US Elections 2012 – Romney vs Obama

The journey to the election showdown between Republic candidate Mitt Romney and incumbent Democrat Barack Obama has been both entertaining and scary in some respects. NewsView thought it would be worthwhile providing some context based on Obama’s term thus far as voters prepare for the 2012 US Elections in early November.

Ron McCune of Policymic summed the opposing positions in a nutshell:

“This election is a choice between two different opposing views. Romney will extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich and cut other taxes for the rich, Obama won’t. Romney will let oil companies drill anywhere with less regulations and give them tax breaks, Obama won’t. Obama will help develop alternative energy, Romney won’t. Romney believes in voodoonomics (more wealth in the hands of the rich spreads throughout an economy helping the poor), Obama doesn’t. Romney will make abortions illegal, Obama won’t. Romney will get us into a war with Iran and others while also getting Israel into a war with Iran and the Palestinians. Obama won’t. Romney wants to increase the military budget. Obama won’t. Obama gives all of us health care, Romney won’t.”

Obama vs Romney US Elections 2012 photo

US President Barack Obama and contender Mitt Romney after the first presidential debate. Photo by Jason Reed/ Reuters.

The above quote is perhaps an over-simplication of key issues but it sets out in stark terms the perceived differences between the candidates. In order to appreciate if in reality there is such a stark difference between them however, it will be worthwhile to take a step back and review Obama’s actual performance over the past four years.

Barack Obama was elected in 2008 at the height of a major economic crisis – the meltdown of major U.S banks had placed the global economy on a knife-edge. It was also a time of deep conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and, in general, in relations between the Islamic world and the Judeo-Christian “West”. The third issue of major and looming concern was the ecological crisis of global warming and the uncertainly surrounding energy security.

Now all these crises were largely the result of policies followed by the American Right in the shape of the Oil and Military-Industrial lobbies. Their representative presidents, the father and son, George Bush senior and junior (and before them, Ronald Reagan) instituted policies that greatly favoured the super-rich on the economic front and warmongers outraged by any action that challenged ‘Rule America’ – whether that be Al-Quaeda or Chavez. This was the mentality of ‘Shock and Awe’.

As such, when Obama won the 2008 election, he had an exceptional opportunity to redefine American society; his election being a resounding victory for those classes (the middle and working) who were the primary casualties of neo-liberalism. Indeed, the world gasped and celebrated the audacity of a seemingly docile American electorate in electing a black man who espoused radical politics and had given form to an outpouring of hope and optimism that the Bush doctrines could and would be overturned.

From an American perspective, this reversal of neo-liberalism entailed bringing the corrupt and swollen finance system (typified by Wall St) under stringent control, restoring worker rights as well as rebuilding the American manufacturing base. As importantly, it entailed terminating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, putting real pressure on Israel to recognize a viable Palestinian state, putting similar pressure on China to recognize Tibetan rights and so forth – in short, to change American foreign policy so that the ‘empire’ truly advanced democracy, accountability, fair trade and equal rights in all societies. This mandate to Obama was a very clear and strong one – and excited social democrats all over the world. But what has been the reality? Has Obama kept his promises?

On the economic front he has allowed the finance houses responsible for the recession to escape the consequences of their mismanagement and corruption. The federal bailout was enacted on the basis that, notwithstanding serious deficiencies and malpractices, they were objectively ‘too big to fail’. As such, Obama reneged on a key election plank and none of the culprits were brought to account, they continue to head their banks, asset management companies etc after the largest financial rescue ever instituted. Indeed, by carrying out a rescue that did not carry penalties or include deep structural changes to the sector, Obama resuscitated Wall St. In general, he has failed to challenge the super-rich with the necessary vigour thus leaving inequality levels as deep as they were under the Bush regime, failed to effectively discipline cartels such as in oil and agriculture, and generally allowed the American economy to stagnate.

On the social level, he has taken several very constructive steps relating to the historic institution of Health Insurance for all, boosted education schemes for pre-school kids and the poor, made college education more accessible, improved support for single parents and so forth. As such, in this area, despite the great increase in unemployment (which stemmed from the financial meltdown), the Obama presidency has shown some real commitment to maintaining a social safety net for the most vulnerable. The sceptic would point out that structural reform of the economy (which would restore jobs and reduce inequality) would have a far bigger social impact than (what is essentially) poverty alleviation and that Obama is tinkering with the symptoms rather than tackling the roots of the problem.

On the political side, Obama has been uneven in his actions. A brief scan shows that the pullout from Iraq has been positive notwithstanding the fact that the country continues to be wracked by violence and lack of direction. Afghanistan is still occupied by a large American military force and operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan continue unabated. Indeed, they were stepped up and led to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. In the Middle East, Obama has not reined in Israel’s annexationist policies thus allowing a stalemate to kill all attempts at setting up an independent Palestinian state. His support for the Arab Spring was stop-start though the chance to depose Gaddafi was not missed. It is perhaps not unexpected that the Syrian civil war has gone on unchecked because that country has no oil deposits. In short, Obama’s foreign policy record has been deeply uneven – the failure to shut down the infamous Guantanomo Bay prison being a particularly galling one.

With respect to ecological issues, Obama failed to advance the need for significant carbon emission reduction at important international meetings and failed to direct massive investments needed for green energy research and advancement. Given the state of the economy however, Americans stood a better chance of success if they play lottery online than if they relied on government to actually honor ecological commitments. Regardless, the catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was handled relatively well in that the company has to foot the lion’s share of the clean up bill but thereafter, he failed to rein in similar underwater exploration. In general, he has skirted round the edges rather than vigorously pushed a green agenda. This will prove devastating as the U>S is still the number polluter in the world and its reluctance to take action encourages newly industrializing countries like China, India and Brazil to disregard the need for global discipline.

In summary, the Obama presidency has not even come close to fulfilling its 2008 election promises. Quite frankly, it has been as erratic as a stint at some online casino and succeeded only in once again discouraging social activists from trusting this type of politics. Why did Obama back down before the right wing on so many issues? Was it fear that his own party, the Democrats, would baulk at supporting far reaching initiatives? Or is it that, like so many before him, radical action which will fundamentally affect the balance of power in favour of the ‘have-nots’, frightens those who promise it once they taste the pleasures and prestige of high office?

Having said all this, what of Romney? Romney is cut from the same cloth as the Bushes. He will pursue the same neo-liberal policies and perhaps lean even further to the right on social issues. The real question is whether Obama, despite his chequered first term, is likely to be bolder in pursuing change and honoring his election commitments knowing that the second term does free a president from the concerns of re-election? The jury has to be out on this, but given both candidates records, it appears to be a certainty that a Romney presidency will be more destructive of human needs if it comes to pass.

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