Politicking

About Us – What Happened in the 2012 Presidential Election

A Brief Note on the Election, the Results, the Reaction, and the Future

This essay of sorts comes two weeks after the presidential election. I did it more so because even though I side myself more with liberals and their variations—libertarians, neoliberals, socialists, etc., because let’s face it, they’re aren’t many anarchist sympathizers—I’ve noticed a jubilation over the results that perturbs me. The rest addresses the fallout that followed the results.

I’m relieved Obama won but not ecstatic in the way many of my friends are. His healthcare plan, while better than nothing (especially in comparison with the complete dismantlement of Medicare and Medicaid that Romney and Ryan proposed), leaves a lot to be desired. But apart from that, I don’t cheer for the death of Osama bin Laden. Say what you will about George Bush and the mockery that was Saddam Hussein’s trial, but hey, the guy at least got a trial, and there was substantial evidence that he’d committed the crimes of which he was accused. I’m distraught by the incessant drone killings in Pakistan, the first widely-proclaimed executive decision to murder an American citizen without due process, the economic sanctions and cyberattacks and assassinations levied against Iran, and Obama’s directed CIA involvement of the destruction of Syria. He favors fracking in place of any plan to replace a carbon-based energy existence and deal with the environmental crisis the world creeps ever closer toward. He hasn’t buddied up to Netanyahu the way Romney did, but so far as I can tell hasn’t changed his approach on Iran from leaving ‘all options on the table.’ Which could mean war. And not to be alarmist, but he’s made no statement concerning nuclear proliferation. Not about Iran. About us.

This also appears to me to be a forefront predicament of the left; not only is there no party for people who actually hold leftist beliefs (and if you consider the Democratic party or MSNBC leftist, you probably won’t be interested in anything else I have to say [1]), the left is horribly disorganized and the right, through their brilliant media machine, does a good job of halting any progress in its tracks. The Democrats are not leftist because they do virtually nothing for leftist talking points: gay rights, the environment, war and military spending, improvement of social programs, class inequality, women’s rights, civil liberties for minorities, the scapegoating of illegal immigrants as a legitimate source of the nation’s grievances, and so on.

Don’t confuse this as an endorsement of Romney. Anyone who voted for him must have been understandably misinformed considering the sheer number of lies he told and the piss-poor job Obama or anyone else who wasn’t a blogger or left-leaning internet site did to address them. Why else consciously vote against your own interests, presuming you’re not raking in at least 200 grand a year? At the same time, Romney proved an interesting candidate. History hasn’t been so good at setting up social experiments that we can later observe and ponder were we curious about a certain scenario. The scenario I propose is a seemingly moderate Republican who, thrust into the midst of radical right-wing propaganda machines and populist expectations, has to conform to standards he may or may not agree with. May or may not is important; Romney lied so often and was so careful to rarely say how he stood on any issue that it was virtually impossible to figure out what he thought.

Regardless, the final outcome shouldn’t be all that surprising: Obama, in accordance with most presidential elections [2], had more money than Romney, something that might surprise the typical ‘liberal’ who’s convinced Romney was stuffed to the gills by billionaires like Sheldon Adelson. True, the variation of Super PAC contributions Romney received swung more toward individual donors than Obama’s share, though overall Obama raised about $50 million more than Romney and outspent him by just over $100 million [3]. For those whose televisions have been whitewashed by Karl Rove’s American Crossroads attack ads, inundated with right-wing radio programs, subjected to the unending propaganda stream of Fox News, and overwhelmed by automatic phone calls, it might still seem impressive. But at the end of the day the song remains the same; whoever has more cash on hand can and does buy the election.

