Barack Obama for President
The utter failure of Operation Clark County – The Guardian’s ludicrous and patronising 2004 scheme to influence the outcome of the American election by mailing Ohioans, asking them to vote for John Kerry – showed why foreigners should by trepid when seeking to interfere in the United States’ internal affairs. But to echo an odd phrase Elie Wiesel once used, I cannot not tell you something: that Barack Obama requires four more years in office, and that Mitt Romney’s candidacy has rendered him incredible.
The case for Obama
President Obama’s first quadrennial has not been without its disappointments, particularly his inability to fulfil the promise to change the very nature of Washington politics. Much time has been lost, particularly in the previous two years, to intransigence and partisan squabbling and grandstanding. The Republican Party must be faulted for this, but the President is an independent, essential actor too. Reforming the immigration, Medicare/aid, and Social Security systems in addition to passing environmental legislation like cap and trade are required for America’s advancement into the twenty-first century, and Obama has failed to achieve these things as far.
Nevertheless, Obama’s first term has been transformative in myriad ways. First and foremost, Obama prevented the United States’ slide into a massive economic depression by passing an $800 billion stimulus package, the American Investment and Recovery Act, and guaranteeing the future of the automotive industry through investment and restructuring. The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with the aim of ensuring that the American people are never duped again by small print and banks and credit agencies act more transparently.
Obama’s other significant achievement was the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which makes the best of a bad system by expanding healthcare coverage to 30 million more Americans. It also provides essential guarantees for ordinary Americans that the private sector could not or refused to do on its own, including mandating coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowed under-26s to stay on their parents’ insurance.
No president has done more the advancement of equal rights for homosexuals than Obama. He shepherded through the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, allowing LGBT citizens to serve openly in the military, and his Justice Department has ceased to uphold the constitutionality of the Defence of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Obama has also become the first sitting president to publicly endorse the idea of same-sex marriage.
On women’s rights, Obama has made some important advances. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay, Obama’s first piece of legislation, removed the statute of limitations on employees suing their companies in gender discrimination cases. His Department of Health and Human Services has mandated free coverage in private insurance for contraceptives, expanding access for millions of American women as part of preventive care.
In terms of foreign policy, Obama was correct to show a little humility in order to rebuild bridges in Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East, regions in which President Bush’s personality did not travel well and his reckless persona did much to damage key bilateral relationships. Obama’s focus on international terror and away from traditional nation-on-nation conflicts enabled the elimination of both Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, and the reduction in the capability of al-Qaida, while a shift against American unilateralism and towards multi-national coalitions through the United States forced the international community to live up to its responsibility to protect, preventing genocide in Benghazi and resulting in the fall of Colonel Gaddafi. Also in the Middle East, Obama handed sovereignty over Iraq back to its people by concluding the withdrawal of American armed forces, and the troops will be home from Afghanistan by and large by 2014.
Enter Paul Ryan
David and Charles will be pleased. In selecting Paul Ryan over Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman, Mitt Romney has by his action done away with the narrative which suggests that he might be a competent yet benign fiscal conservative, ready to lead the nation out of recession, and entered into matrimony with a politician who would given half the chance destroy the social contract which has bound together the disparate states of the Union since the New Deal.
Were Paul Ryan made hegemon of the land between the Atlantic and the Pacific, the republic would be transformed into a conservative dystopia. Social Security would be privatised, an insecure and costly procedure involving the creation of millions of individual retirement accounts. Medicare would be thrown to the market, too, mutated into a voucher programme where elderly Americans with pre-existing conditions would be forced to purchase private insurance. Medicaid would be turned into a block grant programme, shifting the responsibility for providing health insurance for the poor to the states, dramatically impairing the viability and functionality of this critical service.
All in all, cuts in entitlement and discretionary spending would reduce federal spending as a share of GDP from 24pc now to 16pc by 2050, a level not seen since the Truman administration, and a diminution of the government’s outstanding obligations to 10pc of GDP, the lowest level since the First World War. All this, while the wealthiest Americans receive a substantial tax cut, with the top rate reduced to 25 cents on the dollar – in order to fund this folly, the qualification for paying the lower rate of 10pc would be broadened in order to drag millions of less economically-successful Americans into paying federal income tax. It all amounts to an omnishambles of bogus, voodoo economic policies which would leave richer Americans richer and poorer Americans even more hungry and destitute.
