Monday 5 November 2012

Nose Peg Time: Vote Obama

Who'd be an American? Well, right now, I think the rest of the world wouldn't mind if it meant voting in tomorrow's presidential elections. This isn't because the wall-to-wall coverage is almost enough to make you think Obama and Romney are courting our support, but because a world with a President Romney in it would be a more unstable, dangerous place. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm sure most readers would prefer the current status quo to Neocon sabre rattling, and favour ordinary Americans keeping what meagre benefits Obama has squeezed out of Congress than see the top 1% banking another round of generous tax cuts.

But what are Obama and Romney actually offering? Cutting through the scaremongering and hyperbole, are Democrat and Republican differing in degree, or in kind? To this end I've taken a look at three headings: the economy, the federal budget, and foreign policy.

Obama's plan for jobs is, unfortunately for him, quite anaemic and overly technocratic. While his record of job creation since 2010 is good (apparently 5.4m private sector jobs have been created), there is little to inspire here. So (deep breath); no tax breaks for exporters of jobs, lower taxes for the "middle class", the doubling of exports, the setting up of "innovation institutes", tax credits for clean energy research and employers of ex-forces personnel. The same is true of his further reflections on energy - he talks of reducing the dependency on foreign oil, investing more in renewables, and building a "clean energy economy" using gas and clean coal. However, Obama's team need to realise gas is a carbon-producing fossil fuel, and that carbon-neutral coal is a long way off.

Sad to say, Romney's pledges read much better. Straight away his jobs plan sets out plainly what it means: more take home pay, and a pledge to create 12 million jobs. Part of this is an ambitious plan to generate more electricity internally and achieve "energy independence" by 2020. This won't necessarily be green - like a good right wing climate change denialist, Romney is looking at scrapping regulations for coal extraction and other forms of exploratory prospecting. The plans for small businesses - a key sector of US economic dynamism - are the usual recipe of red tape cutting and union baiting. But, for an undecided voter without particular ideological proclivities, Romney's economic plan speaks the everyday language of "I will do x, and y will happen". It doesn't matter if it's undeliverable bunk - it offers a vision of a better tomorrow, and, despite the anti-union rubbish, it's one large numbers of Americans will find compelling, even if it is short on specifics.

So much for the economy, what about the budget? Using the most Delphic language possible, Obama has pledged to tax the rich more ("Make sure millionaires ... pay the same rate as under President Clinton"), pledge a raft of tax cuts for small businesses and use savings accrued from suspending the Iraq adventure into paying down the national debt. Featured opposite what the Republican pledges to do, this appears more credible and in tune with the electorate - at least as conveyed by the British media. Romney's plans are much woolier. He promises to slash Obamacare ("the federal takeover of health insurance"), Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and, of course, shrink the state. There is no answer or even attempt to address the $5tn tax cut Romney has lined up. And with good reason: it makes no fiscal sense even if popular welfare programmes are to be butchered.

Lastly we come to the one everyone else in the world is concerned about: foreign policy. Obama, as you might expect, plays up his successes, such as winding down Iraq and offing Osama Bin Laden. There's the complaints to the Chinese over rule-breaking, the tough sanctions regime on Iran, and an overall cuddly multilateral vibe to calm the nerves. And there's a few nice words about Israel too. Romney's vision on the other hand is straight out of the Project for a New American Century. There are hints of a return to Iraq, never-ending counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and likely military action against Iran. If that wasn't bad enough, he also plans to roll back the influence of social democracy and socialism in Latin America, meddle with the internal politics of Russia, aggressively confront North Korea and, of course, pour untold billions into the US military. Whereas Obama and the Democrats generally seem to realise that America is a declining power that can no longer afford a globally extended military at the expense of other things, Romney seems to think decline can be arrested by throwing money at the problem and amassing an even bigger pile of guns. Funny how some forms of profligate spending is a-okay.

In a famous 1964 election broadcast, against the backdrop of a nuclear inferno Lyndon B Johnson thundered "these are the stakes!" While atomic bombs are not about to fly, there is a tendency for politicians to keep their promises - which is enough to worry anyone reading Romney's foreign policy priorities. Like Dubya, Romney will be a sectional president rather than a national leader, minus the folksy charm of his idiot predecessor. With his ties to the most backward and ruthlessly right wing sections of American capital, and, of course, the lunatic fringe of Tea Party-types and conservative shock-jocks, there is no reason to believe America won't become a crueller, more unequal, and belligerent society if Romney wins.

Having learned the lessons of 2008, Obama knows all about the problems of expectations management - even though his message of hope then was really political vapourware. This goes some way to help explain his positioning as the steady-as-she-goes candidate. But in reality, despite his kill lists, despite the consolidation of the secret state, despite cosying up to Wall Street, and despite all the other stains on his record, another four years of Obama offer more progressive political opportunities for Americans and the rest of the world than the awful alternative.

For the tiny clutch of US readers who frequent this blog, I think most of the UK would agree if I said "put on your nose pegs, and vote Obama tomorrow."

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