Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Electoral politics, USA, September 2012

Certain commonplace ideas have been trotted out in every recent American Presidential election. The candidates, people are told, are moving to the center for the general election after tacking to the right or left during the primary. There is a nudge-and-wink, in-the-know quality to this. Everyone who follows politics is supposed to know that this move to the center is insincere, a cheap theatrical to fool the low-information rubes who make up the only undecided voters at this point.

People don't generally seem to have considered what it means that Obama is moving to the left for the general election. The Democratic convention was supposedly a festival of the assertive, confident liberalism that people have looked for in vain throughout Obama's actual term. I've seen plenty of well-known political bloggers argue that turnout may be more important than focussing all appeals on the small pool of undecided voters in states that matter, and with Obama's moves to "evolve" on gay marriage and to stop some deportations, I've guessed that he's decided that he needs someone to actually be enthusiastic about him. After all, you need people to get out the vote. But the corollary of the rhetorical moves to the left for the general election is that he has no intention of governing that way. Otherwise it wouldn't be a change that he's making now.

Meanwhile, what's happening with Romney? As I write this, a tape has recently surfaced of him telling donors that he's written off 47% of the country as moochers and looters who depend on handouts from the government and will never vote for him. Basically, all Republicans now talk as if they are cartoons drawn by hippies sometime in the 1970s. It used to be that only a few fringe leftists described America as an empire, until the neoconservatives took over and said that yes it was and we should be damned proud of it. People would have derided it as crazy if you said that the GOP political elite would generally turn out to be followers of Ayn Rand. And of course "everyone knew" that the contemporary GOP's core objection to a black President would not be as crudely racist as thinking that he couldn't run for election because he was literally un-American, literally an African.

The hippies, as usual in this decade, have been right. That really is who the GOP is. Under these circumstances, either Obama will win, or basically nothing he could do would make him win. I think that he'll most likely win. After which we'll be back to GOP policies in all but name, market-based do-nothing environmentalism, health care individual mandates, assassination and aggressive wars, a financial system run on the behalf of elites, basically everything that the part of the GOP that ever cared about policy would have liked, stripped of their desperate craziness and given a liberal-managerial sheen.

If the Democrats do win this election, it won't be a triumph of any kind of ideas over any other kind of ideas. On the contrary, as far as I can see the broad outlines of governance for the elite are going to be the same no matter who wins. This is mostly an election about demographics, and prefigures what I think will be the GOP's perpetual loss in national elections. There is no way that they can give up on racism: their funders don't actually care about it, but it's how they get enough votes. And there simply isn't a high enough percentage of white people in the population any more.

As a Republican strategist said, with rare apparent honesty, "'This is the last time anyone will try to do this' — 'this' being a near total reliance on white votes to win a presidential election." (Quoting Jonathan Chait quoting the strategist). But of course it's not the last election in which they will try. They will try in every election in which the GOP exists; they have nothing else. They are trapped into one loss after another, unable to keep themselves from demanding identity papers from the same Hispanics who were supposed to be their next socially conservative base of support. Their funding is now inextricably hooked to crazy billionaires who will insist on making their craziness public.

So the right will lose, but the left will not win. The lesser evil is clear to a bare majority, and a bare majority will dutifully vote Democratic. That is the best that can be expected from our system, and any actual political progress is going to happen elsewhere.

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