Santorum and the American worker
“My grandfather ended up continuing to work in the mines until he was 72 years old, digging coal. I’ll never forget the first time I saw someone who had died. It was my grandfather. I knelt next to his coffin. And all I could do was look at his hands. They were enormous hands. And all I could think was those hands dug freedom for me.” – Rick Santorum, January 3, 2012
On Morning Joe the dawn after the night before, Joe Scarborough waxed lyrical about Rick Santorum’s deeply moving speech following his second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. The former Congressman stated that Santorum, coming from a working class, immigrant background and from western Pennsylvania – “ground zero of the gutting of the America industrial machine” – had “a message that resonates across America”.
Both parties – Democrats and Republicans – have long lionised the American working class as the hands which built their blessed and prosperous nation, based upon a work and political ethic which valued faith, family, flag, and above all fiscal and physical self-sacrifice over material gain.
Democrats view the working class through a unionised prism. The party has traditionally sought to aid these lower-income individuals and families through social programmes such as Medicaid, as well as legislative actions which promote better pay and working conditions including the minimum wage.
Moreover, liberals more widely tend to support the quasi-social democratic understanding of working class toil, one which emphasises a disconnection between those on the shop floor and the management elite. This sentiment has perhaps best been expressed in the James Taylor song, “Millworker”:
So may I work the mills just as long as I am able/And never meet the man whose name is on the label.
Republicans, on the other hand, take the sacrificial narrative central to working class life and extrapolate out as an example for the country at-large, as to say that people do not need government intervention to succeed in the United States of America. By this logic, the country would be better off if more people worked hard and kept for themselves and their families as much of the fruits of their labours as possible.
Chris Christie is not going to run for President. But, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that he does. He would be, if memory serves me correctly, the first seriously or even morbidly obese individual to campaign for the highest office in the land. (Newt Gingrich, for the record, might only count as flabby, with most of the weight stored in his jowls).
Obviously, not all recent occupants of the Oval Office have been as health conscious as its current tenant, often seen cycling, playing golf, or casually emerging from the ocean like Ursula Andress. President Clinton, for example, had a weakness for fast food, in particular drive-thru joints. In September 2004, Clinton underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery, and is now a vegan as a consequence of his desire to remain healthy and elongate his lifespan.
But although Clinton’s weight fluctuated, and at times he may have been a little podgy, his girth even at its largest was incomparable to that of Governor Christie. Already it has become a national talking point. Liberal commentator Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post has called on Christie to “find some way to lose weight”, adding that he “obviously is not in optimal health”. He cites the example of Mike Huckabee, who shed a ton of weight before the 2008 campaign, saying he and people like him “succeeded by making proper diet and exercise part of their lives”. Robinson’s sage advice for Christie: “Eat a salad and take a walk”.
Oh, Eugene, if only it were that simple. Sure, obesity has a number of contributing factors that can – if blame need be apportioned – be pinned on the individual: a sedentary lifestyle; a propensity to overeat; the selection of chips instead of a jacket; the shunning of fruits and vegetables. And, it is often the case that those with serious weight issues have no desire to slim down, or even recognise they have a problem.
Chris Christie running for President, if it were to happen, should however set in motion the commencement of a national dialogue on what is, in the United States, an obesity epidemic. For, 34pc of Americans aged 20 and over are classified as obese, with particularly high rates of corpulence in the Southern states like Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Worse still, some 20pc of children aged 6-11 also register as obese, raising the spectre of a generation who will be even heavier than the current one.
On a personal level, Christie would be for millions of overweight Americans a model: of someone who recognises the nature of their condition, and articulates that altering one’s physical state is difficult and often painful. Christie has said himself that he feels “guilty” about his weight, telling Piers Morgan, “I’m really struggling, been struggling for a long time with it, and I know that it would be better for my kids if I got it more under control. And so I do feel a sense of guilt at times about that”.
But in addition, a Christie campaign should openly discuss some of the root causes of fat America. For starters, a Christie campaign should raise the direct link between obesity and federal agricultural policy. Farm subsidies over-encourage the production of high-fructose corn syrup (glucose), which is used in all sorts of processed foods including ‘plastic’ bread, luncheon meats, sugary drinks, candy and chocolate bars. The result: the price of unhealthy food is artificially low, and Americans buy more of it. In 2008, the average U.S. citizen consumed 37.8lbs of glucose. Such reckless agricultural policy must cease to alter the American lifestyle. If needs be, Washington should also discuss jiggling the tax code to raise the price of fatty foods.
