2012 US Election Special – Post from October 14, 2012
When Harold MacMillan was asked what was most likely to blow a government off-course, he replied ‘events, my dear boy, events’. Events can still blow this US election off course – in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, gaffes, blunders and leaks can swing the numbers right up to the final hours, but the world should be holding it’s breath for fear of something else when the planet’s biggest power goes to the ballot. The Madrid bombings of 2004 moved the polls nearly 10% in three days, and handed Jose Zapatero an unlikely victory (one that ended Spain’s involvement in Iraq, among other things). America is the world’s biggest target, every jihadist would like an influence. Events. Events.
With twenty-three days to go, however, it seems that Barack Obama has a small but significant lead, is ahead – just – in most swing states, and thus likely to win a second term of office on November 6th.
Obama has been hugely under-whelming. Guantanamo remains open, Afghanistan is a quagmire, Wall Street prospers as Main Street writhes in agony. Drones over Waziristan build an insidious and frightening new front in warfare. But Obama has had to govern a country experiencing the biggest downturn since the Great Depression, against a Tea Party-inspired Republican party that has time and again voted down laws that they actually agree with, in order to stop anything – anything – Obama proposes. Their actions, including unprecedented abuse of the filibuster has led Americans to give Congress a 9% approval rating. Their vitriol in casting Obama as an anti-American Muslim born outside the US is entirely linked to the colour of his skin. Racism has been proved to be alive and well in America. Had Obama been white, he would be winning this election battle hands down.
Against this appalling backdrop, Barack Obama has brought in healthcare reform that has eluded the US for forty years. He ended the war in Iraq. He has repealed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell protocol that forced thousands to hide their sexuality while serving their country. His work saved the entire city of Detroit from closure. It’s a bizarre comparison, but in terms of passing legislature in the eye of the storm, Obama and Julia Gillard are the strangest of bedfellows.
His will be a historic victory – no president since Rooselvelt has won a second term with unemployment over 7.2%, and a US economy in such a parlous state. In real terms (factoring in the under-employed etc), the unemployment number is more in the region of 15%. The housing market is dead, the deficit 16-trillion dollars and growing each day. Surely he should have done better than this.
While Obama has been enormously disappointing, the Republican party should really be in focus, as their conduct over the last 3 years has been unprecedented in US political history. Their team of Romney and Ryan have been almost comically inept and dishonest – torn between the Tea Party wing and the centrist stance that has to be taken to win govermnent. That it is close is down to Mitt Romney’s incompetence – a strong candidate would have easily beaten Obama in these circumstances.
Anyone but Republicans
In the end, this election comes down to the countless reasons not to vote for the Romney Ryan ticket. It’s a smorgasbord. Romney’s membership of the Latter-Day Saint movement (let’s not dignify it by calling it a religion) should exclude him – anyone in thrall to a bizarre sect like Mormonism cannot lead the United States. His gaffes, woodenness, etch-a-sketch changing of positions – all leave the impression of a man capable and prepared to say and do anything at all to gain power. Any man who believes that being president involves not caring about 47% of his population should not be in the White House. Having governed Massachusetts, Romney is likely to be inclined towards the middle ground, but behind him are the fundamentalist Christians and neo-conservatives who thought Bush was too weak and want another shot. Please, please dear god don’t let John Bolton back into a position of influence.
Ryan himself is a peculiar character (anyone who is very religious and extremely fit should immediately set alarm bells ringing). His pious and pernicious brand of Tea-Party conservatism is made all the more nasty by the hypocrisy inherent within it. He wants smaller government, but his life has been almost exclusively funded by government (Social Security beneficiary when his father died, heir to a family business built entirely on government contracts, entire wage history being paid for by government). He is a constant critic of Obama’s financial stimulus, although he sought as much of it for Wisconsin as possible, saying the money would ‘save jobs and promote growth’. He wants savage cuts to welfare and education (everything except the military, of course) and to begin dismantling Medicare and Medicaid, the two (incredibly popular) state run providers of healthcare. He is so pro-life he wants to ban abortions even in the case of rape and incest, even in the instance of ectopic pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother. This man wants to be a heart-beat from the presidency.
So there are countless reasons not to vote for the Republicans. Don’t vote for them if you’re black or hispanic, they haven’t even used tokenism to try to show an interest in minorities. The convention was a sea of white-itude (the black population has got the message – Romney’s personal rating among African Americans is, and no I’m not kidding, zero percent). Don’t vote for them if you’re a woman – their policies amount to open warfare on women’s reproductive rights, and it won’t be any better in any other area – how can women’s rights be addressed by a party who contains (and doesn’t expel) a senior member who claims women’s bodies shut down when under ‘legitimate rape’ (as opposed to some other kind). Don’t vote if you’re poor – Ryan’s budget wants to cut tax for the rich and cut welfare for the poor. If your family contains some in the service, run – Romney wants to confront China, make Russia America’s number-one enemy again and rattle the saber with Iran, in what is becoming a Cuban missile-crisis in slow motion. If you give a damn about the environment, flee – Romney will green light further off-shore and Arctic-level drilling, mountain-top mining and projects like the Keystone XL pipeline that Paul Ryan’s close personal friends the Koch brothers are so keen on. I am not sure Mitt Romney has used the word ’emissions’ this year. If you are old, best leave for Sweden, as Ryan’s (Ayn Rand-inspired) budget calls for the slow dismantling of state healthcare.
