Let’s be perfectly clear on a couple of things.
For starters, on a wide range of issues, the U.S. Republican and Democratic parties are little more than the right and left-handed sock puppets of global corporate capitalism. Neither party has shown any convincing interest in reining in the U.S. government’s imperialist tendencies abroad or its recently expanded domestic police state apparatus. Neither party has shown any real interest in dismantling the corrupt political influence of corporate cash, or forcing corporations with U.S. interests to behave like U.S. citizens, or making anyone but lower income U.S. citizens bear the consequences of a largely unregulated financial sector.
Let’s also be perfectly clear that anyone who thought they were supporting a progressive by voting for Obama in 2008 was either delusional or ill-informed or letting charismatic YouTube videos do their thinking for them. Obama may’ve masterfully used progressive rhetoric as a campaigner, but his thin legislative resume was determinedly moderate from the start. After four years as President, it is the rhetoric that is thin, not the resume... and the progressive language has given way to a blunt defense of the status quo.
Those who knew what they were buying into but voted for him anyway have reason as well for buyer’s remorse. With regard to civil liberties, the phony war on terror, and government secrecy, future historians may fairly describe the last 12 years as the “Bush/Obama Era”. The fact that the United States continues to hold prisoners that have been denied due process of law and apparently intends to do so indefinitely is by itself a flagrantly broken promise that would, in any ordinary election year, put the President beyond any morally justifiable claim to a second term.
The problem is that this is not an ordinary election year.
Let’s be clear about a few other things. If a third world country possessing strategic/economic value to the U.S. had “elected” a president the way George W. Bush gained power in 2000-- and that president did not suit U.S. interests-- Special Ops teams would’ve been parachuting in before the ink was dry on the court decision. The 2004 election (let’s not dignify it by calling it “Bush’s re-election”) was sufficiently irregular that--again-- had it occurred contrary to U.S. interest in a U.S. client country, the results would’ve been labeled a moral outrage and shortly thereafter overturned.
During the eight years of Bush’s presidency, many things changed in American society...few of them to the betterment of anyone outside of what’s now termed the “one percent”, almost all of them outlined in advance in a disturbing pamphlet entitled Statement of Principles. Published in 1997 by the Project for a New American Century, the authors list of Statement is a literal who’s who of Neo-Conservative policy and opinion shapers (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Scooter Libby...do we see a pattern here?). They authored more than a pamphlet. They authored a coup.
Twelve years into the “project”, the authors of that coup and the interests they represent have transformed America in many ways large and small: We now take for granted a permanent state of war. We also take for granted the right of corporations to run the stock market like a crap table, run the electoral system like a horse race, and treat the one and only ecosystem we have like an easily replaced toilet. And we take for granted that these “rights” take precedence over actual rights, expectations, hopes and dreams of real individuals and communities... take precedence as well over the very existence of entire species of living creatures.
We take for granted that boarding an airplane and getting processed into county jail is now basically the same process. We take equally for granted that the elaborate kabuki of TSA security theater is going to somehow protect us from “terrorists” that allegedly hate us for the freedom we’ve largely given up. We also take for granted that anyone of Muslim faith or Arab ethnicity may be assumed a potential terrorist, but white anglo-saxon protestants who commit actual wholesale slaughter with assault weapons are not actual terrorists... but merely misunderstood.
Worst of all, we take for granted that nothing can be do about any of it, and Barack Obama shares no small responsibility for that. An enormous opportunity was squandered in the aftermath of the 2008 election. After eight disastrous years of the Bush Presidency and the overt neocon conspiracy that created it, a broad bipartisan consensus of Americans entrusted their hopes for a better life to a man who promised transformative chance. The gap between rhetoric and performance was heartbreaking, even to those of us who knew the rhetoric for what it was.
Instead of a bold and uncompromising and much longed-for change, what was delivered was the smallest possible course correction to the path Bush and his handlers had set us upon. By failing to hold to account the authors of the Bush-era disaster, Obama permitted the consequences of that disaster to become accepted status quo. By attempting timid compromise with uncompromising and determined political adversaries, the President set the stage for the Republican Party’s 2010 midterm electoral success... as well as its further headlong rush into paranoia, xenophobia, and borderline fascism.
