My American Friends.
You may protest it impertinent that I am writing from Edinburgh to tell you how to vote in your current presidential election. I would point out in return that I have many better things to be doing with my time than writing about your nation’s politics. But it is a question of accepting responsibility. Looking through my highly powered microscope at this website’s stats, I find that almost half of my readers are from the United States. The rest may well be Americans too, but if so, the stats show them to be dispersed throughout a motley array of third world nations. With so many Americans amongst my readers – albeit a majority amongst so few – the situation demands that I provide some moral leadership.
Imagine that you are listening to a man who has been born with no legs as he delivers football commentary. This would be synonymous with my interpretation of your nation’s politics. It will depend upon a certain imagination and some bloodless theoretical guesswork rather than any direct knowledge. Perhaps a better analogy would be of a man who is discussing the Grand National despite having no money riding on any of the horses. His is a position of perfect clarity, unclouded by hope or venom.
So who should you vote for – Governor Romney or President Obama? To be blunt, it’s the kind of choice which makes me glad that I’m not American. If you ever have the misfortunate to walk into MacDonald’s and gaze up at the overhead “menu,” you will feel the same sense of perplexed hopelessness.
This year’s Republican primaries subjected the candidates to a laborious and protracted inquisition in order to single out the one who was beyond question the most boring. Whereas the incumbent Obama has been always more ready with rhetoric than policy, he does not now seem to have any more platitudes in the tank. In 2008, Obama crowed that, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” In one of the puported “highlights” of 2012’s second presidential debate, Obama and Romney were reduced to bickering over which man had the smallest pension.
The presidential campaigns have been so stiff that we are forced to turn to the policy for a bit of light relief. Romney is a sort of grey ectoplasm out of which potentially anything can be formed, so long as it remains grey. Obama appears to have shown his colours for Keynes, but he is more nostalgic for the certainties of the New Deal than genuinely committed to mobilising a new industrial society. Obama may have buttressed America against depression through stimulus packages and welfare provision, but this has not led to a significant rise in productivity or lasting job creation. A cynic might pronounce that the few jobs to be created were not supposed to last beyond election day.
Romney is an even more spectral Keynesian and his commitment to a government led recovery has to be filtered through the macho allure which comes from bashing welfare, a desire to fund further militarism, and a refusal to rule out a trade war with China. He seems to regard his own liberalism as an embarrassing starting-point, but his wish to appear moderate means that he will only surrender what is strictly necessary to appease that vocal minority of Republicans on the far right. His opposition to abortion and gay rights so far remain flavours rather than taking the form of concrete policies.
Obama is more pleasantly liberal when it comes to abortion/gay rights, but this is hardly election winning stuff. His probable win next week will be a slim fit for a “skinny kid” because he will have failed to inspire America’s working and lower-middle classes. Romney is currently winning amongst what is traditionally defined as the “white working class,” and one poll has found Romney to be leading Obama 65 percent to 32 percent amongst white males. Incidentally, Obama enjoys about 80 percent support amongst black voters, even though African-Americans now possess a lower proportion of the nation’s wealth than they did when he assumed office. It will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, but 11 percent more of African-Americans had jobs under George W Bush.
Obama only competes for white votes in richer regions of the country, specifically those which have benefited from his administration’s spending. It once again requires great stoicism not to be cynical. Ohio, a leading beneficiary of Obama’s auto bailouts, also just happens to be the state which repeatedly makes or breaks modern presidential election campaigns. No Republican has ever won the presidency without Ohio (disregarding Bush in 2000 for obvious reasons). The ultimate destination for Obama’s ongoing caricature of Romney as an out-of-touch, tax shirking chief executive is Ohio. It is supposed to remind Ohio’s poor white voters of the bosses who had let them down.
America’s “saved” automobile industries are not yet employing the numbers which they had done prior to their collapse, not least because they are still failing to export runaway new products. Never mind that Obama’s intervention in Ohio has left a stagnant economy with disheartening employment figures, the fact remains that his overall policy is not authored for America’s former industrial heartlands, where unemployment has in places virtually fossilised. And this is the failure of Obama’s Keynesianism, or possibly all Keynesianism: it intervenes in the economy merely to top up the dwindling wealth of demoralised consumers, rather than to invest in future sources of economic growth, or help out the innovators of the future.
In the richest country in the world, and one which in my own lifetime has proved capable of delivering sweeping technological changes, you might be forgiven for demanding more from your civic society than food stamps and tax credits. If you are a poor white guy without a college degree, Obama remains an aloof, faraway figure, who offers you no prospect of improving your life or of securing a better society. There is no assurance that Romney will not make things worse. So who should you vote for come election day? Play safe with Obama. Toss a coin. Ask the first person who you meet in the street. Or salute the logic that a spoiled ballot is one with a cross on it.
But the presidency is not the government. Whatever makes Obama get out of bed in the morning, it offers further confirmation of the famous maxim from Alistair Cooke, a far worthier transatlantic correspondent than I, that, “All Presidents start out to run a crusade but after a couple of years they find they are running something less heroic and much more intractable: namely the presidency.” Those wily Founding Fathers could not trust democracy to behave when they were no longer around to keep an eye on it. Their eternal curse was to devise a fiendish democratic conundrum – a tyranny skillfully fashioned from democracies – which would come to be played on a continental scale. Every successive presidency offers new tactics and a new interpretation of the rules. In my next letter, I will turn to Congress…
With love and respect.