Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What way forward for Americans?

Today everybody seems to have an opinion on the Republican loss in the Presidential elections. So I’m going to jump onto the bandwagon: First of all, I don’t think the loss came as a surprise. The Obama campaign worked long and hard, and they had a long-term strategy. They were also largely consistent in maintaining that strategy, even when faced with criticism from pundits on the left. The result: they did their swing-state math just right and were able to get enough support to win the electoral votes in the most crucial states.

The team behind Obama plays politics like a game of chess. Almost every move they make fits into a larger strategy and anticipates the likely Republican responses. And they have studied their quarry pretty well: their predictions are usually right. The mistake that the folks on the Republican side make is to consistently ignore this fact. They have always portrayed Obama, a true centrist if there ever was one, as a liberal on the far left, acting to fulfill some ungodly agenda. So many of the attacks they have directed at his initiatives and positions have been strawman fallacies. In other words, the Republicans have often had to first distort his policies in order to oppose them.  

This strategy would have made sense in a world where the Republican and Democratic parties were drastically different. In the real world, however, all it does is make rubbish of the Republican’s own policies. You see, under Obama, the Democrats have adopted several ideas that were developed by conservative thinktanks or proposed by Republican politicians, and they have made them work. And if all that the Republican Party can do in response is to oppose these ideas, then they are effectively rejecting conservative principles.

As a consequence of their actions, the Republicans have maligned various conservative policies and initiatives and declared them communist or un-American (by virtue of their having been implemented by a Democratic president). So what conservative alternatives exist for them to promote or adopt? None, really: not pragmatic ones, anyway. Obviously, the Republicans can’t reach to the far left for alternatives. Doing so would require them to embrace socialism (which is apparently anathema to them). So in the end, they are left without a definite direction. In name, they are a conservative party with conservative values. In reality, they have somehow managed to separate themselves from compassionate and pragmatic conservatism. They can no longer claim the brand of politics that used to unite the disparate entities within the Republican Party. So a leadership vacuum has arisen within the party. In response, the different voices within the party are clamoring for dominance.

Within the Republican party, you have the Religious Right, the Tea Party, and the Libertarians, just to name a few of the more prominent tendencies. So the Republicans don’t have a unified political agenda. That is precisely why they ended up selecting Romney to represent them. He was really the only sane guy left standing when all was said and done. But, at the same time, they hated the things he stood for as a “Northeastern liberal.” The party had to perform some creative acrobatics in order to embrace him as their presidential candidate.

The phrase “only in America” comes to mind here: Where else in the world would a party go through the long, drawn-out process of selecting a presidential candidate then spend the entire campaign pushing back when he tried to speak positively of his own record (presumably the record that inspired them to select him)? Where else would that presidential candidate select an “authentically conservative” vice-presidential candidate and prevent him from talking about his actual record (the one for which he was chosen)? This was the problem throughout the campaign period. Whenever Romney tried to be honest, he was shot down by the more extremist voices in his party. Whenever he tried to toe the line and sing the accepted conservative tune, he ended up looking like he was willing to buy into whatever was expedient at any given moment. And then there was Ryan- the poor guy. He was supposed to be a conservative genius, a policy wonk, but he was reduced to repeating meaningless platitudes.

And what about the other folks in the party? Well, they worked day and night to recreate a platform around which their people could unite. That was why outrageous statements and legislation surrounding female reproductive health and rape kept on popping up all over the place. Race and religion were also deployed because, when there is nothing else to unite a group of people with opposing agendas, you can always rely on the ethnic clarion call to bring them together. The result of these efforts was to disenchant a large number of potential pro-Republican voters. The party was left with a predominantly older, white, Christian, male base. The funny thing is that many Republicans are walking around in the aftermath of the loss, holding on to the belief that they lost votes because 50% of Americans “want free things.” Honestly, that is the most intellectually lazy conclusion I have ever heard. I understand why the Bill O’Reillys of the world sing that tune. But I can’t help but marvel at the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who have taken it as the gospel truth. It is as if they were on an entirely different planet during the entire campaign process (one during which their party undermined its own candidate).

Of course, the result of all of this is that the Republicans cannot offer a true political critique of many of Obama’s policies. For a genuine critique of the Obama administration, one has to look beyond the dominant two-party system to some of the other parties: The Libertarian Party, the Green Party of the USA, the Socialist Party, and others. These are legitimate American political parties. Some of them even fielded presidential candidates, a number of whom were included on the ballots of various states. But these parties get next to zero mainstream media coverage. So it’s not a surprise that most Americans believe there are only two legitimate lenses through which to view American politics: the Democratic lens, and the Republican lens. This presents a bunch of problems: As the two mainstream parties have tended to shift rightwards over the decades, there has been no dominant party on the left proper to present a balance. So the overzealousness with which the Obama administration has used drones to perform so-called surgical strikes in other nations, for example, has been largely unremarked upon.

Americans have a tendency to live too much in the present moment. For instance, there’s not too much along the lines of long-term thinking going on where the national economy and the environment are concerned. It is widely recognized that the American deficit must be addressed, but the American public does not seem ready to scale down its largest expenditure: its overseas military efforts. I often ask myself when the American nation as a whole will finally realize that it is more important to ensure that its people can afford to meet their basic needs (food, clothing, shelter and healthcare) at home than to dominate brown folks in their own countries. In addition, there is little public dialogue on issues such as climate change and its impact on communities nationwide. The political parties that have actually put these issues on their agendas have been locked out by the media, presumably because they would “steal away” some of the Democratic or Republican votes. Ultimately, it is the American public that has lost from the exclusion of these voices.

I really don’t think the Republican loss is the most relevant news item of the day. The party was bound to lose. They set themselves up to lose by failing to develop a coherent agenda, and they essentially helped to energize voters on the other side by voicing support of misogynist and racist policies and actions. The most relevant issue of the day should be the question of what lies ahead in the long-term. When are we going to start addressing the concerns that have been raised by America’s marginalized parties?
This work is licensed to Rose Kahendi under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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