The Hangover of Obamarama
If there’s one thing to take from the 2012 US presidential election it’s that we’ll probably never have to see Mitt Romney again. Nixon is the only president in the last century to have lost an election campaign and then gone on to run again and that’s probably got a lot to do with the way that the parties realign and redefine themselves after defeat. That need for change was something that Obama campaigned on in 2008 and a lingering feeling which Romney attempted to cultivate last night, but how can you have real change in politics? In the wake of the 2010 general election, the US presidential election confirmed that politics is still absolutely about why you shouldn’t be voting for ‘them’ far more than it’s about why you should be voting for ‘us’.
UK 2010, USA 2012: division, apathy and a resentment towards mainstream politics. As the campaigns ran their course I intrinsically wanted Obama to win, as I watched the results in a nightclub I got caught up in the hype but that was the extent of it, there was no elation and with Obama calling himself the winner once he’d taken enough electoral college votes despite a minority public vote I couldn’t help but come to the realisation that there were no winners last night.
As twitter lost its shit in one self congratulatory pat on the back, ridiculing Romney’s supporters, proclaiming that the deserved had prospered, for once everything was completely clear, the system is completely broken. The reality is that as much as the people wanted Obama the people also wanted the other guy. There’s nothing to celebrate, politics is broken because it’s partisan. The failure of the 2010 general election and the lingering shambles of the resulting coalition was echoed in the overarching tone of the battle for the White House, “the lesser of two evils”.
The losers last night were those we might describe as ignorant, even bigoted, those with outdated views, in short the team that we feel deserved to lose, so who cares about them? But every compromised vote for Obama and every misplaced vote for Romney highlights exactly how broken partisan politics is, how everyone loses. Politics operates on a very basic premise rooted in centuries of that exported European class system, it’s easier to tell people what they don’t like than to offer them something that they do.
partisan politics is the politics of opposition, the politics that still exists on the left and the right, the politics that still conjures up the images of class struggle, the deserving and undeserving, more importantly it’s the politics of dangerous compromise because more often than not it means you have to vote for “the lesser of two evils”. It’s for this reason that the sense of elation at Obama’s victory completely evades me. We avoided the tough-talking pathological liar, but what did we have to settle for to avoid that unknown?
Obama is down with all of the great stuff like gay marriage, abortions, access to health care and the other shiny liberal policies that should be common sense by now, but there are huge questions about his approach to civil liberties. Those are the liberties that really matter, those are the liberties that say whether or not the president can target you for killing, whether he can detain you without judicial review, whether you are safe as a whistle-blower and, further afield, questions relating to the increasing use of drone attacks. Obama’s most frightening legacy is a piece of legislation, the National Defense Authorisation Act, so intentionally vague that it not only encapsulates all of the above but also broadens the definition of ‘supporting terrorism’ so much that journalists will inevitably fall into its vortex of civil liberties.
When liberalism looks like this you’ll have to forgive me for not joining the sycophantic chorus of blind praise. Instead the western world needs to ask a question about what its politics is doing to itself. Can we look at it from new angles? Can we create something new? Can we at least ask these questions and explore new answers because between us I’m sure we can come up with something better than this.