’ve been feeding on for the past few decades?

I’d like to believe, as “FA” does, that Obama has shared interests at heart with Muslim people. But it’s simply too early to predict what will actually go down when and if we reach game time. Right now Obama’s “tightened image” campaign is a thorn, a weak link in an otherwise strong campaign.

Obama once referred to America as the “leader of the free world.” As a global leader, what grave hope is he asking of the embattled Muslim diaspora by shunning them now?

And could he ever shun the Muslim diaspora enough to win the Florida vote? Maybe.

The audacity to ask. The audacity to hope.

Stay tuned for more,

Roopa Singh

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