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U.S. | Government & Elections

Obama vs. Romney
by Albert Scharenberg
Wednesday Oct 24th, 2012 6:55 AM
The strength of the democrats is the folly and mean-spiritedness of republicans. Programs to support the economy were rejected every time with the sole goal of bad economic data to make difficult or impossible Obama's reelection. Romney/Ryan rely on the short memory of voters who blame only Obama for the faltering economy-as though Bush's policy had not driven the country into the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. Obstructionism should be the issue. The choice is between Romnesia or racism.
OBAMA VS. ROMNEY: THE US ELECTION

By Albert Scharenberg

[This article published in October 2012 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.blaetter.de/archiv/jahrgaenge/2012/oktober/obama-vs.-romney-die-usa-vor-der-wahl.]

With the nomination party conventions of the Republicans and Democrats, the presidential campaign in the United States has entered its fiery phase. Both sides beat their drums for the election as though it was the last battle.

Even if the real differences in the policies of Democrats and Republicans are in no way as great as they appear in political-cultural discourse, an inner-political decision over the direction and cou9rse of the country is involved this time on the background of the “American decline.”

For months, President Barack Obama has had a slight but stable lead over Mitt Romney that even increased after the nomination party convention. To many observers, the election seems already decided in view of the pale and largely empty convention of the Republicans and the comparatively iridescent appearance of the Democrats in nominating Obama. [1] But that is by no means the case.

THE REPUBLICAN MARCH TO THE EXTREME RIGHT

The reasons for this lie in the obstruction policy of the Republicans and the rightwing tilt of the business world.

Barack Obama elected into the White House on a wave of enthusiasm has been under enormous pressure since his assumption of office after two terms of George W. Bush and the outbreak of the housing and financial crisis. Immediately after January 2009, the staunch rightwing Tea-Party movement formed. It mobilized a counter-attack fueled by racism – a backlash against the first Afro-American president in the history of the US – thanks to the large-scale financial support of rightwing oriented corporations and persons of independent means.

From the beginning, Obama’s most important domestic reform (the Affordable Health Care Act) and his economic programs encountered massive criticism from the rightwing conservative camp. In the course of the rapid rise of the Tea-Party movement and because of the continuing economic weakness in the US, the Democrats suffered dramatic losses in the 2010 congressional elections. The majority in the Senate shriveled considerably. The Republicans had the majority of representatives in the House of Representatives. [2]

From the start, the politics of the Republicans was focused on regaining power in the White House. The party carried out a blockade policy without equal. Programs to support the economy were rejected every time with the sole goal of bad economic data making difficult or even impossible Obama’s re-election. In addition, Republicans are not afraid of lying through their teeth. Obama quotes are taken out of context and reversed. Fictional numbers are cited as “proof.” Scientific conclusions as on climate change are degraded to mere “opinions” and facts or circumstances freely invented (“Obama will take your weapons away”).

That most leading media in their striving for supposed “objective” reporting include a commentary makes everything even worse. Formal balance alone a la “one says this and others say that” has nothing to do with objectivity. In a recent interview, Aaron Sorkin, author of the television series “West Wing” and “Newsroom,” emphasized this. If all Republicans in Congress claim tomorrow the earth is a disc, Sorkin said, the “New York Times” would title its next day edition “Democrats and Republicans divided over the form of the earth.” [3]

THE RIGHTWING TURN OF THE BUSINESS WORLD

The radicalization of the Republican Party can in no way be explained only by the upswing of the Tea Party. Rather it is an expression of a rightwing turn within the corporate world.

If moderate reforms like building environmentally-friendly technologies or the re-regulation of certain branches (especially the banks) had the approval of some businesspersons four years ago, these sympathies for possible small reform steps faded in the meantime – along with support for the program of the president. The business camp obviously desires a return to deregulation and trickle down despite the financial meltdown, despite DeepWater Horizon, despite the visible first effects of climate change and despite deadly mining accidents on account of security deficiencies. After decades of continuous tax cuts, they do not pay any taxes any more.

A decision of the Supreme Court powerfully shifted the relative strengths in the election campaign. With “Citizens United” (2010), the court ruled that corporations could now have a free hand in their election campaign contributions. Since then, donations to so-called Super PACs that support the candidates do not need to be disclosed. The financial volumes of the presidential election campaign increased boundlessly. By November, several billion dollars will be spent. [4]

In the last months, contributions for Mitt Romney surpassed the contributions for Obama. This suggests nothing good for the prospects of Obama’s campaign.

The whole summer Romney marched from one mud pit immediately into the next. Glaringly the former governor of Massachusetts is a weak and extremely vulnerable candidate – in his “private” affairs – and not only on account of his colorless appearance and his constant changing course on core political fields. Romney was the first presidential candidate to refuse to reveal his tax returns. He obviously fears the publication demanded on all sides would harm his candidacy more than their continual concealment. As a responsible person of Bain Capital, he shifted vast numbers of jobs abroad while investing himself in accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. With Paul Ryan, he made a brutal austerity politician and fanatical abortion opponent (without any exceptions) his running mate.

Romney/Ryan rely on the short memory of voters who blame only Obama for the faltering economy – as though Bush’s policy had not driven the country into the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. They want to lower the trifling taxes on the rich (Romney paid 14 percent on his income) even more (Romney would then pay less than one percent tax). At the same time, they criticize the budget deficit that would increase further through this measure. They give no concrete information in the election campaign on where they would save but at most tell where they will not save, namely in military spending.

