The agenda that both parties share
Almost everything we'll hear from now until November will be about how different the Republicans and Democrats are--but the truth is they agree about an awful lot.
WITH THE nominees decided for both major parties, the 2012 presidential election is now underway in earnest, and it looks certain to be a nasty contest in every respect.
The endless primary battle among the Republicans finally came to an end in early April when Rick Santorum suspended his campaign, clearing the way for Mitt Romney's claim on the presidential nomination--barring, of course, a last-minute surge of support for Newt Gingrich or the slightly more likely possibility that the sun doesn't come up tomorrow.
Unlike the 2008 election that Barack Obama won handily, all indicators suggest that November 2012 will be a very close race, with the result perhaps hinging on the outcome in one or more of the "swing" states.
Over the coming months, we'll hear a lot of polarized rhetoric from both Republicans and Democrats proclaiming this to be "the most important election of our lifetimes," with a clear choice between two very different candidates, representing very different agendas.
What you won't hear discussed in the media, and certainly not by representatives of the two major parties, is the great unspoken truth about the U.S. political system--that the Democrats and the Republicans, however much they savage each other during election campaigns to win votes, agree about much more than they disagree.
No doubt anyone reading this newspaper already despises the multimillionaire Romney. The claim that he's a political moderate was always a fraud, but it was definitively exposed during the Republicans' primary creep show when Romney proved willing to pander to any right-wing faction of the GOP to win votes.
Romney and the Republicans won't hesitate for a second to use any line of attack against Obama--including veiled and not-so-veiled racist appeals, just like John McCain did four years ago. The 2012 campaign of the "first party of American business" will reek of bigotry, hypocrisy and the arrogance of wealth and power.
By comparison, Barack Obama will seem like a radical firebrand, or at least a human being with a functioning brain and heart. But we can't forget, amid the lies and hate spewed by the Republicans, what Barack Obama has done--and not done--during his three-plus years in office.
Obama is no longer the candidate of hope that millions of people rallied to in 2008. He has pursued a very different agenda in office, from saving the Wall Street banks and investment firms while millions of Americans lost their homes, to continuing the Bush administration's wars abroad and political repression at home, to abandoning his promises to labor and escalating the bipartisan austerity drive.
The choice in the 2012 presidential election will be between a greater evil and a lesser evil. We need to organize for an alternative that rejects political evil in any degree.
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MITT ROMNEY is now trying to reintroduce himself to the electorate as a can-do businessman who can fix the economy that he claims Obama has ruined. He and his underlings are busily trying to make people forget that he endorsed ultraconservative positions on a variety of issues like abortion and contraception, immigration, union rights and LGBT rights when he was trying to curry favor with the Republican primary electorate.
Romney exudes the smug confidence of the upper 1 percent and displays a shocking cluelessness about the plight of everyone else. His latest gaffe as this article was being written--insulting a Pennsylvania baker who presented him cookies with a quip that they looked like they had been bought at 7-11--was another illustration that he can't even fake a degree empathy for ordinary people and their work.
The media will squeeze as much mileage out of pseudo-controversies like "Cookiegate" as they can, but they'll spend a lot less time on the more substantial evidence of Romney's total commitment to the 1 percent--for example, his endorsement of the Republican House-passed budget authored by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
The Ryan budget openly proclaims its goals of further shifting the tax burden from the wealthy to the working class, while simultaneously cutting billions from education, housing and health care programs on which millions of ordinary people depend.
If Romney wins, he will likely have a Republican majority in at least one house of Congress to enact the draconian cuts that he and Ryan envision. And he will seek to deliver for the Republicans' social conservative base, with its reactionary fantasies about reestablishing the social order of the 1950s.
Millions of people--unionists, racial minorities. immigrants, women, LGBT people and more--will look to Obama and the Democrats to stop the Republicans.
