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That US Presidential election, the progressive’s dilemma in the US and a few thoughts. November 7, 2012

Posted 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.

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1. EWI - November 7, 2012

A Congress that has tilted slightly back to the Democrats, but will presumably remained gridlocked due to the Republican majority there.

Instant fail, WbS. Yes, the Washington punditry declare Congress “Republican” because they love the narrative so (and our mostly useless RTÉ correspondents unfailingly parrot what they’ve just seen on CNN!), but Congress = House of Representatives + Senate.

It’s the House that has a Republican majority

WorldbyStorm - November 7, 2012

You’re right. You’re right. it was a long night… :)

EWI - November 7, 2012

In fairness, as I say this is a narrative that is deliberately pushed by the GOP and their many enablers and patsies in Washington’s “liberal” media.

Like the common claim today that Obama squeaked in, when he’s still more than forty EC votes up on Bush’s best total.

WorldbyStorm - November 7, 2012

And add to that the idea that somehow he ‘doesn’t have much of a mandate’ because it was relatively close in the popular vote. That too is being pushed by the Republicans.

EWI - November 7, 2012

As Bartley demonstrated here the other day, there’s a good deal of psy-ops “expectation management” being targeted at reducing the scope of progressive morale and aims.

It’s a cocktail of claims being put out by the GOP, right up to that racist arsehole Trump calling on Twitter for a march on Washington.

WorldbyStorm - November 7, 2012

He’ll never stop, will he? That being Trump.

Dead right though. They are generating expectation management, trying to close down the space for progressive, even weakly progressive, politics.

That said I had to take some pleasure in the demise of unskewed polls…

EWI - November 7, 2012

That said I had to take some pleasure in the demise of unskewed polls…

That just proves that Obama stole the election, of course.

gabbagabbahey - November 8, 2012

The House has a Republican majority (which is solid because of the redistricting, which also pushes the emphasis onto primaries), and the Senate lacks a Democrat super-majority. So if Congress as a whole isn’t ‘Republican’, the Democrats still have a lot of difficulty in it. Although Americans seem to like the idea of ‘divided government’, so maybe that plays into calling it so.

Good piece by the Wire creator here: http://davidsimon.com/inevitabilities-and-barack-obama/

“Well, a new voting bloc as formidable as the New Deal coalition certainly isn’t yet complete, and the political results are still fitful. To be sure, venality has transformed the upper house of our national legislature into a paralytic failure, with a new standard of a filibuster-proof supermajority now the norm. The lower house of that legislature reflects less of any national consensus than it does the absurdity of post-census gerrymandering. Never mind Obama. If Romney had won this election, our government would be just as broken. It is the legislative branch that remains an epic systems failure.”

2. EWI - November 7, 2012

And in other news, Puerto Rico has just voted to apply for statehood.

3. EWI - November 7, 2012

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.

I disagree that the US has permanently shifted rightwards. The GOP have been relying for fifty years on stoking up an increasingly-minority white population with fears of non-whites, independent women and homosexuals.

This is a losing strategy – there’s only so much BS can be ladled out through talk radio and Fox, and the target demographic are being exposed to actually personally knowing the supposed enemy year after year (anti-gay marriage sentiment will only fall, for example).

WorldbyStorm - November 7, 2012

Well, I hope I didn’t say permanently, because I can’t tell the future. Yet. :)

But on the topic here’s an interesting piece on how inequality forces the polity to the right. As you say, it doesn’t have to be permanent…


4. CL - November 7, 2012

The billionaire-financed Tea Party has a powerful influence on the base of the GOP, and very often determines the outcome of Republican primaries. They may be ineffective in the sense that the candidates they helped select in Missouri and Indiana deprived the GOP of two Senate seats. And their influence on Romney’s election platform may also have been counterproductive.

“It was a costly tactical decision for Romney’s platform to so rigidly mirror the base of his party, which is anti-gay, anti-women’s rights, anti-immigration, anti-minority, anti-welfare, anti-health care reform, anti-global warming, anti-unions, and anti-education. When you are harshly oppositional to all of these groups you necessarily limit your voting pool.’