Romney’s defeat is attributable to myriad elements. The easiest one is Romney himself, a man caught sincerely uttering stupid comments (the 47% gaffe was especially damning), told so many lies fact-checkers had trouble keeping up with him, and had a political and business record that stood opposite of everything he presented himself as in his campaign. Significant, too, is that those who voted for him seem to have done so out of a severe disdain for Obama—this judging by their reaction to Romney’s defeat as a justification to perpetuate their apocalyptic attitudes in regard to the next four years—and not because they cared for Romney. Another is Romney’s failure to solidify support from the right. Fringe commentators like Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and Rush Limbaugh, while professing their preference for Romney over Obama, didn’t hide their critiques that he wasn’t conservative enough. Moreover, Romney had a very high disapproval rate during the primaries [4], allowing loons like Gingrich and Santorum to momentarily present themselves as serious competition for the party seat. The most significant is the money. While plenty of reporting went into the shadowy billionaires pumping funds into GOP Super PACs and regularly made it seem like Romney was outpacing Obama (and admittedly, he was for a bit during the summer), less was made of contributions made to Obama. Since individual donations numbered well over a million and the media has a long history of contempt for what people care about, it’s no mystery it wasn’t covered extensively. It’s also no mystery that Obama won; more money means more power, and in these ‘corporations are people’ period, money buying an election has taken on an even more cynical connotation.

Which doesn’t mean the Republican platform has failed the way opinion columnists and publications such as the Guardian would like to think, just one of a few things I’ve been hearing that are blatantly untrue. The most prominent is that the Republicans will now completely re-think their approach to increasing their share of the electorate and radically re-tool their philosophy. Opinion writers across the board have been fawning over the American people’s clear message that they were too put off by the Republicans’ asinine proposals. Only anyone paying the slightest bit of attention wouldn’t reach that conclusion. Voter turnout was down nine million (and sure, voter suppression by the hands of the right might account for some of this, but I’d put my chips in more with disillusionment), and Obama got 51% to Romney’s 48%. It might translate to a landslide in the electoral college, but it was only a difference of about three million votes, Florida finally going in favor of Obama with a difference around 76,000 [5]. To view this situation as a galloping triumph over the right ignores how close neoconservatives came to issuing another Dark Age. It ignores the near sixty million who opted for Romney because they either a) hated Obama so much they were willing to put in anyone or b) actually believed in Romney and were unaware or uninterested in his deceitful behavior. More importantly, viewing the election as a victory is shameful in the face of, as per usual, nearly half the potential electorate not bothering to cast a ballot. That Paul Ryan, an Ayn Rand acolyte whose plans advocated the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid, was more popular than Romney is a signal that the radical fringes are alive and breathing. Ryan argued so vehemently against abortion he “wound up in effect arguing that the law should enforce a rapist’s right to force his victim to bear his child,”[6] and an all-around liar and extreme historical revisionist, is proof the fringes are strong.

I agree that the Republicans need to rethink their strategy—not just because it’s refusing to face reality and could cause irreparable harm were they to seize power, but because Romney was their only candidate from the bunch that seemingly stood a chance. Part of me wants to think someone like Rick Santorum would have been handily defeated, but recalling complaints of Romney’s un-conservative-ness makes me wonder if full support from the right would have boosted the credibility of a nutcase in the eyes of the voting public. Even more, the right’s facade covering their economic policies (support big business at all costs, which necessitates the pummeling of the middle and lower income classes) won’t last forever. It’s hard work spinning what’s obviously destructive as a benefit to those who it’ll harm, even more so keeping every elected official in lockstep with social stances that are only getting more ludicrous. At least I’d like to think such a strategy won’t last. But it frightens and upsets me that I meet and know many educated, articulate people—some of whom are friends—who are still on board with the War on Terror, favor invading Iran, and oppose universal healthcare, to name just a few of their standpoints [7]. Democrats support the same interests (i.e. business interests), but pursue it in a much more mild fashion, and given that they at least say they support initiatives they have no balls to support given their reluctance to draft legislation, they keep their base satiated.

