US presidential election: no choice but imperialism

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012

The two candidates

First, let’s compare the two candidates. Mitt Romney has a background in private equity investment and regularly repeats the classic ‘free market’ mantra of tax cuts, state expenditure cuts and deficit reduction, with attendant fairy stories about how the US economy will expand as a result. His economic advisers are both former Chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisors under President George W Bush. Romney’s foreign policy team includes 17 members who served in the Bush-Cheney administration. Other Bush-era luminaries, such as extreme right-winger John Bolton, who advocates war with Iran, are also prominent advisers. Vignettes of a Romney foreign policy: he opposed the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq (‘tragic’), announced that Russia is ‘without question our number one geopolitical foe’, and has described Dick Cheney as a ‘person of wisdom and judgment’ and the ‘kind of person [he]’d like to have’ working with him. Those Romney doesn’t want are the 47% of the population who are too poor to pay income tax who, he claimed at a fundraising dinner, ‘believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it... [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.’

So the broad political contours of a Romney presidency are already clear – and too familiar: a recycling of the Bush years. Enough said.

Despite any appearance to the contrary, Obama is no slouch when it comes to supporting finance capital and promoting US imperialism. His brand promotion continues, successfully wrapping his continuation of Bush-era policies and his own embrace of capitalism in a smooth, warm, kinder, gentler, liberal veneer, making them acceptable to his supporters.

His economic record speaks for itself: real median household income has fallen every year of his presidency, reaching the level it was in 1999; 46.2 million people are living in poverty, up from 39.9 million when he took office. Meanwhile, profits have grown by 63%, the stock market has risen by 73% and receipts from the rest of the world are up by 39%. He appointed Larry Summers as director of the White House National Economic Council, and Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary, both proponents of bank deregulation, and liberally drizzled Wall Streeters throughout his administration; rescued AIG and other financial institutions. At the same time, not one of the banksters has been prosecuted for their crimes against the people.

Obama is blatantly two-faced. In July 2007, Obama promised: ‘The first thing I’d do, as president, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act [making abortion a legal right].’ In a press conference in April 2009, President Obama then said that passage of the Freedom of Choice Act was ‘not highest legislative priority’. He promised to restore the Bush era tax cuts on the rich – hasn’t happened. He promised to close Guantanamo – it is still open for business. And so on.

Now consider Obama’s criminal activities on behalf of imperialism. He has given substantial military aid to Israel, vetoed UN Security Council resolutions on Israeli settlements and blocked attempts to get UN recognition of Palestine as a member state. He has launched some 300 drone strikes, compared with Bush’s 52, and maintains a presidential ‘kill list’. He has prosecuted twice as many cases against whistle-blowers under the Espionage Act as all other administrations in history combined. He has deported twice as many undocumented immigrants in less than four years as Bush did in eight. He has increased spending on nuclear weapons to unprecedented levels. He extended key parts of the repressive Patriot Act, which were set to expire. Wiretaps are at an all-time high. He has authorized the assassination of US citizens anywhere in the world.

So much for the ‘choice’ this November! Do you prefer your imperialist lackey to be nakedly reactionary or to come smothered in snake oil?

The price of democracy

It is estimated that this year total spending on the election farce will reach about $6bn, a fantastic sum. About $2.5bn will be spent on the presidential race alone, the rest on congressional elections and local initiatives. About 77% of the total will come from business groups, demonstrating the complete corruption of the process by private capitalists – what value is ‘one person, one vote’ faced with this massive deployment of financial power to sway elections?

The major contributing industry sector is finance, insurance and real estate, which has so far contributed $348.5m. Within that sector, the securities and investment industry – Wall Street – has contributed nearly half: $144.2m. In both cases, 63% of the funds went to Republicans.

The big change in this election cycle follows a Supreme Court decision in 2010 to treat corporations the same as people, enabling them to donate unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns. The Court absurdly declared that it ‘now concludes that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption’!

Swing states and voting rights

Despite the truckloads of money being spread around, there is still the irritating formality of having to deliver a popular vote. There are a handful of ‘Swing States’ – US states where neither candidate yet has a majority of Electoral College votes. The outcome of the presidential election depends on the election results in these states. In several of these, it is the minority population – black and Latino – which is likely to decide the outcome on Election Day. In many of them, in states with Republican legislatures, there have been strenuous attempts to reduce the number of minority voters, for example by limiting voter registration drives among minorities or purging them from polls, particularly in Florida. In one case, a Republican Party operative took the voter roll and simply challenged as ineligible every voter with a Hispanic-sounding surname – over 2,400 voters. A similar thing happened in 2000 to ensure George Bush was elected when electoral rolls were purged of thousands of black voters with criminal convictions. In North Carolina, attempts have been made to use the 2010 redistricting process to push minorities together into districts which concentrate black voter power in a reduced number of seats.

The most popular methods, however, have been to reduce early voting, and to introduce voter identification (voter ID) laws to curb supposed impersonation. Early voting rules vary from State to State, but broadly they enable people to vote who would otherwise be unable to attend the polls on Election Day during regular hours. Historically, it has been heavily used by minority communities and the poor. Florida almost halved its early voting hours ‘to save money’, and also eliminated voting on the Sunday before Election Day, historically known as ‘Souls to the Polls’ because large numbers of black voters would go straight from church to vote. In Ohio Secretary of State John Husted issued regulations restricting voting hours, until he was slapped down by a Federal Judge.

Proponents of voter ID laws claim they are necessary to prevent impersonation. Yet public records showed only 2,068 cases of alleged election fraud since 2000 in the entire United States. Of these, just 10 involved voter impersonation. The voter ID laws require that prospective voters produce a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s licence. Yet this discriminates against non-drivers, who are more likely to be female, elderly, disabled, poor or a member of an ethnic minority. Obtaining photo ID is more difficult, time consuming and expensive for people who may have lost or have inaccurate documents such as birth certificates. The motives behind these laws are quite blatant: Republican Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania’s House majority leader, claimed that the state’s new voter ID law ‘is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state’.

Who’s going to win?

Obviously, we don’t know the outcome of the election. Obama’s ratings climbed following the Democratic Party convention, but there are weeks to go and much can change. Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, has announced a policy designed to increase employment – ‘QE3’. It is unlikely to make much of a dent in unemployment, but will certainly boost asset prices, like the stock market. Either could influence the outcome in Obama’s favour. Surprise events, such as the attacks on US embassies by outraged Muslims, can upset US domestic politics. Benjamin Netanyahu may cast his vote against Obama by launching an attack on Iran. So the presidential race is still open.

But of one thing we can be absolutely sure already: whichever way the election goes, imperialism will be the winner.

Steve Palmer


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