That US Presidential election, the progressive’s dilemma in the US and a few thoughts. November 7, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Well, that’s that then. Obama safely returned to office – a President once again. A Congress that has tilted slightly back to the Democrats, but will presumably remained gridlocked due to the Republican majority there. A Senate that has seen the Democratic majority extended. Same sex marriage initiatives pass. The first openly gay Congresswoman elected. Puerto Rico opts for statehood (we’ll see where that goes). Marijuana to be legal in at least one state. Quite an interesting haul, no?
A clever concession speech by Romney that was actually quite well stated. I wonder when he was told that it was all over, or was that something he had realised for quite some time now. He wouldn’t be human if he hadn’t held out some faint hope for a turnaround, and by God the Republican proxies in the media and elsewhere talked it up a storm.
Winners and losers? Well for the first, Democrats, obviously, Biden too. Obama. Health care. Perhaps a slightly more pacific world. Probably a slightly less interventionist one. A check on new foreign adventures – though the old ones will more than likely proceed as they have done.
For the second, Romney and Ryan. The latter is interesting. That brand of libertarianism failed to make a mark in the campaign. That’s hardly surprising, prospective VPs seldom do, but it does suggest a limit to the potency of that particular approach. And for the Republicans, still with a significant hold on Congress the perennial problem as to what lesson to take away from this. Were they too conservative or not conservative enough? A Tea Party diminished somewhat by its encounter with reality and the electorate and the attrition of three years or so, but unlikely to rein in its enthusiasm. As one analyst of the TP noted now their issues are everyone’s including Obama’s.
Funny too how various assists were given by Republicans to the Obama campaign. The most significant was that from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts who by not agreeing with the other conservatives to strike down the health care individual mandate allowed that project to live to fight another day. Is it probable that had it been struck down that Obama would have won this election? At the very least it would have made his task immeasurably more difficult. Secondly Governor Chris Christie who at the weekend managed to burnish Obama’s Presidential and bi-partisan credentials, and his own, come to think of it. In a way Christie had little choice, and Roberts was perhaps aware that too overtly a political decision on administration policy might have been a difficult precedent, while allowing himself room for future battles where he would appear less partisan. But every little bit plays its part.
As noted elsewhere the campaign didn’t really grab me, for a number of reasons – at least not until close to the end and even then… Not that I’ve been indifferent to a Romney win, but rather that an Obama victory was always more probable – although there were some rocky moments along the road to it. And also that Obama himself – as his Presidency – was problematic. Mind you, not so problematic that last night I wasn’t awake at 1, and then later at 4 and 5 to see what the result was.
Now this is – naturally – a function of circumstance and hardly a surprise in any case. A Kerry win in 2004 was something I most definitely wanted, a Gore win in 2000 likewise – even though I’ve not a lot of time for the man. But somehow the sense that the differences while real weren’t sufficient to capture something more than a sort of academic interest in the most recent contest caught hold. And the polling analysis from Nate Silver (who should take a bow) seemed fundamentally sound whereas that from unskewed polls and their ilk simply didn’t. And when set against the discourse in the media both on and offline the analysis from Silver and others seemed to undercut the continual efforts to make more of a contest than was actually there. I like John Dickerson on Slate.com a lot, but there was once or twice when he seemed to be talking up what was in truth a much less finely balanced contest. And he was in comparison to many other commentators remarkably restrained in that regard.
Of course there was a contest, but it seems in retrospect – and yes, that’s a convenient analysis, no doubt about it, that Obama was always more likely to win than not. But there we have it.
The Democratic party remains an electoral monolith in US politics, as does the Republican party. Writing this the final number and percentages of votes cast have not been issued, but in pre-election polling third party challengers had minor percentages with only Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson breaking above 1 per cent. And the final result in 2008 saw Ralph Nader and other candidates get at most around .5 per cent.
But it encapsulates the central problem for progressives within US politics. The decision all too often boils down to support or not for the Democratic Party. Inside the party there’s very limited some scope for influence. Outside of it, as the wreckage of one failed campaign after another by third (and fourth and fifth and sixth) party candidates attests, there is less. Much less.
And worse the very act of building such campaigns can impact on the milk and water Democratic campaigns themselves. This isn’t entirely clear cut, but the Nader campaign of 2000 certainly had some effect – garnering almost 3 per cent of the vote (though more broadly the disconnect between the electoral college where Bush won and the popular vote which Gore won was more problematic again). None of this new, everyone involved on the US and other lefts knows it. Finding a solution though…
Given the embedded nature of the Democrat party trying to supplant or replace it seems a quixotic notion. But working within it is for many – understandably – impossible. And even detached support for individual Democratic candidates seems to merely prop the system up. Yet time and again the issue of whether to support a weak, or even bad, Democratic candidate over a much much worse Republican comes to the fore. Nor is this simply an US problem. We know much the same dynamic from this state, and others – albeit the outlines of the issue are somewhat different.
And the Presidential aspect of US politics feeds back into state politics. There is – it is true – space in states for Independents and others (look at the election of two Independents to the Senate, including the near venerable Bernie Sanders). And that’s even more true as regards political formations. But the means by which they can connect to a broader national audience, let alone sweep to national power, is unclear. It’s not that it’s impossible, but it would seem to require logistical structures on the ground that a third party challenge seems unable to equip.
And in another way this is an increasingly problematic issue. One doesn’t have to view the past through rosy tinted spectacles to see that there’s a strong case to be made that as the US political system shifts rightwards as a whole the nature of Republicanism raises yet further questions. Nixon, and Ford were no great shakes – anything but. But the plutocratic aspect of Republicanism (tempered only by the contradictory and tellingly increasingly ineffective oddity that is the Tea Party) is ever more and unapologetically evident. It is even at a stretch possible to argue that class differentiation, class identification and to some degree, albeit in a submerged way (though on reflection…), class conflict is also ever more evident. The problem being that the Democratic Party is hardly fit for purpose in that conflict as it too shifts rightwards (and one thing that has been striking to me has been the rhetoric of some Democrats as regards unions – in particular but not exclusively education unions, and a growing aversion to same. This is deeply disturbing but it is also telling as regards their shifting position).
I don’t know what the answer to this is. And perhaps there isn’t one. Waiting for a decisive rupture in capitalism? Well, we’ve seen something of that in recent years and it didn’t shift the dial leftwards in any substantial way – though it could be argued that it allowed space for movement on health care (though the US form is far far from a socialised system). A genuine third party challenge? From where and as importantly would it be one from the left? Again the essential nature of the personality/political contest that is the Presidential election has a distorting effect on all US politics. Transcending that, let alone transitioning from it, seems near enough impossible in the short to medium term.
Without changing gear completely it is interesting to consider a number of other questions. Firstly is it just easier for incumbents to win? It sure seems like it. Reagan. Clinton. Bush. Now Obama. The only odd one out in that entire period is Bush the first. Even still given the economic background and the problems faced by Obama his achievement in winning reelection is considerable. And it’s odd in a way, and this is very much a line of argument which had the vote gone otherwise been redundant, how the Obama years, and years they are, is beginning to have some aspect of the Clinton years in general political terms with a recalcitrant and
Secondly, what of 2016? How does this play out for the Democrats and the Republicans. And is there a chance that Obama will seize the opportunity of the election victory to carve out even just a little more progressive space, particularly in matters economic? That seems unlikely given the first four years.