Now, two years later, another election is soon upon us. it is extremely easy to make the case that liberal democrats and progressive independents might as well sit this one out. Obama promised to be the Democratic equivalent of a Ronald Reagan, promised a permanent shift in the political dialog. What he delivered was a healthcare reform tailored to please Republicans who rejected it anyway. Oh yeah, and he “got” Osama bin Laden.
It’s extremely easy to make the case that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are both just facile apologists for an elitist power structure that has no intention of surrendering the gains acquired over the last thirty years of bipartisan corporate acquiescence ... that it doesn’t matter which one of them “wins” a pointless and largely rigged contest.
It’s also wrong. The consequences of an Obama second term are current status quo at worst, minor improvement in all likelihood, and--just maybe-- a good deal more. A Romney presidency, in contrast, is a starkly dangerous proposition. Here’s why:
Romney will be a lame duck from day one-- in order to make it to the nomination, Romney--who started out as a suspiciously moderate and insufficiently Protestant political figure for current GOP tastes--has had to make one concession after another to the right-wing extremists who currently dominate his party. The GOP’s latest poster boy for de-evolution, Todd Akin, has made this very clear. Romney carefully waited until after a consensus of party leaders made it clear it was “safe” to denounce Akin’s bizarre notions of reproductive mechanics and women’s rights. Then Romney and running mate Paul Ryan both asked Akin to step down from the Missouri Senate race. Akin, a Tea Party darling and favorite of delusional fundies, then told the putative leader of his party that “party bosses” were not going to tell him what to do....and that he would stay in the race.
There is absolutely no reason to believe this pattern will change after the election. A Romney Presidency will function as a rubber stamp for every ridiculous piece of garbage legislation the nutjobs and zealots currently running the House manage to get past the Senate. If he attempts to use the one unignorable tool at his disposal--veto-- he can expect to be paid back with the same hostility and stubbornness as greeted his predecessor.
Romney will further corrupt the Supreme Court-- That’s right: I said “corrupt”. If there was ever a case for impeaching high court justices, the decisions that gave us the Bush Presidency and granted unregulated free speech to corporations have made that case, even though that impeachment will never occur. Even a one-term President Romney is going to have the opportunity to make at least one Supreme Court appointment. Count on that appointee being someone who makes Scalia look like a moderate. Assume that any proposed appointment will be tailored to legislate from the bench against reproductive rights, environmental protections, and anything approaching regulatory restraints on corporations or the financial sector. Even one further seat filled on the bench by a so-called “conservative” could have impact for decades. The risk is simply too great.
Romney will validate and accelerate the country’s rightward drift-- one of the most pernicious notions to arise from the right-wing commentariat is that America is a “Center-Right” country. This is ridiculous. The founders of this country went to great lengths to make sure that this is a “Center-Center” country. Unfortunately, they could not foresee the effect on our political process of massive concentrations of wealth having centralized control of information and communications media. America’s supposed center-right status is almost entirely a matter of letting vested and far from impartial interests set the terms of public debate. A Romney win will be reported by Fox News and MSNBC alike as proof that the country has rejected Obama’s tepid efforts at reform, and as evidence that the Tea Party Movement speaks for America.
It will also perpetuate even further what may well be the worst consequence of the Bush Presidency. Because, in the long run, the worst of Bush’s many shameful legacies will not be the wanton squander of blood and treasure in Iraq and Afghanistan, not the embrace of casino capitalism, not the establishment of quasi-legal secret prisons where torture may be practiced, not even the effective overturn of the Bill of Rights. The worst consequence of the Bush Era is that these things have been permitted to exist long enough to be defined as normality. Even a mere four more years of permitting outrage to be legitimized by longevity is too many, particularly in a government that will be all too willing to find and exploit new atrocities. Even though his embrace of Bush’s wars and state secrets makes Obama more than a little complicit in this state of affairs, there can be little doubt that a President Romney could only make them far worse.