A Christie campaign should recognise the correlation between obesity and poverty. To paraphrase Al Sharpton and indeed Michael Steele, while people in Manhattan can afford a $4 lettuce from Whole Foods, residents of the Bronx or Harlem on food stamps – forced to make nothing stretch into something – are cajoled into purchasing dinners packed with fat and salt. Until there is some degree of price parity between burgers and beets, and greater access to healthy options in poorer neighbourhoods (not only in their shops but their schools as well), the link will never be broken.
A Christie campaign should explain the connection between obesity and the budget crisis, not only the battles of today but well into the future. Being overweight puts Americans at greater risk of Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, certain types of cancer, and gallbladder and liver disease. For example, in Holmes County, Mississippi, where 42.5pc of the population are obese, 14.9pc are diagnosed with diabetes.
Particularly given that there is a relationship between wealth and weight, heavy Americans with long-term, irreversible ailments will place a tremendous strain on the federal government. The Medicare (particularly Medicare Part D which subsidies prescription drugs) and Medicaid budgets will swell to pay for treatment. Social Security will expand, as people become too big to work and require decades-worth of disability allowance.
For too long, America’s obesity crisis has been the elephant in the room: its root causes are known but never acknowledged, and particularly in the Tea Party age, asking Americans to gently alter their culinary habits is seen as the federal government taking the people’s right to eat as many Ding Dongs and Ho Hos as is humanly possible.
Chris Christie, were he to enter the Republican race, would not only shake up a fairly tawdry campaign, but also provide a credible voice on America’s next Battle of the Bulge. Shame he’s not going to run, then…
Exodus from the Ryan Plan
He can try and walk it back as much as he likes, but Newt Gingrich was the first high-profile Republican to back away from the Ryan Plan with regard to Medicare - the plan to replace this guaranteed federal programme of universal medical coverage for the over-65s with a flimsy voucher scheme. Gingrich labelled it “right-wing social engineering”, and has been regretting it ever since.
Now, Tim Pawlenty appears to be shying away from Ryancare too. In his campaign announcement today, Pawlenty did give tacit approval to another part of Congressman’s plan, to “block grant Medicaid to the states”, which Pawlenty asserted would allow “innovative reformers closest to the patients can solve problems and save money”.
On Medicare however, the former Governor of Minnesota stated merely that it ought to be “reformed”, with with “”pay for performance” incentives that reward good doctors and wise consumers”. No mention of privatisation, voucher schemes or any other overtures to Tea Party desires to destroy Medicare as we know it.
Pawlenty said the following later in the speech:
“Conventional wisdom says you can’t talk about Social Security in Florida. But someone has to say it. Someone has to finally stand up and level with the American people. Someone has to lead”.
That person, apparently, is not T-Paw, who backed away from one Republican interpretation of the things that “someone has to say”, claiming no-one deserves to win an election by “pitting classes, and ethnicities, and generations against each other”.
First Gingrich, now Pawlenty, will others follow? Is this the start of a trend? The answer is unlikely, and that Pawlenty’s words may have just been an oversight. However, we may witness a tweaking of Ryancare, dependant on the outcome of the special election in New York’s 26th congressional district.
For, what once was a solidly-Republican seat (one which backed Carl Paladino over Andrew Cuomo in the gubernatorial race last November), the GOP may be on to lose to the Democratic challenger, or so the latest polls indicate. Such an outcome would be an embarassment for the party, at a time when President Obama’s popularity hovers about 50pc, and the Democrats in Congress are faring even worse. Defeat in the fightin’ 26th might give the GOP cause of a reconsideration of their approach to governance, give greater credence to notions of reconciliation over the bugdet and the debt ceiling and punt Medicare reform into the never-never.
The Party of Woe: an Essay
“I’ve spent my whole life chasing the American dream,” Speaker of the House John Boehner told ABC News shortly before his accession to the third-highest office of state. “What unites us as Republicans will be the agenda of the American people. They want us to cut spending and focus on creating jobs in America.”
Yet the only thing which seems to be uniting the Republican Party at this time is their grand project to tear apart and rip to shreds the delicately-woven fabric of American civil society. Backed by their masters and benefactors in the corporate sector – in banking, insurance and the military-industrial complex – the 112th Congress and the ‘new breed’ of GOP governor are piece by piece removing what is left of the measly, miserly U.S. social contract.
