As the next US election approaches, does it matter if Romney or Obama wins?
There is a clear gap between the 2008 presidential candidate Obama and President Obama in areas ranging from domestic civil liberties to foreign policy with his message of “hope and change” deteriorating into a reality of “disappointment and more of the same”. This has resulted in the disillusionment of a vast section of the American populace, and was a key factor in the creation of the Tea Party movement on the right of the political spectrum, and Occupy Wall Street on the left. The reality however, is that we should not be surprised, nor should we as British citizens advising our American friends, be rooting for the other guy.
Every President, although perhaps more with Democrat Presidents, will “triangulate” and try and make himself (no woman President yet!) more palatable to the hallowed “middle ground”. Following Clinton’s “third way” makes Obama appear as neither the President of a blue state, nor a red state, but the United States of America. And the appearance of a less partisan President generally polls well amongst the independents, whose vote is key to win an election.
But what does this mean for the issues that matter to minority groups who identify with Obama (and more generally the Democrats), as they feel they are the “little guys” whose issues are constantly overlooked? The unfortunate reality is that a Democrat President, whatever they say on their campaigns, will inevitably disappoint unless you are realistic in your expectations.
If a Democrat wants to avoid being attacked for being a “socialist”, he cannot enact his reforms in the way he wants and is likely to compromise. If a Democrat wants to avoid attack for being “soft” (a common attack by the right wing on Democrats), he must act “strong” on foreign policy – we have seen this with Obama’s surge in Afghanistan. If a Democrat wants to win the next election, being fair to immigrants and leading on immigration reform without bipartisan support will lose significant support amongst the independents.
So why bother? Why vote for Obama this November when your enthusiasm will be taken for granted, your hopes will be dashed and your passions ignored? There are three strong reasons why it is not only important for you to support Obama’s re-election campaign, but also to encourage others to also.
Firstly, the key negative reason: what is the alternative? You are not just voting FOR Obama, you are voting AGAINST the return of the hated Bush era (if not worse). That by itself is very powerful. We see the dangers of voting en masse against your interests in the Indian sub-continent, where the Muslim vote moved from Congress to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This followed years of being undervalued, years of disappointment and years of being exploited. Nevertheless this vote for the BJP resulted in a right-wing government that has been linked to the ‘state-sanctioned’ massacre of thousands of Muslims in Gujurat. I’m not saying Republicans are the same as the BJP, but sometimes we underestimate what we would lose. So of course, it is important to campaign against the excesses of the Obama administration, such as the ongoing drone strikes on Pakistani territory, and the sanctioning of extra-judicial murders of suspects without due process, but we have to be realistic about the alternative.
Secondly, the positives that Obama has done are underreported and undervalued. He may not have worked miracles with the economy but his economic stimulus has proven to be the way forward, with austerity measures considered a failed policy in Europe. He may not have passed the Dream Act (a key issue for many Hispanics), but he has helped the poor through tax reliefs, expanding Medicaid and partial healthcare reform. He may not have revolutionised US foreign policy (impossible given US interests) but he has at least cut down in Iraq, restricted the use of Guantanamo, and made Netenyahu look crazier than he already did before. That is without listing his domestic policy achievements such as the expansion of Pell grants for students, his protection of women’s and minority rights, and the increased transparency of his government.
Finally, we all forget the importance of hope and symbolism. The man leading the superpower of the world is an intellectual, an African American, and a superb orator. These are symbolic, but just watch him speak – his speech on racism, his thoughts in Cairo early in his Presidency, and his State of the Union addresses. He does not patronise the audience but speaks to them as intellectual human beings. The symbol of Obama as leader, compared to Bush, is something that resonates across the political spectrum – just ask the Italians how proud they felt with Berlusconi in power.
If your disappointed heart wants Obama to lose this November, hold back a moment, and listen to your brain – the dangers of Obama losing and returning to the Bush era of hand-outs to the rich, torture, and devastating neo-liberal foreign policy, will bring you back to the Democrat side.
Image from: http://www.news24.com/World/US-elections-2012
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