No change is change

By Saad Hafiz:

As the US Election approaches, the battle for the White House remains too close to call. The outcome is determined by an Electoral College, which has a total of 538 votes. To win a majority, a presidential candidate needs at least 270 votes. National polls did swing dramatically in challenger Mitt Romney’s direction after he trounced President Obama in the first debate. Recent polls show the two candidates in a virtual dead heat after their third and final debate. The polls also show that Americans are divided between giving Obama more time to fix the economy or choosing Romney, a former business executive who argues he knows best how to create jobs.

The modern American presidential election is like a Hollywood showbiz glamour contest, where the best packaged candidate exuding style often wins over a candidate with substance. The winning trick it seems is to express generalities forcefully, and avoid specifics and missteps. The gladiatorial nature of the contest overshadows the acute seriousness of the job of world leader that needs careful thinking, strategies and planning. John F Kennedy (JFK), one of the most popular presidents in US history, is referred to as “the best designed presidential candidate.” Every successful candidate has taken a leaf out of Kennedy’s book: to win you have to play up personality, family, wrap yourself in the flag. While Obama is no JFK, he is infinity more ‘likeable’ in appearances on television and talk shows compared to Romney, who appears smug, insincere and full of himself.

Although domestic policies usually drive election results, Obama gets credit for the US mission that led to the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and for pulling troops out of Iraq. As expected, both candidates have been subservient to the ‘pro-Israel’ lobby, although Obama has prevented Netanyahu from starting a disastrous war with Iran. Both Obama and Romney agree that Pakistan holds the dubious honour of being “the most dangerous country in the world”, which was too “frightening to ignore”.

The US public remains in a volatile and dark mood with high unemployment, a dismal economic outlook and the American dream of home ownership in tatters for most families. Many people are unenthusiastic about either candidate. In short, both candidates make much of the enormous differences between them but look suspiciously alike. Voter sentiments like “Obama will likely win but only because Romney is an even worse candidate than he is” and “Mitt Romney is a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Barack Obama is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but they both essentially have the same agenda,” reflects the mood in the country.

Obama is credited by some for stopping or at least slowing down the downward economic slide of the miserable Bush years, but job creation and job security have not gotten a great deal better, which has left a lot of people disappointed. Republicans accuse Obama and the Democrats of leading the country off a fiscal cliff with unsustainable spending, high taxes and climbing deficits. Romney on the other hand has struggled to convince people that what he is offering might conceivably make things any better. People are sceptical about the standard Republican mantra that reduced government, taxes and regulation leads to economic recovery and job creation.

Most disturbing of all, in the land that is meant to be the great melting pot, is the growing geographic, class and racial divide. Assimilation is giving way to division. In the past, it was not always easy to gauge voters’ party allegiances from their background or region or even political outlook. But now, as the politics of identity and region have become much stronger, the south and the centre have become overwhelmingly Republican. The eastern and western seaboards are largely Democratic. Evangelical Christians are more likely to vote Republican, while urban voters are more likely to back the Democrats. African-Americans now vote overwhelmingly for the Democrats, while the white population increasingly supports the Republicans.

The Democratic opinion is that there are those within the elite like Romney who feel they are righteous and by sheer weight of their wealth are fit to rule the common man. The elite has contempt for the common man; equality would be admittedly beneath them. Democrats feel Obama is decidedly better for the common folks, and their share of freedom in the US. Obama and his campaign have hammered Romney on his tax policies, arguing that the former Massachusetts governor favours the rich while the president is a defender of everyone else.

So whoever wins on November 6 is going to face a colossal challenge. For all the talk about ‘change’ from both campaigns, the reality of division in the population and the political deadlock in Washington means that his task could not be more overwhelming.

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