Here I Am, Baby: Some Thoughts on the 2012 US Presidential Election
Eddie J. Girdner
(Written November 12, 2012)
The great American Presidential Election extravaganza has finally ended. After counting the ballots on November 6, the electoral map showed a big red United States. Except for Colorado and New Mexico, there were just some patches of blue around the edges, the west coast, the upper Midwest, the northeastern states and Florida. There were 24 red states and 26 blue states, but most of the red states tended to be bigger in size than the blue states. So the US looked like a Republican nation, but this time it was deceptive. Most people live in the blue states. President Barack Obama won with 332 electoral votes to Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s 206. Obama won by only about three percent of the popular vote, getting 51 percent to Romney’s 48 percent. America, as in the last several Presidential elections, split pretty much right down the middle between the Democrats and Republicans.
And this seems somewhat strange. I always say that there is only one thing that one needs to know to vote in an American election. If one is rich, one should probably vote for a Republican. If one is not, then one should vote for a Democrat. Still, a liberal will hang you, but from a lower limb. That being so obvious in American politics, how can a political party that has only stood for the interests of big capital and corporate America since the l980s, the Republican Party, get almost half the popular votes? How can the Republican Party leaning to extremist right -wing Tea Party ideology get almost as many votes as the party that stands for providing some social welfare and services to the people, the Democrats? And this in a year when millions have lost their homes to bank foreclosures and more are out of work. The idea that half the people in the US support the public policies of the Republicans is absurd. Romney was caught on a secret camera criticizing the 47 percent of Americans who get help from the Federal Government and writing them off as his supporters. People do not like what the Republicans have in mind for them, but they have been fooled, massively fooled. Romney claimed that he knew how to create jobs and many apparently believed him. He may know how to create jobs, but his record is one of destroying American jobs while running the equity firm, Bain Capital. Most of the jobs he would create would probably be in the slave labor sector in China, India and elsewhere in the emerging markets. Isn't that what capitalism has always been based upon?
This might suggest that those hundreds of millions of dollars of corporate money that went into propaganda to make all those presidential campaign ads by the Republican political action committees was not actually wasted. This is what George W. Bush’s former adviser, Karl Rove says, who commanded some 180 million dollars of that money in his political action committee, American Crossroads. It looks like he failed, as most of his candidates were defeated, but perhaps it would have been more of a disaster for the Republicans without this misleading propaganda. The Republicans spent 90 million dollars more than the Democrats, but still could not win. The relatively close vote gives the impression that almost half the people liked Romney’s big business policies when most do not and would suffer under them. But seeing the votes split down the middle tends to give the event a very democratic flavor. To be fair, there was plenty of propaganda from the Democrat side too with the election awash in corporate dollars.
The American people have a right to be cynical. They voted for hope in 2008 in electing President Obama, particularly the youth, and they did not get much results out of the last four years. They have seen too many elections when it does not make much difference who wins. Things go on as usual. Most Americans get poorer. Obama did not prevent millions of Americans from losing their homes. Job creation was weak. His one big achievement was the Obama Care health plan, but many are not happy about that either. Half of the population say they want it to be repealed. So it took a massive effort to get people out to vote in this election. I think that this time it was not just tweedle dee and tweedle dum, however. It was important for the American people to send a message to the bankers and big capitalists that they cannot control everything. Romney was set to do more than just turn the bull loose for big corporations. And he carelessly talked of a deeper conflict with Iran. Obama may be able to do something for the poor and working classes of America in the second term if he is not completely blocked by the Tea Party conservatives in the House of Representatives.