WorldbyStorm - November 7, 2012

Definitely served to cause Romney headaches. Long may they continue if they do the same again.

TheOtherRiverR(h)ine - November 8, 2012

The Republican primaries just consisted of one tea party candidate imploding after another. Bachmann because she’s absolutely batshit, Perry because he’s an even bigger idiot than GWB and Cain because he had a habit of putting too much salami on on ladies night.

It’ll be interesting to see whether the Republican Party can purge the tea party in time for 2016. In addition to their two rape candidates in the Senate being unsucessful, a number of freshmen tea party backed congressmen were given the heave ho in the house of representatives, Allen West providing the most satisfying defeat.

5. EWI - November 7, 2012
WorldbyStorm - November 7, 2012


I love this:

Exploiting new rules under Citizens United and a general outpouring of disgust for Obama from the nation’s richest citizens, Rove raised hundreds of millions of dollars from mega-donors, much of it anonymously.

Now he has to explain to the billionaires why their unprecedented spending earned them — nothing. For all the money spent, there’s still a Democratic president and, almost as unbelievably, a net gain in the Senate.

BTW, that’s amazing about voters under 30 coming out in higher numbers than 2008 for Obama.

CL - November 7, 2012

Contrary to expectations Obama kept together the winning coalition he put together 4 years ago: African-Americans, the youth, Hispanics, single women, gays, and the unionized working class in the Mid-West. Plus Asian-Americans whose voting percentage for Obama was higher than the Hispanic. Obama’s victory was greatly helped by the Romney/Ryan retrograde policy platform. He also kept intact the organizational structure first put in place in his primary contest with Hilary Clinton
“The 2012 House and Senate races were to a significant degree about the GOP’s shift to the far right of the American historical norm — assaults on the fundamentals of the social safety net unseen since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, unprecedented attempts to restrict women’s reproductive freedom, and near-theological devotion to lowering tax rates for top earners beyond their already-historic lows. But a major trend in Tuesday’s elections was a rejection of many of the Congressional aspirants who most famously embodied these ideas. Here’s six of the candidates closely aligned with the extreme elements in the Republican Party who went down to defeat:

WorldbyStorm - November 7, 2012

That’s a very good point re the coalition surviving more or less intact to 2012. Given the events of the last 4 years that’s stunning, as is his reelection.

CL - November 7, 2012

Especially when you think of what has happened to incumbents since this crisis began, and the ongoing widespread economic distress.

WorldbyStorm - November 7, 2012

It’s been disaster.

Btw, anyone else watching the Greek vote? DL being very two faced about it…abstaining but not voting against.

CL - November 7, 2012

Apropos very little:
This is just the second time that the U.S has had three successive two-term presidencies, the first being Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, 1801-1825

WorldbyStorm - November 7, 2012

Interesting CL. It has to be a product of the modern incumbent at least in part…no?

CL - November 8, 2012

Not so sure it has any significance at all, just a piece of trivia

Bartley - November 9, 2012

Contrary to expectations Obama kept together the winning coalition he put together 4 years ago: African-Americans, the youth, Hispanics, single women, gays, and the unionized working class in the Mid-West.

This has been an oddly recurrently theme in some of the coverage, sounds more like a projection of one’s aspirational right-on-ness onto the result, as opposed to a reflection of reality.

Sure Obama had large majorities in those demographies, some late conversions to various causes certainly helped to triangulate, as did unprecedented use of analytics to drive very fine-grained targetting.

However he still wouldn’t have had a snow ball’s chance in hell of putting together a 51% block of the popular poll, without very large numbers of the boring, straight, middle-aged, middle-class, non-photogenic and decidedly non-hipster folks also voting for him.

And why wouldn’t they? He’s a moderate, non-threatening politician with wide appeal. Slate is being only slightly tongue-in-cheek here …


Tomboktu - November 10, 2012

On the other, hand, for all their spending, a group of them probably got their money back as it was recycled back to them via purchasing air time on stations they owned.