In sickness and in health
The first step in this direction came with one of the first acts of the 112th Congress: a 245 to 189 vote to repeal the ‘job-killing’ (or rather ‘job-crushing’) healthcare bill. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, among other things, extends the scope of Medicaid, makes illegal the denial of insurance for pre-existing conditions, and institutes an individual and business community mandate on purchasing insurance. In all, some 32 millions will now gain healthcare coverage as a result of this bill.
Some Republicans have argued in debate in the House that the law is unconstitutional because “the federal government is overstepping its powers in requiring Americans to buy health insurance”. Such claims have been dismissed by the Obama administration, but have been supported in a landmark ruling by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Fla.
Republicans too have been defensive of their efforts, stating that this repeal is anything but symbolic. “It respects the will of the American people and it paves the way to reform our healthcare,” so argues Rep. Nan Hayworth. But, given that this attempt at a rollback was voted down in the Senate, and would have surely been vetoed by President Obama, it is hard to see it as anything other.
More importantly, the repeal of healthcare legislation is, needless to say, completely unrelated to Boehner’s definition of the agenda of the American people: to ‘cut spending’ and focus on job creation. The Congressional Budget Office, which notes that the Affordable Healthcare Act would save the federal government $124 billion over ten years, announced that the bill’s repeal would add $210 billion to the deficit.
Rather, the repeal of what has been dubbed ‘Obamacare’ as an attempt at slander is motivated entirely by a desire to preserve the status quo in American healthcare: where those who can afford skyrocketing insurance premiums receive good coverage, whilst the rest either bankrupt themselves forking out for treatment, or simply turn up at the emergency room and pass on the costs of their care onto others (which, in turn, drives up the cost of premiums).
Back to the future
Their other budgetary proposals are no less dogmatic, and can in no regard be taken any more seriously. Instead of focusing on where the real money is spent in Washington, Republicans have gone back to the future with a resumption of the culture wars. For, no senior Republican, with any clout at least, has put forward serious proposals to tackle the three great bulwarks of federal expenditure: Medicare/Medicaid; social security; and Defence.
Instead, the Republican budget seeks to reduce the deficit by defunding institutions that are precious to certain constituencies: namely the poor, women, minorities, the educated and those in need; in short: those that don’t vote for them. The House has voted to eliminate monies for public broadcasting (including NPR and PBS) for the rest of the fiscal year, an act labelled a “death sentence for stations serving rural and small-town America.” (Currently, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting receives a paltry $420 million of federal funding.)
In this vein, Republicans have also gone after the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, in addition to cutting 29pc from projects related to climate change. The Legal Services Corporation would be eliminated, saving $420 million but axing a service that predominately aided poorer females. The Republican budget also “dramatically reduces food aid for low-income women with children and women who are pregnant.”
But perhaps the most heinous of all Republican measures was an amendment tabled by Rep. Mike Pence to cut off all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which passed by a vote of 240-185. Planned Parenthood is an organisation which provides family planning and sexual health services, including contraception and abortion. The latter is a legal procedure, for which the organisation receives no federal funding. Planned Parenthood also offers women essential medical examinations including screenings for breast cancer.
Rep. Pence has over the past few weeks conducted a one-man commando-style operation against this mandated and well-intentioned organisation. He has used hidden camera ‘gotcha’ video tapes to accuse Planned Parenthood of “facilitating the abuse of a minor and sex trafficking,” since tapes purport to show clinic employees offering advice to a ‘pimp’ and services for underage prostitutes. “What is becoming more evident,” Pence trumps, “is that [federal funding of Planned Parenthood] has to stop.”
As Rep. Jackie Speier noted in an emotional and affective speech on the floor of the House, this has nothing to do with workers finding jobs or reducing the deficit. It is part of a vendetta against Planned Parenthood, and the right of the American woman to choose whether or not she must go through the difficult procedure of terminating her pregnancy.
The war against anti-conservative causes has now spread from the federal to the state level. In Wisconsin, previously a bastion of liberalism, rookie Republican governor Scott Walker has announced that he wants to “remove all collective bargaining rights, except for salary, for roughly 175,000 public employees starting July 1.” Moreover, he wants to “force state employees to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to cover pension costs and more than double their health insurance contributions.” This, at the same time as he seeks to provide millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations that will add about $117 million to the state’s budget problem over the next two years.
Wisconsin has a serious deficit problem: The state has a $137 million shortfall in the current fiscal year, and has a $3.6 billion shortfall in the upcoming 2011-13 biennium (the two-year period that starts July 1, 2011). Gov. Walker has argued that without cuts, he would be required to begin massive lay offs. Public service workers, to their credit, have already declared their willingness to give back to the state some of the benefits won through collective bargaining.