The American election, especially the election night circus with all the chattering pundits, is an incredible television production, unlike anything seen elsewhere in the world. More than politics, the American Presidential Election is a six billion dollar economic enterprise. It is a colossal carnival, a staged show financed by the great cash-rich corporations of America, to dazzle American spectators and befuddle their minds with visions of the wonder of American democracy and just how grand and spectacular American freedom can be. The greatest and the most free country in the world sort of rhetoric. American exceptionalism and all that. It is the Superbowl of American politics, where two powerful teams backed by billions of corporate dollars play for the greatest political prize anywhere in the world, and everything is seen as depending upon the people, all those one hundred and twenty million little people out there in the hinterlands who have been given power and vote. It is part myth, part reality, but mostly myth.
Today there are plenty of people who do not buy it. There is a great amount of cynicism about the political class, especially Congress. Faced with economic difficulties brought about partly by neoliberal policies over the last thirty years, many just want the government to leave them alone, but this Tea Party rhetoric is certainly not the solution. The old American individualist ideology of making it on one’s own, which is still strong in many parts of the country, cannot work in the twenty-first century. Almost everything in America is controlled by the big corporations. Millions have fallen through the so called social safety net and this goes on.
The Electoral Circus:
The American Presidential election is an obscene orgy of money, propaganda, lies, deception, half-truths, obfuscations, and a marathon of tedium and mindless drivel to which no nation or people on earth should be subjected. It is an assault upon the mind and the senses and the spirit. It probably kills brain cells by the billions. Spread out over more than a year, the cost this election cycle for the production of mass propaganda was some six billion dollars. Most of this comes from big corporations. Political ads sometimes treat people like idiots. And a considerable portion of them proceed to vote as if they were. It subjects people to manipulative torture for months. While there are a number of other “third parties” with relevant ideas and platforms, all are ignored except for the two parties in the oligopolistic duopoly, in the center, but increasingly on the right. It is an incredibly antiquated system of the old winner take all. In the words of Ralph Nader, the Electoral College makes a mockery of democracy. The candidate who wins the popular vote can lose the election, as in the 2000 election when George W. Bush was installed in the Presidency by the US. Supreme Court. The real election is the vote by the 538 electoral college delegates. Most of the candidates in the two major parties, the only ones with any real chance to win, are bought lock, stock, and barrel by the big corporations in financing the campaign. All of these facts are well known but generally not observed. Political scientists are sometimes loathe to admit them. Lobbying is a disguised form of political bribery mostly by big corporations. In many ways, a US Presidential Election is a national and international disgrace. It is a brand of arithmetical politics that in many ways has little resemblance to democracy. It legalizes massive vote buying and corruption, yet it is taken as the paradigm example of democracy around the globe. The United States is, in fact, a plutocracy, ruled and controlled by corporate wealth. It is a system that is designed to protect the rich plutocrats from the people and the people from themselves. It is a system that guarantees that the winner is going to be big capital, the system, capitalism, imperialism, and the global rule of the world by America and the military industrial congressional complex which guarantees corporate profits. The big guys do not win exactly everything, not everything that they would like, every time. But nevertheless, they win. They win even when they lose. The fire walls are in place to keep the ruling class in power and protect their wealth and that is all that really matters to the system. The system will always win. Big capital will always win. And the people will be told that it was they who won and their hearts should swell up big with pride. But, in fact, it is precisely the people who lose.
Money in American Elections:
The Americans United Supreme Court decision which allows unlimited spending by individuals and big corporations in elections unleashed even more spending in the 2012 election. Sheldon Adelson, part owner of the Las Vegas Sands gaming company, gambled 54 million dollars on the elections, first funding Newt Gingrich and then Mitt Romney. The political action committees or “Super Pacs” poured in more hundreds of millions of dollars. A pac, Restore Our Future, spent 91 million dollars on Presidential campaign ads for Romney. Charles and David Koch, active in the Tea Party, funded Americans for Prosperity and American Future Fund, pacs which spent 66 million dollars on campaign ads for Romney,
The US Supreme Court has laid down the principle that money is speech and that corporations are individuals with all the rights granted to individuals in the US Constitution. All this just shows to what extent the ideology of the ruling class has become the ruling ideology.
