Nov 05, 2012 Editorial
Americans go to the polls tomorrow to choose their president for the next four years. Who will it be, Obama or Romney? If foreigners (including Guyanese) could vote Obama would win overwhelmingly, but the enthusiasm level is much lower than four years ago. In the country that counts however, the US, the two candidates are in a dead heat at 47 percent each according to the latest polls.
Because of an idiosyncrasy of the US electoral system, the popular vote is intermediated by ‘electoral votes’ that individual states are allocated. This device was inserted to satisfy fears that the new system of ‘democracy’ introduced would not fall prey to the dangers of demagoguery. This system introduces the possibility that the candidate with the highest number of votes will not necessarily win the election. There are certain states, dubbed ‘swing states” that are crucial in the stretch and in the last week the candidates’ attention have been focused on these states. Hurricane Sandy interrupted the ‘great push’.
That Romney could have pulled even with Obama might have surprised many Guyanese, but the first debate between the two candidates was a turning point. It demonstrated the power of image over substance in American politics. Before the debate, Obama was a firm favourite and most pundits had written off Romney. But when Obama appeared lackadaisical and uncertain, in contrast to the apparently decisive and firm Romney, the instantaneously generated TV tracking of viewers’ preferences showed a shift towards Romney.
After Romney was declared ‘the winner” the next day, subsequent polls showed Romney inexorably closing the gap. This was so even though the substantive analysis verified that many of his assertions during the debate had no factual basis. Style, not substance, triumphed. This shift was also quite extraordinary in light of the demographic shift that each census in the last half century had confirmed: the US is inevitably headed towards a majority of non-white citizens.
With the Republicans firmly locked into the popular mind as a bastion of white and rich America – somewhat discordantly since it was their party that fought a war to abolish slavery – their success has been dependent on consolidating that base. The traditional trope the Republicans use is to attack the ‘entitlement’ programs such as ‘welfare’ and Medicaid. These were identified with poor African and minority populations, who were accused of ‘sponging’ off working class whites. Ironically there have always been more whites than minorities enjoying the criticised government programs.
Of recent, the low birth rate of the white population coinciding with higher birth rates of minority populations combined with increased immigration (legal and illegal) from non-white countries. An additional trope now became attacks by Republicans on immigration and ‘benefits’ to illegal immigrants. Romney’s Mormon background has also served to alienate him from some of the conservative, white, southern Christian demographic that are suspicious of the unorthodox pretentions of the Mormon Church.
With all of the foregoing factors against Romney, it should be obvious that he has only caught up with Obama because of the latter’s performance. Obama should recapture the 2008 95% of the African American vote even though there has been some trenchant criticism from some quarters. But the greatest shift away from Obama has been due to the disenchantment of progressive and leftist Democrats and independents, with Obama’s handling of the economy.
Obama’s refusal to take a firm stand against the top 1% of the US population that still garners 20% of the income; 35% of total net worth and 42% of financial (non-home) wealth – has been the largest sticking point. His retention of basically the same team from the financial world has convinced progressives that Obama will not administer the strong medicine necessary to fix the US economy to sop up the 9 million unemployed. Our bet is still on Obama however.
Foreign policy has not figured much in this election- reflecting what third world leaders should have figured out long ago. When it comes to dealing with the outside world, there is not much that separated Republicans from Democrats.
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