What they will not sacrifice, and what you should not sacrifice, is that right to organise and collectively bargain. It would render the union movement in the state meaningless, a capon among the roosters in corporate America. Moreover, it would set a dangerous precedent, especially as similar bills have already been tabled in Indiana and Ohio.
Conservative pundits are practically foaming at the mouth like retarded, feral horses at Gov. Scott Walker’s budgetary proposals in Wisconsin. Sean Hannity spoke of the “unholy relationship between the unions and politicians,” and became moist recalling how Ronald Reagan broke the air-traffic control strike by sacking all those who did not return to work within 48 hours. Glenn Beck, who has become more unhinged in his doom bunker as the days go by, proposed that these unions are seeking to bring down the Republic, as part of a communist-socialist-jihadist alliance that, in partnership with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and Van Jones wants to construct a New World Order.
Again, Gov. Walker’s proposals are demonstrably utterly unrelated to the serious issue of tackling the state deficit. If that were the case, a compromise would already have been reached. Also, the state would in fact lose $46.6 in federal transportation funding if collective bargaining rights are stripped for these unions. To put it simply, Walker wants to bust the unions in his state for the benefit of his billionaire backers. This has become a crusade for the governor, above and beyond the safety, security and future of Wisconsin.
“A plague o’ both your houses”
This is not to say that Democrats are innocent, either: They too are in bed with corporate America. The Obama administration has achieved next to nothing in the way of regulating reckless and illegal practice on Wall Street. Moreover, they haven’t done anything to prosecute those who brought the world’s economy to its knees via credit-default swaps and bound-to-fail sub-prime mortgages.
President Obama received the following in campaign donations during the 2008 election cycle: $994,795 from Goldman Sachs (the second biggest contributor after the University of California); $701,290 from Citigroup; $695,132 from JPMorgan Chase; and $514,881 from Morgan Stanley. (The Citizens United case, incidentally, will only entrench the influence of big business in political activity.)
It it is patently evident that, over the course of the past fifty years, the Democrats have done more the advancement of America and the American Dream than the Republican Party, in spite of this weighty outside influence. President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act; Clinton created 22.5 million jobs and three consecutive budget surpluses; Obama has attempted to extend healthcare to 32 million uninsured citizens and repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Across the aisle, the Republican Party has since the election of Ronald Reagan driven up huge budget deficits by increasing government outlay at the same time as handing out generous tax cuts for the nation’s elite. As a percentage of GDP, Reagan exploded the national debt from 32.5pc in 1981 to 53.1pc in 1989. Bush 43, by way slashing taxes on the top bracket twice in three years turned Clinton’s surpluses into huge negatives, again increasing the national debt from 56.4pc (2001) to 83.4pc (2009).
The GOP, thus, has come to serve only the needs of America’s top 1pc, at the expense of the health of national body. The Republican Party has raped the United States of America. It is a corrupt, exclusive and morally-bankrupt organisation, which has now been co-opted by the Tea Party: a rag-tag coalition of morons, bigots and prudes.
Now the Republicans have set out once more to shove its primordial values down America’s collective throat. Already, it has succeeded in sustaining the Bush tax cuts, and has, as has been outlined, begun to unleash hell upon the social contract.
In this perpetual war, the GOP never seems to emerge defeated however: time after time, enough voters return slavishly for another bout of punishment from their gun-loving, abortion-hating, evolution-doubting dominatrixes. Rather, the biggest loser is always the United States of America, and the people who live in this most free and liberal of nations.
And with every day, the American Dream dies a little more.
 This is not the first time conservatives have used candid camera footage to bring down organisations which aid those in need. Activist James O’Keefe recorded low-level employees at ACORN “sounding eager to assist with tax evasion, human smuggling and child prostitution”. Its federal funding was removed, and the group collapsed. O’Keefe was later arrested in New Orleans on January 25, 2010 on federal felony charges of attempting to maliciously interfere with the office telephone system of Sen. Mary Landrieu.
 President Clinton indeed reduced the size of the national debt as a percentage of GDP, from 66.1pc (inherited from Bush 41) in 1993 to 56.4pc by 2001. The debt decreased by 9pc in his second term. By contrast, it increased 20pc in Bush 43’s second term. President Kennedy, Johnson and Carter all reduced the size of the federal debt, too.