In fact, it’s truly hard to believe that there are 47% of voting Americans who find the Romney platform palatable. His strategy of an appeal to the hard right, constant dog-whistling, voter suppression on the left and an absolute absence of specifics is nothing if not one for our times. We can only guess as to what he has planned, but there’s enough indicators out there to show that it will be nasty, mean, dangerous and frightening.
Personally, if you’re the father of a boy recently diagnosed with diabetes, you can’t afford to lose four years of the most advanced nation in the medical world working on stem cell research into disease prevention and cures.
There’s so much more. The next president gets 1-2 new Supreme Court nominees. In many ways that’s the most important of all – a fork in the road that will decide if American society is rationalised and in thrall to the rule of law, or presided over by extremists and idealogues.
Despite the enormous disappointment, and although one can wish there was another alternative, we should all be praying that Barack Obama is re-elected.
In a sane world, many of America’s problems could be easily fixed. The long shadow of Reaganism has distorted US polity to such an extent that the first few days in office would allow any sensible incumbent to make a series of decisions that would be very hard to argue with, and dramatically change the US for the better. In some parallel universe, I am riding high in the polls and expecting a crushing victory on November 6th. Here’s 11 simple things I would do…
– Reform Electoral finance. The baleful influence of money has distorted and destroyed US democracy. You need over a billion dollars to win an election now – that money comes with strings, and makes a puppet of a leader. The state can supply $100 million to each party, that should be more than enough. Roll back the Supreme Court’s ‘Citizens United’ ruling that allows corporations to make undeclared donations and Super-PACs to produce political advertisements without naming the funders. If rich Americans want to influence their country’s future political direction there is a wonderful means open to them. They can vote.
– End the war in Afghanistan. It was lost more than five years ago. Every solider lost there now is a wasted life. Imagine it was your son or daughter who was last to die. Negotiate with the Taliban. Sure,, they are awful – savages (and I use that word carefully). But they are a legitimate force in Afghanistan, and they are not Al-Qaeda. Close Bagram, and close Guantanamo. Send the inmates home. 11 years on, their lives are destroyed, their sanity shredded, their threat neutered. Guantanamo stains the US, and must be closed.
– Fly to Tehran. Announce on live TV that the President is flying to Iran tomorrow. If he is turned back by air-control, he will go home. If he lands, this is over. Only the Great Satan can end the stand-off. Without dialogue for over 30 years, only the grand gesture can reboot this distrust. Iran is a great country, with a glorious history. It holds the key to the Middle East, and is a rational player in an irrational situation. Khamenei craves the power and status his country deserves. Sanctions are just hurting his people, and probably strengthening his grip on power. Did we learn nothing from Iraq? Play to his ego, find an accommodation. Iran has no actual need for nuclear power or a weapon. But only the US President has the personal power to quickly end the most dangerous situation on earth.
– Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the Bush era, using South Africa as a template. America experienced dark days under its worst president ever. The Obama administration was initially politically wise but has ultimately proved shameful in its insistence that the past be treated as bygones. Crimes are crimes, even if the perpetrator is in the Oval office. South Africa’s post-apartheid commissions aimed for restorative justice, truthful statements from victims and an amnesty for perpetrators, guided by Mandela’s conviction that a mood of punishment was counter-productive, but that the truth would set his country free. Let the torturers speak. Let those accused face their accusers. Until this happens, the Bush era of torture, murder and lies casts the darkest of shadows over American history, and threatens to be reprised if not acknowledged and understood.
– End the war on drugs. Renationalise incarceration. America imprisons more people per head of population than anyone in the world. In an era of privatised incarceration, this over-whelmingly means the poor. 50% of US prisoners are black. Release all prisoners convicted of non-violent drug offences. Take state control of prisons run for profit – the profit for which goes to political lobbying to retain the current system. The war on drugs is an abject failure. The biggest social policy failure of the last 75 years. Legalise not just marijuana but all illegal drugs. Treat drug addiction as a disease, not a crime and – for all you who think I’m a wowser – tax them. Astonishingly – illegal drugs are now the second biggest industry in the world – after oil. ! . Trillions of dollars leaving the world economy due to prohibition. Countries such as Mexico and Colombia destroyed. The war on drugs has been the most appalling failure. It is now a means of subjugating the poor and exporting mayhem abroad. This one policy could fix the world’s economy, amazingly. Legalise, empathise, and tax.
– Reduce the nuclear arsenal. Go and meet Vladimir Putin. He may be an ego-maniac, but he has no political need for 4,650 nuclear warheads. These weapons are a drain on his country’s resources and a threat to Russia’s own national security. Agree to reduce both arsenals to 200 – easily enough to devastate all major cities in both the US and Russia. It’s the most dangerous thing on earth, and it makes no sense to the owners or their opposition. We can deal with what to do with the 200 remaining ICBMs when we’re done, but win votes, save money and be remembered as one of the greatest men of the century – isn’t that why you got into politics?
