Posts Tagged ‘Amerika’

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Frans Verhagen vertelt

juni 12, 2008

Een tijdje geleden heeft Frans Verhagen een lezing geven op de Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. Wij hadden de kans om hem daar te interviewen. Dit interview kun je hier lezen of downloaden (en in kolommen lezen!). Het interview komt ook in de laatste American Studies Herald van dit jaar te staan.

You decide ’08:
Frans Verhagen on America’s future

Former America correspondent and editor of amerika.nl, Frans Verhagen has written a new book, called De Beste Wint Nooit: Het ABC van de Amerikaanse Presidentsverkiezingen. Verhagen spent most of his career as a correspondent for various newspapers, but currently spends his time on lectures, columns, and background essays on America. His most important occupation, however, remains writing books on various topics concerning the United States. In De Beste Wint Nooit, he focuses on presidential elections.

Recently, Verhagen has given a lecture at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, where the ASH had the opportunity to talk with him, and quickly found out that he is a fervent supporter of Barack Obama. He believes that Obama is the one that can bring true change and that Hillary Clinton will merely continue on the same course as her husband, ex-president Bill Clinton.

In his lecture, of which his latest book is the raw material, Verhagen tried to explain how Americans choose their presidents, detailing every process in the election. Afterwards, he answered a few questions, such as why Obama is his favorite candidate, and why Clinton does better in normal primaries while Obama is the favorite in many caucuses. In the debate that heated up after the lecture, it became clear that the Clinton and Obama supporters in the room were very much divided. Verhagen was strongly criticized by Hillary-supporters, who felt that his support for Obama was not based on cold hard facts but merely on sympathy for him. Obama-supporters had a hard time repudiating claims that their candidate of choice does not have any real plans. Hillary- supporters on the other hand had to convince the Obama-crowd that the New York senator would indeed bring chance, instead of picking up where her husband had left off.

Our questions did not concern the process of the elections however, but rather the consequences of this year’s exciting and important race. Will there actually be a call for change, as Obama and Clinton mention in every speech, or is this change only symbolic: the possibility that the next president might be black or female?

According to Verhagen, change is already happening: “If a woman or an African American is running for president, something has already changed. I find it truly hopeful and positive for the future, the idea of having a woman or a black person running the U.S. It would be a major statement, showing the world the injustice of existing prejudices. Despite the fact they are constantly confronted with their race or gender in public, their campaigns hardly mention either gender or race in the programs.”
Verhagen emphasizes that it was only fifty years ago that black and white people were still segregated in some parts of the U.S. “The fact that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton can run a campaign just like John McCain or any other white male, is in my opinion already a change.”He explains that positive role models generally have a profound effect on Americans. According to him, Barack Obama can set a good example for other minorities in America.

Verhagen goes on to point out that George W. Bush has appointed several African Americans to high political positions, such as Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. This leads Verhagen to believe that racism is already declining in American politics, and although it continues to play a role in American society, Verhagen remains optimistic. “Surprisingly, you will find the most racism in towns were people are not used to be among other ethnicities. There is more racism in cities with no African Americans, for example.”

There has been much talk about the fact that Barack Obama would be (dis)advantaged due to his race. According to Verhagen, however, this does not make sense in the South anymore, since most people in the South are Republican nowadays anyway. Most people there will vote for John McCain either way, regardless of whether there is black or a white Democrat running for president.
At the time of our talk, the primaries in Mississippi were only a day away. In one of his campaign speeches, Barack Obama pleaded for a decrease in prisoners, which is an important subject for a lot of Americans. Many of them wonder why America has the most prisoners in the western hemisphere.
Verhagen has several explanations for this: “Punishment has various purposes, one of them is to bring someone back in society. This is what we have in the Netherlands. In the United States, however, criminals are put in jail to protect the people outside it. The idea is that if every offender would be in jail, society would automatically become a safer place, which is why Americans have believed in the death penalty for so long.” Verhagen does not completely disagree with the death penalty, however: “Life sentence is not by definition better than a death sentence,” he told us.

Another reason for the large amount of prisoners in the U.S., is that the crime rate has risen dramatically after the baby boom, and most criminals are between twenty and thirty years old. This has caused a large increase in prisoners in the last decade. “The final reason for the amount of prisoners is that prisons in America are no longer public institutions, which leads to increasing profits, cut backs on staff, etc.”


A few months after our talk with Frans Verhagen, it became clear that Barack Obama will be the presidential candidate of the democratic party: Frans Verhagen got his man. The question that rises now is whether Obama can continue the ‘change’ that is going on in America, as Verhagen describes it. The facts that a woman and an African-American have been running for the democratic nomination, however, and that even republicans apparently do not differentiate between black and white or male and female anymore (just look at Condoleezza Rice) seem to indicate that America has a promising future ahead of it. Some values in America will never change, which is largely due to the fact that their idea of liberty and justice is just different from our European ideal. But that only makes America an all the more interesting subject to study. Together with Frans Verhagen, we are looking forward to a very interesting race this November. Whoever the president will be, these are going to be an interesting four years, with a future to look forward to.



(JK/SE/IH)