6. CL - November 8, 2012

Click on this Google news page, for an interesting piece by Simon Schama in the FT entitled ‘Obama shatters GOP’s delusions’

EWI - November 8, 2012

Question is, will that just make them more rabid in denial. The money cushion of rich bastards like Trump (what some call “wingnut welfare”) means that rejection by the voters is only a temporary setback.

CL - November 8, 2012

Its unlikely that whatever moderate rump remains in the Republican Party will determine its future direction. But the Tea Party cost them some Senate and House seats so there will be an internal struggle in the GOP which should be fun to watch.
Next up-’the fiscal cliff’

EWI - November 9, 2012
EWI - November 10, 2012
7. irishelectionliterature - November 8, 2012
8. irishelectionliterature - November 8, 2012

This is great too ‘White People Mourning Romney’

WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2012

Hahah… I love the stat re Sheldon Adelson…

BTW, I bounced up the Shamrock Rovers post (and doctorfive’s one too). They got a bit lost in the blizzard of other posts from me today.

9. Tomboktu - November 8, 2012

From the Department of Pure and Applied Pedantry

“The first openly gay Congresswoman elected.”

Actually that did not happen this week. Tammy Baldwin was first elected in 1998, to the US House of Representatives. This week she became the first openly gay person elected to the US Senate.

WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2012

Ouch! That’s twice I made an error re Senate/House in one post. :(

Tomboktu - November 8, 2012

Ah but… focus on the video that was posted to immediately follow the comment … it may not be cheery, but it is a set of views on the significance of the re-election from a Left perspective

WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2012

It’s definitely not cheery… but sounds not incorrect.

10. Tomboktu - November 8, 2012
Tomboktu - November 9, 2012

And another cheery analysis

Back From the Abyss by Doug Ireland.

Michael Carley - November 9, 2012

Reminds me of Milk, when he forms an alliance of gays and teamsters

11. CL - November 9, 2012

Although Obama kept together his coalition from 2008 his vote was down substantially being about equal to what McCain got.in 2008. Much less enthusiasm. Romney’s vote was more than 2m less than what McCain got. Total turnout was way down. Plenty numerical fodder here for psephological disquisition.

CL - November 9, 2012

These numbers, re turnout etc, are very preliminary and seem to vary by newspaper. There will be substantial revisions. Any conclusions are premature.

12. Tomboktu - November 9, 2012
Michael Carley - November 10, 2012

Is there a political trend that has that combination of spoilt-brattishness and open contempt for democracy?

WorldbyStorm - November 10, 2012

‘Brattishness’ is brilliant as a description – it sums up the sheer obnoxiousness of much of that strand.

Yeah, that was one monumental hissy fit.
Another way of looking at it is just how toxic the mix of conceit and self-pity is. So called individualists whining about all this. What a crock.

13. CL - November 10, 2012

Doug Ireland, cited above, (10), may sound a tad hyperbolic when he wrote,

“This election has saved the soul of American democracy from one of the greatest threats it has experienced since the anti-Communist hysteria of McCarthyism and the domestic Cold War in the 1950s. America teetered on the brink in Tuesday’s election, stared into an abyss of reaction, and took a half-step back.” But I think ‘abyss of reaction’ gets it right.

As Ralph Nader has written: There has never been a more crazed, cruel, anti-people, corporate-indentured, militaristic and monetized Republican Party in its 154-year history.

Just think of the damage they could do if they controlled the Presidency and Senate as well as the gerrymandered House.

There is much that is unpalatable about the Democrats, such as Obama’s surrender to Wall St. in his first term, and his wilting before the Republicans in the budget debates that have led to the ‘fiscal cliff’. It remains to be seen if the election victory has given Obama enough backbone to resist attacks on Social Security and Medicare in the budget discussions now underway.
But for a while at least the election has repelled the forces of reaction.

CL - November 10, 2012

It was certainly heart-warming to see the happiness of Obama’s beautiful family on Tuesday night. But spare a thought too for the 176 children killed in Obama’s drone attacks.

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