– Split the banks. Re-introduce the Glass-Steagall act. If banks wish to have risky investment arms, that is their prerogative. The problem arises when those arms also contain America’s mortgages. Glass-Steagall legislated the separation of the two, and worked well until Reagan began and Clinton completed its dismantling. Goldman Sachs want to use your mortgage as leverage. Don’t let them. The banker you see about a house should be a very grey, very boring man, who won’t lend you money unless he knows it’s a good idea. That is a good thing. Make banks boring again. Then if one of the investment houses goes bust, that is their problem. Too big to fail is a recipe for disaster.
– Invest in nuclear energy and electric cars. Reform is a top-down process. If Detroit started mass-producing hybrid cars, the effect on oil prices, reserves and consumption would be dramatic. Jobs, the eternal goal, would be created. Can I throw in weakening the Wahhabi rulers of Saudi Arabia, as a bonus. Until we find a replacement for oil to run our cars, we are in hock and thrall to countries we have no business being good friends with. There is no solution to moving automobiles around even on the horizon. Nuclear power is the only viable means of producing controllable, cheap and plentiful electricity, to run our cities and – perhaps – augment the fuelling of our cars. Stated Saudi reserves are unchanged since 1985, so why are they drilling off-shore? The electric car is the most important energy issue on earth. America has to take the lead. They rolled out the rail-roads, why can’t they roll out electrical car networks.
– Raise taxes on the wealthy. Reform tax to ensure avoidance ends. Mitt Romney pays 14% in tax, and doesn’t break the law. 30 years since Ronald Reagan proposed that his tax changes would result in ‘trickle-down’ prosperity, we now know that this is what the French call ‘merde de vache’. The disparity between rich and poor in the United States is unprecedented in any society in history, with the possible exception of the Romans. Each of us, in our hearts, know that a system where the rich pay more tax and the poor pay less is a fair system. Reagan forgot that, and his country has forgotten the basics of tax too. The disparity of wealth weakens American society. Raise the taxes.
– Cut the military budget. America spends more on defence than the next 27 largest spending countries combined, and 26 of those are their allies. Military over-spend is the largest single factor in the spiralling debt that threatens an entire generation, and the world’s economy. Military exports have trebled under Obama. The military industrial complex is a threat to every country on earth, most of all to the US itself. And it has clearly not made America safer. The only serious threat to US sovereignty is financial, or terrorism. There is simply no need to be spending this much on defence, especially when you have a credit card with 16-trillion dollars on it and 40-million of your citizens below the poverty line. That is what we call ‘an obscenity’, and needs to be ended.
– A proper 9/11 commission. Sorry. No matter what you believe, George W Bush tried to stop any kind of commission, staffed the one he allowed eventually with insiders, chaired it with a man so ‘independent’ he had written a book with Condoleezza Rice, refused to even have the commission take notes when he appeared, and allocated it with a budget of $15 million. Fifteen. Million. Kenneth Starr spent $40 million chasing Bill Clinton for Monica Lewinsky’s dress stains. The 9/11 commission was such a farce it made the Warren Commission look like a shining example of probity. At the very, very least, 9/11 was the biggest intelligence failure in world history, yet no-one was punished, not a single person. Whistle-blowers were pursued, those who failed most egregiously were promoted. Until the biggest event of our lives is properly investigated, it can be used for all eternity as a lightning rod for anything a corrupt politician wishes to do to ‘defend’ us.
The first ten measures are so uncontroversial as to be mundane, yet their effect on American political society would be like a tidal wave, and they would improve America and all within it.
The modern Republican party is the furthest to the right it has ever been. Fascism is often the most apposite word. If the election is close enough to dispute, they will, and with the Supreme Court still at least 5-4 in their favour, a re-run of Bush/Gore can’t be ruled out. If they lose, then there will be a reckoning. Republicans regard themselves as the natural party of government, and think that it is actually wrong that a Democrat can win. In a sane world they would realise that their extremism lost the election, and that demographics are trending away from them. But those on the right are seldom reflective thinkers – that’s what makes them so dreadfully effective and self-confident when in power. Those on the left, by the way, often consider both sides of the argument – that’s what makes them such poor organisers, despite their compassion. It’s bloody frustrating, that.
Barry Goldwater led the Republicans off a cliff in 1964, but the ashes of that dreadful defeat set in place the rise of the Republican right that reached its apotheosis with the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, and the purging of any remaining centrists after his 1984 re-election. There is a strong school of thought that suggests a second loss will encourage the right of the party to suggest that their error was picking a man who could ‘do centre’, when in fact they should have gone the whole hog and picked a man like Ryan. This, frighteningly, is how I expect them to react.
Either way, it’s going to make for interesting times. Romney wins and we have an extremist party led by a multi-millionaire Morman running the world. Obama wins and the Republicans enter a death cycle of anger that will make the last four years look like a day-spa.
In a choice between the two, I pray that Obama wins, and allows us four more years of a man who at least may actually be a human being, running the world’s most dangerous power.
I should have made this easier for you all by just having you click on this – SBC says it all. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUSiCEx3e-0