A democracy with an extremely small ‘d’
Where in the world can you find a $6 billion election campaign that offers the voter little substantive difference between the major contestants? Yes, you’ve guessed it. We’re talking about tomorrow’s US presidential and congressional elections.
The most expensive elections in American history – thanks to president Obama’s refusal to reform the laws on spending – have actually made little impact. The gap between Obama and Mitt Romney has been narrowing, the more money and approaches to voters are thrown at the campaign.
The parties are now so close so that there could be a tie in the electoral college. This would mean that the House of Representatives could chose the president while the Senate would chose the vice-president – the first time since 1824.
A number of shocking attacks highlight the ultra-reactionary nature of the Romney camp. So much so that one US website warns that a Romney victory could “steer the US towards a capitalist dictatorship”.
In Cleveland, Ohio, anti-abortionists – encouraged by Mitt Romney’s Mormon fundamentalism – spray-painted the words Baby Killer on the campaign headquarters of Democratic candidate Wayne Powell. An Obama campaign office in Colorado was vandalised last month with swastikas.
In swing-state Florida, whose election system became notorious during the 2000 “hanging chad” scandal, would-be voters were turned away. The Democratic party filed a law-suit to stop polling stations being closed early as voters stood up to seven hours to cast their votes in Miami. Other would-be voters were turned away.
One campaign group, No More Stolen Elections, supported by well-known democracy campaigners like Naom Chomsky, Ben Manski, Daniel Ellsberg, Tom Hayden and Green Party presidential candidates, is calling for voter assemblies to be formed to ensure the right to “free and fair” elections.
Reprehensible as the Republican Party’s religious right war-mongering elements may be, Obama is equally gung-ho about an attack on Iran. While Romney’s war dogs are barking, Obama’s “the party of restraint” administration “has engaged in a staggering military build-up in the Persian Gulf and at US and at allied bases around Iran.
US diplomats have been lobbying for the use of British bases in Cyprus, and for permission to fly from bases on Ascension Island in the Atlantic and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Obama’s pro-Pentagon foreign policy is so aggressive that Romney has had trouble keeping up. As to the illegal drone wars, Obama has superseded Bush in the level of targeted killings.
As billions poured into the election means a non-stop flood of election propaganda and the farcical elements are being mocked. “Under the circumstances, the slogan of ABC News seems either touchingly or mockingly silly: ‘Your Voice, Your Vote.’ Whatever this thing may be, it certainly has ever less to do with your individual voice or your individual vote. As Big Election becomes a way of life, democracy – small “d” – increasingly seems like a term from a lost time. If this is democracy, it’s on steroids and on the Comedy Channel. It’s our own Democratic Mockpocalypse,” writes Tom Engelhardt.
Whoever wins faces the same economic crisis. And neither have a strategy to deal with what is known as the US fiscal cliff, set for January 2013. G20 policymakers have declared the combination of sharp tax rises and spending cuts the biggest short-term threat to the world economy.
The candidates are desperate to place a distance between themselves and are using every campaigning technique possible. But the decreasing margin between them points to a lack of real difference. It’s evident that Obama has lost the confidence of those he inspired back in 2008. He promised “change you can believe in” and instead his supporters got another pro-business government.
The Republicans and Democrats are both dependent on the corporate, militaristic monster they preside over. Historically, they are two wings of the same American ruling classes. US Green Party candidates Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala rightly talk of the “continuing economic and ecological crises”. But they refuse to identify these with capitalism as a social system so offer no alternative.
What the US election has exposed above all is the deep crisis of legitimacy that pervades every level of the union, at state and federal levels. This is, as Engelhardt says, a democracy with a very small “d” – and getting smaller all the time.
A World to Win secretary
5 November 2012