The Democrats know this, of course. They have crafted a reelection campaign based on it, with Obama cast himself as a defender of the "middle class," determined to make the rich "pay their fair share" and defeat Republican economic policies that tell ordinary people "you are on your own." An April NBC/Wall Street Journal poll gave Obama a lead of six percentage points over Romney, with much of his support coming from people who agreed that Obama was more concerned with "people like them" than Romney.
The fear of what a Romney presidency might mean has brought the liberal establishment back to its quadrennial role of focusing on the fears of what a Republican presidency will bring.
This is to be expected from Obama's advisers--that's what they're paid to do. So after months of lambasting Romney as a soulless flip-flopper who once supported policies, especially on health care, not so different from Obama's, the White House has shifted gears. Romney is being attacked as a far-right ideologue, as senior White House adviser David Plouffe told the New York Times: "Whether it's tax policy, whether it's his approach to abortion, gay rights, immigration, he's the most conservative nominee that they've had going back to Goldwater."
Meanwhile, labor and liberal organizations are discovering reasons to support Obama. For example, in its endorsement, the AFL-CIO acknowledged "disappointments" with Obama's first term, but said "the president made substantial progress in dismantling the dangerous legacy left by President George W. Bush and took many steps to put in place a truly progressive, pro-worker agenda."
But when you look at the "disappointments" listed by the AFL-CIO, they include Obama's abandonment of the Employee Free Choice Act that would have made it easier for workers to join unions and the so-called "public option" in the Obama health care law. In other words, the AFL-CIO's two main legislative goals from 2008--both killed while the Democrats held strong majorities in the Congress.
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THEN THERE'S the argument about the president's role in picking Supreme Court justices. Zerlina Maxwell of grio.com wrote: "If a Republican wins the White House in 2012, the most significant impact he will have for an entire generation is the conservative justice he nominates for the highest court. If progressive voters don't go to the polls to re-elect Obama, they might find themselves losing certain rights and privileges that they may have taken for granted for their entire lives."
It's certainly true that Republican presidents have established a Supreme Court majority of Neanderthal conservatives. But they aren't the only ones responsible for "certain rights and privileges" disappearing. In many ways, the Obama administration has actually sped up the attack on civil liberties begun by the Bush administration.
In article about the Obama Justice Department's support for the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding the right of police to strip-search anyone in their custody, no matter how minor their alleged crime, Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald wrote: "[T]his is yet another case, in a long line, where the Obama administration was able to have its preferred policies judicially endorsed by getting right-wing judges to embrace them."
Obama's appalling record on civil liberties has come in for a lot of criticism in the past three years, and not just from radicals. So why should we forget all that now and view the Republicans' as the sole threat to our rights?
The 2012 election will be portrayed as a choice between two radically different futures. But the facts tell us something different.
Earlier this year, economist Jeffrey Sachs, writing in the Financial Times, compared Paul Ryan's budget plan to Barack Obama's, and found that "[b]oth sides are committed to significant cuts in government programs relative to GDP. These cuts will be especially [drastic] in the discretionary programs for education; environmental protection; child nutrition; job re-training; transition to low-carbon energy; and infrastructure. The entire civilian discretionary budget will amount to only 2 percent of GDP, or less, as of 2020, in the budget plans of both Obama and the Republicans."
Against a weak and clueless opponent like Romney, Obama might seem to have a "can't lose" appeal--except for the fact that his record undermines his credibility. Obama ran as a defender of the middle class and working people in 2008. In 2012, as he tries to pull the same rhetoric and promises out of mothballs, millions of people won't be so willing to believe it. For them, Obama's biggest appeal will be that he's not Romney.
That's why, with the effects of the Great Recession still hanging on in the lives of most people in the U.S., Romney and the Republicans could still win, despite the unpopularity of their policies and politics.
The November election will come down to a choice between two candidates and two parties that reflect different versions of the corporate and elite consensus. Only genuine social movements from below can open the way to a different future.