In contrast, the worst we can expect from an Obama second term is merely a four year perpetuation of the current unsatisfactory state of the union. At best, a President no longer concerned with reelection and finally aware of the limits of bipartisanship might find a way to redeem at least a little of the promise and hope he squandered. Let’s not forget that almost everything Reagan did to earn the lasting hero-worship of conservatives took place in his second term. Obama will never again have the opportunity he gave away--but he may yet have a pleasant surprise or two for this country’s embattled progressives. As overdue as Obama’s “evolution” has been on issues like marriage equality, at least he actually believes in evolution. His opponents neither believe in it or practice it. Their intentions tend in the opposite direction.
Those intentions were very much on display when the GOP convened in Tampa. The convention took as its central theme a detailed rebuttal to something Obama didn't actually say, and proceeded from that mendacious start to the apotheosis of bald faced lies that was Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech. Along the way, Ann Romney fabricated fables of hers and Mitt’s supposed early hardships and asked America to “trust” a multimillionaire LBO artist who cannot be troubled to release more than a single completed tax return. Other less notable speakers spared no opportunity to confirm that the modern Republican Party is exclusionary, reactionary, and committed to converting America into a black and white 50s sitcom. Romney’s own acceptance speech was a virtual footnote--effectively upstaged by an aging action star who was apparently off his meds.
In contrast, the Democratic National Convention was a riot of color. Human beings of every hue and gender, as well as the rainbow flag of LGBT rights-- to which Democrats have finally “evolved” a wholesale endorsement. In another stark contrast, they basically told the truth. Michelle Obama was given her own obligatory turn as the nominee’s spouse, and used that opportunity to refute Ann Romney’s patrician fictions with the very real story of hers and Barack’s early struggles... and masterfully placed those struggles and their own values squarely within the context of the “American Dream”.
The biggest contrast between the two conventions was also the most profound similarity. George W. Bush has apparently become Lord Voldemort, he who cannot be named by either Republicans or the majority of Democrats. Bush was joined in obscurity by almost his entire administration (with the exception of Condi Rice, who can apparently never pass up the opportunity for a good lie).
Democrats, on the other hand, had no difficulty in enlisting the most recent of their past White House occupants for a star turn. Bill Clinton’s full-throated endorsement of Barack Obama was as much the DNC’s defining moment as Paul Ryan’s litany of hateful deceits had defined the RNC a week before. Clinton’s speech was wonky, folksy, and probably too long...and made a better case for the reelection of Barack Obama than did Obama himself the following night.
But for all of the contrasts between the two events, there were far too many disturbing similarities. To this extent, the neocons succeeded...their coup will not be reversed. Obama is as much a “War President” as George Bush ever was The Democratic Party has now surpassed the GOP as the party of war. And America is now a country that wages preemptive wars for oil, maintains military strongholds planet-wide, spies on its own citizens, and remorsely carries out assassinations both in person and by remote control. In other words, and apparently irrevocably so....an empire.
Ultimately the answers for 21st century America are no more likely found within the current two party duopoly than in the philosophies of John Adam’s Federalists or John Quincy Adam’s Whigs. We are long overdue for a fundamental re-examination of this country’s basic political institutions. A Romney win will not circumvent that assessment--but it can postpone it and increase the cost. After forty years of backlash against the civil rights movement, thirty years of trickle-down economic fantasies and over a decade of ruinously expensive wars, this country has paid enough for the Republican Party’s bad faith and worse governance. A solid GOP rebuke in the upcoming election is only a start....but it’s a good start.
The one indisputable truth that both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama shared in their speeches, that Mitt Romney is betting his shot at the White House on America overlooking, is that the current state of affairs has been decades in the making... and will take more than a one-term president to fix. A vote for Barack Obama is neither a ringing endorsement of the Democratic Party’s policies or a pass on its failures. It’s a play for time, a purely defensive play against creeping authoritarianism. At best, it’s an effort at giving the Occupy Movement (or something like it) a second and more effective chance. At worst, it is simply delaying the inevitable.
Arguably, Barack Obama doesn’t deserve his second term--but we do.