The above (from the Globe & Mail, not the New Masses!) is the hard truth that remains after the tumult and the shouting dies. We have had our circus, but it’s lunchtime, and the people are nervously looking around for the bread they were promised.
Barack Obama’s first term didn’t provide it. Stimulating the Wall Street bankers who crashed the economy in the first place didn’t do much for the US unemployment rate, especially when so much of that free money was immediately transformed into bonuses and golden parachutes. A rag-tag-and-bobtail health care plan with no public option, admittedly pulling the poor out of the gutters where America the Beautiful had been leaving them to die, will enrich the insurance companies beyond their wildest dreams. Obama, make no mistake, has been all about helping out the rich folks who actually run things. A minor tax increase for the well-off will be more than offset by the usual shelters, loopholes and offshore accounts. It’s been business as usual, and will continue to be.
Yup, Americans got the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and some half-decent stuff around contraception and abortion and same-sex marriage that most civilized countries just take for granted. But they also got immunity for George Bush’s torture squad, ceaseless drone attacks on foreign civilians, and the execution of American citizens without trial. And more government surveillance without warrant, more power concentrated in the Oval Office, more Gitmo.
To be fair, the office of President has been mystified to the point that nearly all expectations regarding even the most mundane policy matters prove impossibly wild. My analysis four years ago holds, I think: caught in the toils of the vast American governance machine, holding considerably less power than our own Prime Minister, even the most starry-eyed hope-and-changer soon discovers that resistance is largely futile. Yet Obama has proven remarkably ineffectual even with his admittedly limited ability to move the rudder of state. Up against genuinely crazy people, his group-hug routine quickly wore thin, and he paid the price mid-term. He has shown little decisiveness, pretty much going with the flow. We have seen little sign of imagination or grand vision. “Yes we can” is not the Gettyburg Address.
But Obama had the good fortune to find himself running against Mitt Romney, a political chameleon, a plutocrat whose values could shift in the slightest breeze, a practised liar whose grasp of the facts would embarrass a bright fifth-grader, a shallow opportunist who would do anything and say anything for a grab at the brass ring.
Obama won by default. But also, America being what it has become, by a hair.
The vote, not the outcome, was the thing. A friend described the choice before the electorate as “the evil of two lessers.” The same machine that sucked the marrow out of Obama’s bones in a matter of months would have kept Romney securely in check. His crazier impulses, or the ones he channeled from the local folks in Deliverance, would have found no outlet. He’d have soon been back to the relatively liberal, pragmatic governor of Massachusetts, shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Well, there was nothing I could really do about it.” And he’d have been absolutely right.
But that’s too hard a truth for most folks to swallow. So instead of looking at the stark and brutal reality underlying this inane contest, we found ourselves swept up in spite of ourselves by the Big Top spectacle, while some of us wandered over to look at the calculus game being played in the next tent.
That was admittedly fun. Simply delightful right-wing self-delusion like this was replicated in too many other caves and burrows to count. Lots of self-important bloviators and seriously deranged conservative pols were skewered. I felt their pain. But too much Schadenfreude has left me sore all over, as though I’d spent the entire day on a tanning bed. At the end of a long night, most pollsters were simply proven right and the cranky ones were wrong again, and that was that.
If I had been a US voter, I’d have likely sat this one out. No matter whom the others voted for, a President would have been elected, and would soon be wearing his chains of office, pun intended. Yes, I’m pleased about Tammy Baldwin, and some other Senate and Congressional races too, but Congress has been a self-imposed Can’t Do machine for years, and anyway most of the juicy stuff happens behind closed doors in other parts of the forest.
My eyes finally glazed over from a stupor induced by a Wolf Blitzer “we’re keeping a very close eye on this” private drinking game, so I missed Obama’s victory speech. But it was admittedly a great party, and I made some new friends.
My favourite, by the way, was that huge bearded guy in the corner, the one with the lumberjack coat, holding a woodsman’s axe in one hand and boisterously sharing a jug with our own John Cross. That was Nate Silver, possibly hailing, as one commenter suggested, “from the future, working from old newspapers.” As part of the entitlement generation, I’ll never again have to do any amateurish poll analysis or make any more silly guesses: I’ll just ride around in his shirt pocket.
Now it’s back to sleep, until the circus comes to town again in four year’s time. Night.