US President Barack Obama has kept up a slight poll lead against Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the lead up to the November 6 presidential elections. But in stark contrast to the hope of Obama’s 2008 campaign when millions of new black, Latino and young voters came out to vote for the promise of change, Obama has only been saved by despair at the prospect of a seriously out-of-touch multimillionaire Republican at the helm.
Economist and former advisor to Bill Clinton, Joseph Stiglitz, put it this way: “Four years ago there was a moment where most Americans had the audacity to hope. Trends more than a quarter of the century in the making might have been reversed. Instead, they have worsened. Today that hope is flickering.”
Unemployment currently stands at 8.1 per cent. Only half of the jobs lost during the recession have been recovered—and these on lower wages. Median household income has declined every year under Obama during the “recovery” from the recession.
Income inequality has grown startlingly under Obama’s watch. The richest 1 per cent increased their share of total national income from 65 per cent in 2002-2007 to 93 per cent in 2010.
Both candidates are trying to frame the election as a real choice between fundamentally different philosophies. But Obama and Romney have almost everything in common.
It was Obama who did nothing to stop banks taking back people’s homes after the mortgage defaults that precipitated the stock market crash in 2008, while he poured $US700 billion in to save the banks.
And although expanding healthcare with one hand, Obama has been working to undermine it with the other.
The debt-reduction commission he appointed in 2010 recommended cuts of $US4 trillion to the deficit over 10 years, three-quarters of which was to be achieved through “entitlement reform”—that is, cuts to social security and Medicare. This is part of Obama’s “grand bargain” for raising the debt ceiling, in return for modest tax increases on the rich.
The only debate about cuts between Obama and Romney is about “how much”. Romney and his running mate, Tea Party darling Paul Ryan would cut $US5 trillion in taxes on the rich and savage an already inadequate Medicaid, leaving 27 million more Americans uninsured.
Obama has made some last ditch gestures to resurrect his progressive credibility, granting amnesties on deportations of children of undocumented immigrants, and belatedly claiming to be in favour of same-sex marriage. He has been helped by misogynistic comments by Republican Todd Akin that “legitimate rape” doesn’t result in pregnancy, and suspicions that Republicans will attack abortion rights, that have made the Democrats the default choice for those pro-choice, though they have done nothing to advance abortion rights while in office.
But if Obama was serious about implementing progressive policies like same-sex marriage, he could have done so when the Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress in 2009-2010.
Romney has also tried to distinguish himself as a more staunch defender of US imperial interests, but he supports all the actions of commander-in-chief Obama—escalating the drone war in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the extra-judicial killing of Osama Bin Laden, holding accused Wikileaks whistle-blower Bradley Manning in solitary confinement, and keeping Guantanamo Bay open.
Luckily for him, Obama’s betrayals are overshadowed by Romney’s arrogance. Romney’s numerous gaffes—not least his comment that 47 per cent of Americans are government-dependent scroungers—have been a gift to Obama. The Democrats have capitalised on this image of Romney the $200 million man as part of a completely out-of-touch elite, making much of his tax dodging when it was revealed he was paying an effective rate of only 14 per cent.
Many voters feel the two party system means the Democrats are the only choice for progressives. But the reality is that there is no choice on offer. The Democrats and the Republicans are two faces of a political system that caters to corporate America. Behind the superficial differences lies a common commitment to neo-liberalism and austerity.
Thankfully, there is a choice outside the ballot box. A grassroots fightback by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) against the corporate schools policies of Obama’s former chief of staff and Chicago Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel has scored a huge victory.
26,000 CTU members struck last month for seven school days. They defeated the imposition of performance pay, heavier use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, and fast track terminations of teachers with low ratings, all key aspects of Obama’s federal schools plan. Follow these developments for change you can believe in.
By Lachlan Marshall