Still, there are a lot of people who do not buy it, but their voices are generally not heard. Their dissent is rendered invisible in the system. The only major candidate among Republican hopefuls raising issue about the system this year was Texas Congressman Ron Paul. He ran as a Republican but is actually a libertarian. Someone like him who criticizes the system is taboo and not allowed to be taken seriously. They get marginalized by the powers that be, but it seems that a lot of people understand what they are saying and that the economic, financial, and political system is rotten to the core. Particularly threatening is their attempts to make people aware of how the Federal Reserve System works in printing money to pay for imperialist wars while making the bankers richer and richer and sinking the common people ever deeper into debt and destroying the value of the currency.
There were at least four other parties whose candidates should have been heard by the American people. These are the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Constitution Party, and the Justice Party. A debate was held between the presidential candidates of these parties in Chicago. The debate is posted on YouTube, but since it was not covered by the mainstream media, few people got any news about this event which actually addressed serious issues and suggested alternative policies.
The election is nothing, if not like a big football game. After it is over, pick up the pieces, if one loses, and get on with it. It has all been a grand and glorious spectacle. Forget the issues. And they are indeed, mostly forgotten. After the election, all of the high flying promises are quickly forgotten. No more pie in the sky. It is back to reality. Back to all the crises facing the people, at least most of them, which were not even discussed during the campaign.
The Spectacle: It feels good to win.
Yet, in spite of all that, it is terribly interesting to watch the election returns. I have not lived in America for twenty years. In Turkey, which is seven hours ahead of the east coast of the United States, I can get up early in the morning to watch the returns. This time I must say that I enjoyed the hell out of seeing Obama trounce Romney. He deserved every bit of it, given his disgusting contempt for the common people in America. He seemed to think that just because he was rich and had been a big businessman buying up and closing down companies and throwing people out of work, that this somehow gave him the right to be President. He seemed to think that running the US Government was going to be just like running a company and so he touted his business credentials. He had a proven track record, he said. He would send the orders and all the employes would scurry around carrying them out. It wouldn’t be at all like punching a pillow, as Harry Truman described the lack of power of the President to get things done. He had run a business, true. But he had never been President of the United States.
Sometimes it is terribly demoralizing to see the wrong candidate win. But to see a super millionnaire and the billionaire financiers who funded the election extravaganza take a drubbing at the hands of the people is wonderful. It was lovely as the returns came in this year, giving state after state to President Obama. To see the mean spirited abusers of the common people told to get lost is great. To see Karl Rove, George Bush’s old adviser, almost having a nervous breakdown on Fox TV as Obama was projected as the winner, is great. To shut up those who are shilling for big capital in the name of the people is great. And so to at least a small extent allowed within the system, the people won this round. They told the bankers and the corporate capitalists to get lost.
Some commentators noted that the Republican Party is not ready for the twenty-first century and were seen as an extremist party. Romney’s Vice-Presidential Candidate, Paul Ryan, leaned toward Tea Party policies on abortions and social welfare. This was badly out of step with the mainstream. Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas Governor and now radio show host on Fox, noted that the Republicans did a pathetic job of reaching out to people of color. Republican senatorial candidates Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana made statements about rape which caused a backlash among women. Romney talked about “binders full of women,” which did not go down well.
In the end, it was the women and Latino vote that put Obama over the top in this election. The Republicans were badly out of touch with their appeals to these segments of voters. Sixty-five percent believe that aliens should be given legal status.
The right wing newspaper, the Weekly Standard, did not like the result. The editor printed the old quote:
“The people have spoken, the bastards.”
