We are now less than five months away from the elections and well into the political rah-rah season when people are expected to choose sides and where the goal becomes to help your candidate win. As a result, there will be an intense focus on increasingly marginal issues in order to create the illusion that the candidates differ widely and that it is therefore essential that the opposing candidate not be successful because dire consequences will ensue.
We are being told that this election will be a particularly close one, as if this were an unexpected development. This should not be a surprise at all. Most of the country’s voters seem to be predictable in their voting habits and it seems like all recent elections are close ones, decided by a few percentage points, with anything more than 2% margin of victory being seen as a landslide. The media tries to build suspense even when one candidate maintains a small but steady lead through most of the campaign and the result seems foregone. They do this because perceptions of closeness serve their own interests. It builds up suspense and enables them to talk endlessly about tactics, the importance of turnout on voting day, the possibility of a surprise, the impact of global events, the possible impact of some gaffe, and the minutiae of electoral strategies while ignoring the fact that both candidates are quite similar when it comes to major economic and social policy issues.
This is also about the time when the orthodoxy police in the commentariat begin their efforts to discipline their ranks. They will chastise anyone who they think should be on their team who criticizes their candidate for anything. People who are perceived as being on the liberal end of the spectrum will be repeatedly told that although Barack Obama may have disappointed many of the people who expected more of him, Mitt Romney would be far worse and that we should thus mute our criticisms of Obama because that only benefits Romney. We will be told that should keep quiet for the next few months until Obama is re-elected.
The logic behind such appeals seems to be that in the run up to the elections, what matters is enthusiasm for the candidate and any criticism of your own side tends to reduce their enthusiasm and thus the likelihood of them voting. But as cartoonist Ted Rall points out, there is a never-ending sequence of reasons trotted out to show why it is never a good time to criticize ‘your’ candidate, whoever that candidate might be.
Are Obama and Romney identical? No. Does it matter who wins? Yes. Having got those out of the way, it is important to keep driving home the fact that the differences between them on some issues should not blind us to the fact that they both are devoted servants of the oligarchy and will both be accomplices in the impoverishing of the country to serve the interests of a tiny few. It is only when that message sinks in for the majority of people that real meaningful change will come about. To pretend during the election season that Obama and the Democrats represent the interests of the less well off while Romney and the Republicans represent the wealthy is to obscure the fundamental reality of what is going on and to set back the long-term goal of educating the public on the nature of oligarchic power in the US.
This blog is not going to listen to the orthodoxy police. I do not see my role as being to get Obama elected. It is his responsibility to govern in such a way that people feel he deserves a second term. So I will continue to criticize Obama when he deserves it. On the rare occasions when he does something praiseworthy, I will praise him. The same goes for Romney. To hide Obama’s flaws while highlighting Romney’s would be to become a propagandist.
Political leaders of any stripe will only do the right thing if they are dragged kicking and screaming to do so and the main advantage of elections is that it forces them to pay at least some attention to voting blocs for that short window of time. It is no coincidence that Obama’s grudging acceptance of same sex marriage and his sudden decision to issue an executive order to not deport young undocumented people who were brought here as minors by their parents is because of the dogged determination of the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities to keep those issue in the forefront. Obama’s need to do some election year pandering led to some tangible gains for those two groups. What the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities have shown is that this is the time to be loudest in one’s criticisms because this is the time that politicians are most likely to listen and act.
This is why we should not forget that there are other candidates in the race. To name just a couple, we have Jill Stein, a physician who has captured the nomination of the Green Party, and Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, who is the nominee of the Libertarian Party. Despite the fact that I have some serious disagreements with aspects of the Libertarian party platform, I would like to see these two candidates and parties be given much more attention by the media and be part of the presidential debates to challenge both Obama and Romney with real alternative views on major policy issues. Otherwise the campaign will be one of dreary trivialities.