Wake Up Jim Cramer! In Iran It’s Much Ado About Something.
His flippant attitude toward Iranian protesters allows a space to think through what links everyday people in the US and Iran—the desire for democracy and freedom, which may contain the universal ability to break through the cynicism of the business analysts, oil traders and would-be dictators.
On the June 15 edition of CNBC's Street Signs, business analyst, Jim Cramer decided to lend his considerable analytical talents to international politics. He described the street protests in Iran following the disputed re-election of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as, "much ado about nothing." His proof? The price of oil declined by $1.40 on Monday.
What Cramer found most odd was that Iranians might be even slightly upset that their votes had not been counted. After all, in countries like "North Korea and Syria, there are a bunch of people who don't vote for the right guy," and they do not complain when the outcome goes against them. "Obviously," he said incredulously, "you were able to vote against this guy. But the idea that you thought there was going to be a fair count, I mean... " He then shared a chuckle with his co-host at the expense of the protesters.
In only one minute and thirty-three seconds, Cramer managed to trivialize the beliefs of millions of Iranians who have risked arrest and even death to demand that their voices be heard. The protestors believe, in the firmest terms possible, that they have the right to participate in what they understand as a free and fair election. Cramer's examples of North Korea, Syria and, as he mentioned later, the former Soviet Union offer little comparative value to viewers trying to understand the Iranian political system.
Iran describes itself as an Islamic Republic. In broad terms, the system is a mixture of an Islamic theocracy and a traditional republican government. In practice, unelected religious leaders - Council of Guardians, Supreme Leader and Assembly of Experts - sit atop lower level officials, including the President, who are elected by a system of universal suffrage. For example, all candidates for president must be approved by the Council of Guardians. This system has produced a repressive government, which has demonstrated little respect for the rights of women, workers and homosexuals.
What is also important about the political model of the Islamic Republic is that it has allowed this largely repressive regime to claim legitimacy internally through electoral participation. People go to the polls in Iran. They cast votes and expect them to be counted. This is a fundamental part of the social contract. By stealing the election, Ahmadinejad and the Council of Guardians have violated this contract—perhaps endangering the very existence of the Islamic Republic. The intensity of the protests, not the price of oil, demonstrate this point.
Cramer would do well to consider a different point of comparison with Iran. How about the United States? We had an election stolen in 2000 that drove the government to the constitutional brink. Although we do not have a Council of Guardians, we do have some of the worst restrictions on ballot access among democratic governments in the world. For instance, in the 2008 Presidential election, third-party candidates in Oklahoma needed to collect more than 43,000 signatures. As a result, in 2008, voters in Oklahoma could only choose between two presidential candidates. Iranians had four choices in 2009. Even freedom of speech is limited in US elections. Access to presidential debates is determined by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a body controlled by representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties. No independent candidate has been given access to the debates in more than 15 years.
So, in the end, perhaps Jim Cramer did us all a service. His flippant attitude toward Iranian protesters allows a space to think through what links everyday people in the US and Iran—the desire for democracy and freedom, which may contain the universal ability to break through the cynicism of the business analysts, oil traders and would-be dictators.
Billy Wharton is the editor of The Socialist and the Socialist WebZine. His articles have recently appeared in the Washington Post, the Monthly Review Zine, NYC Indypendent and the Links Journal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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