To be sure, some on the right tend to be sore losers and nasty. For the ruling class, the people in America are most certainly bastards, when they do not follow orders and march lock step to the tune of big capital. But as long as there are elections, sometimes the corporations cannot buy enough propaganda with their hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the rabble in line. This year their campaign ads did not persuade the people for the most part. This must have had something to do with the resentment against bailing out the big banks with hundreds of billions of dollars, after the financial crisis, while not providing relief for the families losing their homes and creating new jobs. And the Occupy Wall Street movement which championed the rights of the 99 percent over the super rich may have raised awareness across the country. There is a populist streak in America against big corporations and the banks. The voters were not in a very good mood. President Obama had done little to help them, but a lot of people believed he had tried. They were willing to give him another chance. How could they believe that Romney would be better? He might have been better for small businesses. Certainly better for big businesses, but for the people it would be the old trickle down idea. The rising tide raises all boats. Bullshit. After all, it was mostly the Republicans and the Tea partiers who had blocked Obama’s legislation.
Donald Trump was also mean-spirited, writing, “We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and end this travesty. Our nation is totally divided.”
Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing radio talk show host said, “I went to bed last night thinking we’ve lost the country.”
Need for Electoral Change:
In American elections today, a predictable rule is that when the turnout is high, the Democrats are going to win. But there are many conditions which discourage people from actually voting. The Democrats have an interest in getting voters to the polls. The Republicans bank on fewer voters as it tends to help them win. This year, some thirty states passed laws requiring voters to have picture ID cards issued by the government. Some 22 percent of blacks do not have them. This was an election strategy by the Republicans to keep people from voting and tended to militate against the old and minorities. The Democrats mounted a massive effort to get people out to vote and largely succeeded in spite of the roadblocks thrown up to voters.
As a result of the Electoral College System, real political contests between the parties were going on in only nine states. With a quite high turnout, Obama won eight out of these nine states. The other states, like many of the Midwestern states and the south and some western states, like Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Montana, are solidly Republican. The states along the Pacific, the upper Midwest, and northeast, are mostly Democratic. So under the winner take all system, a Democrat’s vote for President in Missouri or Kansas gets wasted, as everyone knows that all the electoral votes are going to go to the Republicans. It is the opposite in California. The Republican’s vote for President gets wasted in the Democratic state. It is counted in the national vote, but that does not count officially. The President is not elected by the popular vote. So to make the system really democratic, and encourage more people to vote, the electoral college needs to be abolished.
Because of this system, the Presidential candidates only need to campaign in the so-called battleground states where the vote is going to be close. This tends to turn the campaign into a sort of farce with candidates ignoring California, but returning many times to Ohio because they generally have to win that state to win the Presidency.
Of course, another thing is that a European style electoral system that allowed third parties to win seats, would likely encourage more people to vote. But this is not on the horizon in America. The political system is stagnated and not even the very most critical political issues are being discussed in the debates. One sees a predictable trend in the debates when both candidates tend to hug the center. Many times, the candidates are bending over backward to be more like their opponent, for example on defense spending. The argument is just over who is going to spend the most, because the politically correct answer is to spend more money, have stronger defense, to have lower taxes for the middle class, to kill more terrorists, improve education, and so on and on. There is not much point in this when the answers are pre-determined and who can do it is just a matter of faith.
The Demographic Shift:
In addition to generally serving the interests of the corporate class in America, the Republicans have another problem. The demographic shift means that now more people vote Democratic. The balance is shifting from Republican red voters to Democratic blue voters. The red voters are the older white males, and some white women, protestant, rural, small town, the less educated (little or no university), sexually straight, more patriotic, businessmen, big capital, traditional, and some white working class.
The blue voters are the blacks, Latino, other ethnic minorities, women of color, secular, more educated, unionized working class, gays, less patriotic, younger, and urban.
Red voters and blue voters are virtually two different social and political cultures which divide America. The reds tend to be nativist, sons of the soil, with narrow traditional ideas. Blues are those with broad ideas and are more mobile. They are now the mainstream fed by new immigrants. The old white classes are dying out. The reds are located primarily in the desert and mountain states of the west, the central Midwest, and the old confederate south. The blues are located mainly in the states bordering the Pacific Ocean, New Mexico and Colorado, the upper Midwest, the Great Lakes region, the North East and Florida.
