15 November, 2012

And in the end…

Yes, I know this is late. I could have written most of this quite a few weeks ago.  I didn’t because, to be honest, I was worried.  I was fairly confident Obama would scrape through, but I did think it would be more of a scrape than it eventually was.

I’ve taken an interest in US politics and the political system for over twenty years now and have been arguing about it on the internet for just on twelve.  In that time, things have pretty well come full circle.

It’s easy to say now, but I always saw the 2012 election as a rerun of the 2004 election.  There were many – myself included – who felt that anyone would have been better than Bush in 2004.  John Kerry was anyone and as far as people who aren’t George W Bush go, John Kerry was certainly one of them.  But, as I said on message boards in 2004, it was going to take more than simply not being Bush to make people vote for you.  I saw the same thing happening this year.

After four years of whipping up hatred for Obama, the Republican party thought they could win simply by not being Obama.  They were so confident of this, that they figured that their base would even vote for a rich, boring, French-speaking, flip-flopping Massachusetts moderate who created the model for universal public health cover before he was against it, just because he wasn’t Obama, and that those who voted for Obama in 2008 and were disappointed would come out for Romney too.  It’s not that Romney was the wrong choice for the Republicans.  Of all those who ran in the primary, Romney was clearly the least crazy choice.  The problem was that he changed his policies by the day and sometimes by the hour.

As I wrote during the primaries, anyone can change, anyone can adapt, and changing your mind according to new information or prevailing conditions should be seen as a strength, not a weakness.  It’s just that Romney changed positions according to who he was talking to at the time.  He might as well have just quoted Groucho Marx and said, “These are my principles and if you don’t like them, I have others.”  That’s going to lead even those who want to support you to view you with mistrust.  I consider myself reasonably adept at reading between the lines of political rhetoric and spotting coded messages.  But in all honesty, I have absolutely no idea what Romney would have done had he won.  No matter what he might have done in office, his supporters would be able to point to a time when he said he would and his opponents would be able to point to a time when he said he wouldn’t.  He became a policy Kama Sutra.

As with 2004, the losing side is pointing out that the popular vote was tighter than the electoral college result might indicate.  These are the same people who say that the popular vote is irrelevant when the college goes their way.  The right wing’s abandonment of all they hold dear so long as it works for them was neatly summarised in a tweet from Donald Trump:

For once, he’s right.  The electoral college is a gross distortion of the actual vote.  And there’s no need to lecture me on why the electoral college is the way it is.  That made sense in its day but not any more.  It’s not for me to say, but what the founders originally designed does not need to be set in stone.  The founders were very modern thinking people.  It’s not unreasonable to theorise that Thomas Jefferson would be horrified that in the age of cable television, 24-hour news cycles and high speed internet that fits in your pocket, America still clings to an electoral system that was designed for a time when information travelled at the speed of a healthy horse.

And as with 2004, this election is seen as a vindication for the incumbent.  I remember the hubris of Republicans following Bush’s re-election and in the spirit that they set eight years ago, I struggle to find a good reason why people shouldn’t say to the teabaggers, the birthers, the conspiracy theorists, the super-PACs and naturally Fox News, “SUCK IT, LOSERS!”
The only reason I can think of is that we are supposed to be raising the tone, but when setting a good example doesn’t work – and it clearly hasn’t – I find a nice big dose of their own medicine is at least cathartic and might even teach them something.

It’s really hard not to laugh, especially at the party of personal responsibility looking for someone to blame.  Most people on all sides agree that Hurricane Sandy was a turning point in the campaign, although they differ on why it was so, and my theory is different to most of them.

Just as an aside before we go on: I don’t like to seem like I’m trivialising something that affected millions of people, but a “superstorm” is not a thing, okay?  We already have words to describe the magnitude and impact of storms.  It’s not something different just because it happened to New York.

People say that Sandy stole the momentum of the Romney campaign as the news turned to aftermath of the storm and that he never had a chance to get it back.  I disagree.  I think the storm gave people pause to consider what Republican doctrine would really mean in such an event.  The Obama campaign quickly highlighted Romney’s comment that disaster relief should be left to the states and ideally, handled by the private sector.  As Mugsy wrote at Crooks and Liars, Hurricane Sandy was a golden opportunity for Republicans and their backers to show how well the private sector could take care of things.  But did you see Halliburton or Bain Capital swinging into action to help survivors and restore order?  Did you fuck!  Instead, we saw a Romney campaign event collecting canned food.  And even that may have been faked depending on who you believe.  But fake or not, it again showed what a tin ear Romney and his campaign had for the way real people live.  They decided they had to do something and so they picked something and did it without any regard for whether it might have been any use to people.  Every disaster is different.  Sometimes people need food.  Sometimes they need toothbrushes and clean underwear.  Sometimes they need reading glasses.  Sometimes they need to be able to do their laundry and Tide Loads of Hope is an excellent example of private philanthropy doing something useful and needed in areas affected by disasters.  If the Romney campaign were smart, they could have used this as an example, but they’re not and they didn’t.  As it turned out, in New York, what people really needed was somewhere to recharge their smart-phones.  This may well be the epitome of first world problems, but it was what people needed at the time.

It’s folly to say that every state should have its own separate disaster management system when it would be such a wasteful duplication of processes.  FEMA has its flaws, but they have seen it all.  As I alluded to earlier, the storm that hit the north-east US may have been a freak occurrence in that particular area but it’s something that people between Florida and Texas go through every year.  It makes sense to use their experience and expertise.

When I was watching news about the approach of Tropical Storm Isaac with my dearest in August, veteran New Orleans weathercaster Bob Breck had this to say about evacuation (and I am quoting from memory): “My wife has evacuated because we’re both getting on a bit and she doesn’t like to be without air conditioning.  But if you’re young and fit and you don’t mind being without power for a few days, then just stock up on supplies and enjoy the adventure.”
That’s the kind of cool headed experience New York could have used and that everyone needs when they’re scared and unsure of what to do.  Likewise, in the unlikely event that an earthquake hit the gulf coast, they could deal with it all locally, or they could get on the ’phone to California and say, “You know about this kind of stuff, what do you recommend?”

Do we really think anyone on the Jersey shore gave a toss about states’ rights or federal overreach in the aftermath of the storm?  I suspect their thoughts were more along the lines of “screw Reagan, what we really need is someone to come and say, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”  I think a lot of other people across the US had similar thoughts about what the stated positions of Republicans would really mean in such an event and mercifully, those thoughts were still fresh in their minds when they voted.  Those who choose to see storms as messages from God should ponder this.