The Republican agenda is clear:

Vice-president candidate Paul Ryan, darling of the rightwing conservative Tea Party scene, is the author of the tough republican budget draft. On the state level, Republican governors are hardly reserved. They demand compensating budget gaps through massive salary cuts in public service. The – ultimately successful – attempt of the governor of Wisconsin to take away the right to collective bargaining from public service unions occurred recently. Corporations and Republicans seem united in their project of smashing the last genuine stronghold of US unions, public service, and making the country a union-free zone at last. [5]

THE ATTACK ON THE UNIVERSAL RIGHT TO VOTE

Republicans had the necessary resources – materially and ideologically – to recoup Obama’s lead in the polls in the last weeks of the election campaign.

Who is a nose ahead in the national poll – and even in the election itself! – is not crucial. In the antiquated US election system, the election is decided in the states. Four times in the history of the US, the candidate with the most votes was not made president. Ultimately appointed by the Supreme Court, George W. Bush had a half-million fewer votes than his rival Al Gore in 2000. A separate decision over the victor is made in each of the 50 states. Irrespective of the amount of his vote lead, all the electoral votes that elect the president are awarded to the victor. Therefore a lead in the national polls especially when it is close says little about who will finally win the election.

The election system leads to the election campaign of the parties concentrating on those states in which the out come is still open. In praxis, this means an election campaign is seriously carried ou9t in less than a dozen states. States in which one party is clearly ahead are simply written off by the other party. This time the election campaign will be fought out in the swing states – at the head of the list Florida, Virginia and Ohio.

For Republicans, this was a gate of entry for an insidious strategy. In the swing states where they won governorships in 2010, they passed laws that tied participation in elections to presentation of a photo identification. What sounds like a foregone conclusion in Germany is by no means a foregone conclusion in the US because many people have no passport or even a driver’s license. Afro-Americans and Latinos are mainly affected by these laws – those voting groups that hoisted Obama into office in 2008. In states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, nearly ten percent of the registered voters are impacted by this measure. This could prove decisive for the election.

In this way, Republicans have actually suspended the right of universal free elections. They go even further… In Ohio, for example, voting hours are shortened… The officeholders refused to carry out the court judgment prohibiting this practice. [6]

Thus the oldest democracy of the world is tested. While the Supreme Court opened up nearly unlimited corporate influence in election campaigns with “Citizens United,” the franchise is simultaneously withdrawn from many poor and minorities.

The Republicans do all this out of clear calculation and a single motivation: because they now only represent a minority, white men, as the core group of their constituency. After their rightwing turn – with immigrant-bashing, hardly disguised racism and fanatical abortion opposition – and given the rapidly changing demographic composition of the population with a strong growth of the share of Latinos.

OBAMA’S BALANCE SHEET

Thus President Barack Obama is under massive pressure from the right despite a successful Democratic nomination convention. Measured by the high expectations in domestic- and foreign policy, the results of his reform projects are rather meager. The economic upswing comes to a standstill. The official unemployment rate is over eight percent; unofficially it is at least twice as high.

Correspondingly disappointment spreads both in the core democratic constituency and above all in the Occupy Wall Street movement that emerged in the fall of 2011 and made the left in the US visible again for the first time in decades. The growing social inequality was first thematized by this Occupy movement and then seen by the mainstream.

In the meantime, the Obama/Biden team seems to recognize that the majority of the business community cannot be won. Therefore the election campaign of democrats refers indirectly to the Occupy movement. In the meantime it backs a populist course that at least verbally attacks the social inequality, castigates the offenses of Wall Street and openly champions the middle class and more taxes on the rich. As the party convention showed impressively, people are no longer afraid of offensively defending their own policy as in health care reform.

With this strategy, Obama takes a risky course in view of the degenerate influence of big business on US politics. Even if no principled opponent of neoliberal corporate dominance will come out of the president, his criticism of certain business practices may increase the mistrust on Wall Street toward Obama’s second term in office.

In the case of his reelection, Obama in any event is under intense pressure; a fundamental turning away from neoliberalism cannot be expected. If Romney/Ryan should win, republicans will interpret their victory as a mandate for a general attack on the achievements of the New Deal.

NOTES

[1] Vgl. z. B. Sebastian Fischer, US-Präsidentschaftskandidat Romney: Ein Mann will nach unten, in: „Spiegel Online“, 15.9.2012.
[2] Vgl. Albert Scharenberg, Gibt Obama jetzt den Clinton? In: „Blätter“, 12/2010, S. 5-8.
[3] Vgl. Katrina vanden Heuvel, Two Cheers for „The Newsroom“, http://www.thenation.com, 9.8.2012.
[4] Vgl. Robert B. Reich, Mitt Romney und das neue vergoldete Zeitalter, in: „Blätter“, 9/2012, S. 45-52; Ethan Young, Die gekaufte Schlammschlacht. Obama, Romney und der Kampf ums Weiße Haus, http://www.rosalux-nyc.org.
[5] Vgl. John Nichols, Die neue Linke in Amerika. Politische Lehren aus Wisconsin, Ohio und Occupy, in: „Blätter“, 8/2012, S. 37-49.
[6] Vgl. Steven Rosenfeld, Ohio‘s GOP Secretary of State Ignores Court Order To Expand Weekend Voting, http://www.alternet.org, 4.9.2012.