Barack Obama will be re-elected president Tuesday night, and probably by a relatively comfortable electoral vote margin. The question for workers in the US, and around the world, is: does it matter who wins?
Let’s begin with what is before us: Election Day. I believe, as I have argued for some time, that the election was actually over in the spring, notwithstanding the media’s obsession with creating a narrative of a competitive race and polls that shifted here and there. The election was decided long ago for some key reasons but, first, a reminder: winning the White House is a winner-take-all, state-by-state race for electoral votes—equal to the number of each state’s federal representatives in Congress. Winning the total national popular vote is not important, other than for bragging rights and to avoid a flurry, always fleeting, of questions about the “legitimacy” of the victory. The winner has to pick up 270 out of a total of 538.
Habla Espanol? Obama is crushing Romney among Latinos voters, taking about two-thirds of the Latino vote. That’s a demographic absolutely crucial in battleground states like Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Florida.
That fact is a debacle for Republicans, a long-term nightmare that will last for the next generation or two. As a top well-respected Republican strategist Whit Ayers said during the campaign, “If we don’t do better among Latinos, we are not going to be talking about how to get back Florida in the presidential race, we are going to be talking about how not to lose Texas”. Texas, by the way, is a deeply-Republican state that has not been in the Democratic presidential column since 1976 and was governed by George W. Bush.
Indeed, the Republican Party is mainly a white, Protestant redoubt, while America is now more than 50 per cent minority and non-Protestant. By the next election, whites will not make up the majority of the voters who go to the polls. The Republican Party faces irrelevance and the prospect of being locked out of the White House for generations.
Romney Is No Ronald Reagan: Reagan stormed back in 1980 at the end of the campaign, turning the election into a landslide. Feeling reassured about the prospects of Reagan at the helm and unhappy with a poor economy, a huge chunk of voters moved Reagan’s way in the final days.
However, Reagan didn’t simply fill in a checklist of policy issues. A lot of voters liked Reagan personally—his eyes sparkled and his jovial demeanor connected, particularly with working class Democrats (“Reagan Democrats” is still in the American political lexicon).
By contrast, Romney has had persistent, historically-high, negative ratings for a challenger. Voters’ feelings about Romney have consistently been roughly, “feel free to count your money in the Caymans, not in my living room”.
The Angry White Billionaires: this election marks, perhaps, the final corruption of American politics. A handful of billionaires have been able to spend huge amounts of money, dropping tens of millions of dollars on behalf of Romney via so-called “superPACs” (political action committees).
I thought that money would be a grave threat to Obama, funding a last-minute scorched-earth advertising assault on behalf of Romney. I was wrong. The money wars ended up being roughly a draw—no candidate was left without enough financial resources to drown the airwaves and build an election turnout machine.
But, the money, I believe, laid the groundwork for Romney’s defeat. Two billionaires—Foster Freiss and Sheldon Adelson—underwrote a withering attack against Romney during the Republican primaries. The money sustained Romney’s chief rivals for the Republican nomination, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, long after they would have been driven from the race for lack of resources.
The barrage of anti-Romney negative ads filled the airwaves in battleground states long before the Obama machine turned into high gear. Ads don’t discriminate—everyone sees them. Independent voters were left to wonder: forget what the Democrats are saying, these are Republicans attacking one of their own for, to mention one priceless Gingrich slogan, “vulture capitalism” (“priceless” because few people in U.S. history can top Gingrich for the amount of money he has taken from rapacious corporate sources). Those relentless TV salvos, in my view, likely cemented negative views of Romney in the minds of many independent voters.
The Bill Maher Theory: comedian Bill Maher suggested that the Democratic Party’s most powerful slogan should be: “Vote for us. We’re lame, but the other guys are nuts”
From independent voters’ vantage point, Democrats might seem to have lots of rotten apples inside the party, from corporate-loving, free-market ideologues to not very smart, lame people. But, as a rule, while one might strongly disagree with their positions, they aren’t visibly crazy if you listen to their rhetoric.
But, too many Republicans, scare a whole raft of people. From the world of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin and Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock who, respectively, believe that pregnancy rarely results from cases of “legitimate rape” and that God intended for pregnancies to occur after rape; to climate change denial, which occupies a central place in Republican thinking; to the vast number of Republican Party leaders who refuse to distance themselves, at a minimum for fear of reprisals from the lunatic fringe, from the persistent clamoring that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.—that is a just a sampling of positions and world views that are not in step with mainstream America.