Another seemingly untrue notion I’ve run across is that voting for Obama restored our credibility in the eyes of the rest of the world. Hard to reach that assumption when Obama, who campaigned in 2008 on a promise to end the Iraq War, took three years to do it and has yet to end the conflict in Afghanistan. Not to mention his crimes and atrocities cited earlier, or his predictable handling of the Arab Spring—for example, supporting Mubarek until the last possible moment, then dumping him and supplying rhetoric favoring the new order and professing love of democracy. Other crimes (drone assaults, involvement in Syria’s descent into a quagmire, and cyberattacks, economic sanctions, and political assassinations against Iran) would all be considered acts of war were they perpetrated against the United States according to the Department of Defense. In short, his foreign policy has been a disaster, and most of the world doesn’t see a difference from president to president. Sure, domestically things may get better or worse, but everything abroad stays the same. And by ‘stays the same,’ I mean we cause major disruptions, through economic or militaristic warfare.

I’m not opposed to celebrating the defeat of a candidate who quite possibly would have wreaked havoc on essential government programs. I, too, am in favor of smaller government, but not at the expense that programs such as Medicare/Medicaid, education, welfare, disaster relief, and the like would fall into the hands of unaccountable private ownership. Our annual military budget peaks over half a trillion dollars; Curiosity cost about $2 billion. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where we could spare a few bucks. And while I find stunts like the mock secession of Texas to be childish and stupid, I also find it astoundingly cowardly. Here are a group of Americans who probably view themselves as ultra-patriotic, who have suffered a defeat while the socialists have claimed a victory and prepare to turn the country into a Stalinist or Maoist dictatorship. Regardless of how strong or soft their doom sentiments are, they’d rather run than deal with what they see as a very real and clear problem. It’s also a cheap way to avoid looking like hypocrites; “If you don’t like America, get out,” they would say. Instead of doing that, they’ll take a piece of America with them.

I always view these things pretty cynically though I see no reason for being cynical. With all the ridiculous goings-on of the last four years, some good things did happen: the Occupy movement has permanently changed discourse in this country, highlighting class inequality in the minds of those who may have thought little about it until now and sending apologists for the rich scrambling to compile ‘evidence’ to refute claims of 1% or 0.1% dominance. The Citizens United case, while needing to be dismantled immediately, didn’t do as much damage as I expected. Despite Karl Rove’s best efforts to scrape together as much as he could from billionaires (and he did a pretty good job), Obama outpaced him, a large part of his proceeds coming from individual donors giving anywhere from $5 to $100. And of course the election of candidates such as Warren coupled with the defeats of Akin and Mourdock are indications that not all right-wing ideologues have massive support and that the country is opening up more and more each day.

Notes:

[1] MSNBC isn’t so much leftist as it is reactionary against anything Fox News says. So while it’s nice people like Rachel Maddow offer rebuttals, their counterarguments usually go into a vacuum. Responses tend to fall into the same trap of the echo chamber, repeating typical liberal viewpoints as arguments in and of themselves rather than intellectual discourse while arguments advanced by the right are either rampant with logical fallacies or outright ridiculous.

[2] Typically the candidate who spends more money wins the election. This becomes especially true post-WWII with the advent of television, radio, and more recently, the internet. It is not a universal standard, though, and there have been exceptions. In 1996, Bob Dole outspent Bill Clinton, but Clinton was incumbent and riding the wave of a recovering Republican-damaged economy.

[3] “The 2012 Money Race,” New York Times.

[4] “Record Number See Romney Negatively; Obama Outpaces Him In Popularity,” ABC News/Washington Post Poll, conducted by Langer Research Associates.

[5] 2012 Election Results, http://www.politico.com

[6] “Calm Down,” by Tom Hull, http://www.tomhull.com

[7] The biggest surprise for me is that Republicans didn’t seem to mind he was Mormon, remarkable given the persistent belief that Obama is Muslim or the general pressure candidates feel to slide into white Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. Catholicism has a hard enough time, and it’s far less kooky than Mormonism.

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