While these cultures determine political identification and mind sets, they often reveal a false consciousness. When one looks at class, the lower socioeconomic strata of both reds and whites share common interests, but tend to vote differently. One sees poor whites in a rural country voting for Governor Romney to the tune of seventy-percent, when they would be far better off with the policies of President Barack Obama. This is the traditional American racism and unreality among many of the poor white voters.
As of the last two decades, the balance has been tipping over to the give the majority to the blues, those who vote for Democrats. In the 2012 election, 88 percent of black men and 96 percent of black women voted for Obama. Of course race was also a factor here. Among Latino voters, 71 percent voted for Obama. Sixty percent of voters under age 29 voted for Obama.
Many Republicans recognize this as a problem that the party has to address if it wants to win any more elections. Amy Walter of National Public Radio said: “This country is not getting any whiter and older people die. If winning an election depends on appealing to and then turning out a base of old, white people you are going to lose every presidential election from here on out.”
The Role of the Tea Party:
The Tea Party ultra-right utterly failed in this election. One can say that there was a backlash against the bellicose right-wingers who go after social welfare. People are not in the mood. Most people realize that the idea that individuals can make it on the own in modern day society and in America is a myth. They need some help and assistance from the community and the government. Tea Party candidates mostly lost in this election.
Significant State Initiatives in the election:
Things are also changing in some progressive states, however, it is not sure if some of the things people voted for on state initiatives will be struck down by federal laws and federal courts.
In terms of progressive measures, Colorado and Washington state voted to legalize marijuana. Same sex marriage was approved by voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington.
On regressive measures, some states, such as Montana and Alabama, passed measures against Obama care, namely the requirement that one must purchase health insurance from a private company if he or she can afford it. These results will probably not stand up in court now as they go against the federal law.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered:
At half past midnight, President Obama and family appeared in Chicago to the cheers of his fans and Stevie Wonder’s song: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m yours.” The President gave a magnificent speech suggesting that the “best is yet to come.”
“I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter whether you’re black, white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.” This is very inspiring. Prime Bullshit with a capital B.
It must not have been the founders of America, because those founders certainly had other ideas at the time, and the suggestion that it does not matter whether you are rich or poor in America today is ludicrous, but never mind. Such is the nature of political speeches. The US is a great country. It is not sure whether the people can regain the freedoms they have lost in the last decade after 9-11. The struggle will go on and their standard of living may continue to decline as inequality increases and America’s relative position in the world declines.
The US has to get out of the Empire business. Americans have to take back their country.
Stranger than Fiction:
Strange things can happen in America. A decade ago, the country goes to war and spends two trillion dollars to overthrow a president in Iraq named “Hussein,” and then elects a black President named Hussein. Barack Hussein Obama then wins a second term in office, in spite of the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of propaganda by the American corporate ruling class. If this happened in a novel, no one would believe that it was possible. Sometimes life is stranger than fiction and this can happen in politics too. Obama has got the watch again for the next four years. Up against all those mean spirited Republican Tea partiers who can be really nasty people, he has his work cut out for him. Barack Obama is a decent man. He should do something for the 99 percent of Americans the ones who support help from the government, although many of them do not realize this. The Republicans are certain to remain their mean-spirited selves. They are not likely to cooperate with the President. The country is facing a huge budget deficit.
The miracle that is needed is that the American Empire should end. To some extent that is up to the people of the world to bring about. The resistance has increased considerably since George W. Bush.
Finally, in my view, Obama did not actually deserve to be reelected, given the way he abandoned the people who voted for him in the first term. I never expected much from him from the beginning, but thought that he might put up more of a fight for the people. But the prospect of a Romney presidency was so horrid that I felt relief that he would not be President. Obama won, so now he has another chance to use some of his mandate to do something for the people, but I have no faith that this will happen.
November 12, 2012
Eddie J. Girdner, is an American professor who lives in Turkey.