This is a place where it must be said: the United States is a center-left country. That’s right. It may elect center-right governments but that is a function of a sad reality that voting in America is not easy, not encouraged and has been captured by a vast money machine that perverts rationale, truthful public debate. About half the country–100 million eligible voters– will not go the polls on Tuesday. A majority of those voters are Democratic-type voters who don’t participate because of the barriers to voting (if you are poor, hold down two jobs and have to manage a household without affordable childcare, voting feels optional) and are fed up with both parties because the rich get richer while most everyone struggles.
But, polling over many years shows a majority of Americans support unions, want the rich to pay higher taxes, believe in strong and reasonable gun control, and oppose discrimination against undocumented workers.
I think mainstream Republican leaders know they are losing an election they should win, based on the horrendous economic picture—which is why the Republican convention was full of high-profile speakers who, with an eye to the White House race in 2016, promoted themselves rather than Romney. Why do you think Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a potential 2016 candidate, just about Velcroed himself to Obama, much to the dismay of the Romney campaign, during their joint tour of the post-Sandy destruction
I will stick with the prediction I made a few weeks ago: Obama wins, 332 to 206; my total includes Obama winning Florida—I can see that as a possible weak spot but, even without Florida, Obama’s total will be north of 300 electoral votes, a very safe margin above the 270 needed.
Now, does it matter for workers that Obama will win a second term? The answer is a decisive…yes and no. It’s a tough chore but we have to think about this in a complicated, grey world.
The Republican Party’s agenda is clear: it wants to annihilate the labor movement in the U.S. The person who heads an Obama National Labor Relations Board will be infinitely more worker-friendly than anyone who Romney will tap; it is absolutely certain that Republicans and their business allies will demand an NLRB chief who will weaken labor laws and make it impossible to organize workers within the existing legal framework (that framework is already broken but that’s another story).
Across other federal agencies dealing with workers’ rights—from anti-discrimination laws to health and safety in the workplace—a Democratic president will, generally, try to make sure the laws work for the people. Republican presidents, of recent vintage, are more apt to undercut those same laws (though a shout-out here for of all people, Richard Nixon, who signed the nation’s occupational health and safety into law; of course, Nixon would be viewed in his party as a left-wing radical by today’s criteria).
Now, here’s the “no, it won’t matter”. Both parties are arguing within a pretty narrow framework when it comes to the big questions of the day. Both parties think corporate taxes should be cut, and only argue over the scope of the cuts—even though a 2007 Bush Administration study showed that corporations based in the U.S. should stop complaining because, “the United States takes a below average share of corporate income in taxes compared to other developed countries.” Neither party is pushing for significantly higher taxes on the very wealthy, in part, because the very wealthy line the coffers of both parties’ campaigns.
It is Barack Obama who set up the “bi-partisan” debt commission which has set the whole country on fire with silly talk of a phony debt and deficit crisis. Leading economists like Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz and other analysts think it pure madness to preach austerity at a time of vast joblessness and under employment—and maybe Hurricane Sandy’s fury may give people pause about skimping on investments in infrastructure.
But, there is a grave threat facing workers from the so-called “grand bargain” which the president has been seeking. That “grand bargain”, as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka eloquently stated, “This deal stinks to high heaven, which is precisely why it is being negotiated behind closed doors. We say no to secret deals. Let’s have this debate out in the open. Do you think the American people really want to cut benefits for Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare in exchange for lowering the top tax rate for the richest Americans? I don’t think so.”
Both parties continue to intentionally ignore this fact: the economic “free market” system pursued and promoted for decades is an abject failure. In the “free market”, 46 million people live in poverty, the highest number ever recorded during the 52 years the U.S. Census Bureau has been tracking that figure; one in 5 Americans cannot find a good-paying, full-time work and is so deeply in debt that there is no escape.
In November 2011, 76 percent of the people surveyed in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll agreed with this statement: “The current economic structure of the country is out of balance, and favors a very small proportion of the rich over the rest of the country. America needs to reduce the power of major banks and corporations and demand greater accountability and transparency. The government should not provide financial aid to corporations and should not provide tax breaks to the rich.” Half of the respondents identified with either the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street.
So, yes, it matters who is president. But, what matters more is that most Americans believe that the elite control the economy and are pocketing an obscene amount of wealth. They believe that most politicians care only about getting elected, and not about the people, and will sell their souls to keep power. And having seen Wall Street executives and bankers destroy trillions of dollars of wealth, and throw millions of people into the streets without a job, without being held accountable, they believe that the rules don’t count when it comes to jailing corporate criminals.
They are correct. And the 2012 elections will not alter those truths.
So, at the end of the day, it will be up to movements to take up the banner of real change.
[First published by Equal Times]