Yasmin Nair

Election 2012: Eyes Wide Shut

Filed By Yasmin Nair | November 04, 2012 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, election 2012, liberal Obama, Obama victory

laughing obama 2.jpgI've posted any number of articles, my own and that of others, in the last few weeks, both online and on Facebook, critical of Obama's last four years. As we approach November 6, opinions are going to get stronger, and Hurricane Sandy is not going to make things easier.

There have been some concerns and disagreements amongst my friends and I. Many of them feel the same way as I do about Obama, that he is hardly very different from Romney and that an Obama administration has been, in several areas - foreign policy, immigration, women's rights, and education among them - the same as the President that Romney insists he will be.

As I've pointed out in my piece on Obama's shell game and on the Mourdock abortion controversy, there is, in fact, little to distinguish Obama from Romney (remember their jousting over who could say "crippling sanctions" often enough?) and not much to distinguish Republicans from Democrats.

A lot of what I've written or said has resulted in some anger and demands to know why I can't see that the end of the world is nigh with a Romney election. Let me clarify:

I'm less concerned about whom you vote for than that you vote with your eyes open.

I dislike the fake populism of the American presidential election and I think that it's time we moved out of a two-party "system." I also think that voting for a third party, writing in your own candidates, or not voting at all are all valid actions. I always find it more than ironic that the most industrialised country in the world also has the lowest voter turnout.

Those who try to bully and shame others into voting might want to remember that the U.S disenfranchises voters, whether because they are incarcerated, ex-felons, "sex offenders," too poor, too old, or too young, or for reasons that polling booths will simply make up on the spur of the moment. Yet, come election time and public discourse - which is to say, media attention, sadly almost the same thing nowadays - reaches a crescendo of panic and passion.

The most common argument hurled at anyone who dares to question the logic of voting goes something like this, "If you don't vote, you can't complain." Besides the problems with deciding that those who don't vote don't deserve, for instance, clean air and water, housing, and healthcare - which is the implicit message here - this statement ignores the fact that millions are prevented from voting in the first place, and that even those judged eligible to vote often find it difficult to do so for any number of reasons.

In a stunning and detailed piece for Salon, Matt Stoler makes the case that progressives ought not to vote for Obama. Again, whom you vote for or not is not my concern here, but the piece is necessary reading for anyone who insists that Obama is simply a good man caught in bad times, or even for anyone who wants desperately to believe that his last four years have been an example of excellent government and high ideals. An excerpt:

It is as if America's traditional racial segregationist tendencies have been reorganized, and the tools and tactics of that system have been repurposed for a multicultural elite colonizing a multicultural population. The data bears this out: Under Bush, economic inequality was bad, as 65 cents of every dollar of income growth went to the top 1 percent. Under Obama, however, that number is 93 cents out of every dollar. That's right, under Barack Obama there is more economic inequality than under George W. Bush...most of this shift happened in 2009-2010, when Democrats controlled Congress. This was not, in other words, the doing of the mean Republican Congress. And it's not strictly a result of the financial crisis; after all, corporate profits did crash, like housing values did, but they also recovered, while housing values have not.

Economic inequality is not simply a sad by-product of the last four years, this administration actually has a vested interest in it. Remember Katrina, and how we - rightly - blamed Bush for his inadequate response and then realised that his administration was engaging in what Naomi Klein has famously termed "disaster capitalism" in order to raze older, poorer neighbourhoods in New Orleans and bring in the forces of privatisation?

Well, we have long been comfortable with the idea that all of this is the result of the meanie Republicans and conveniently forget that Obama ignored the Chicago Teachers' Union strike, despite having publicly stated, in 2007, that he would support a teachers' strike.

Over this past weekend came the revelation that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is carrying out and justifying the principles made infamous in the wake of Katrina (and remember that charter schools are the canary birds in the mine of larger, more systemic privatisation).

Duncan said:

I've spent a lot of time in New Orleans and this is a tough thing to say but I'm going to be really honest. The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.

All of this is to simply state that I don't care whether or not people vote for Obama, but I would like us all to collectively dispense with the idea that an Obama administration is any less neoliberal from the last one or from a prospective Romney Presidency.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, liberals and progressives are pointing out that Romney would have gutted the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But we forget that while the neoliberalism of Romney dictates that people simply not receive assistance in the first place, the neoliberalism of Obama requires that the structure providing that assistance work efficiently in the interest of furthering neoliberalism afterwards.

As I write this, New York City, ruled by a billionaire Mayor, is undergoing profound and unforeseen changes in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and we should have no doubt that this natural disaster will prove to be the breeding ground for even more privatisation of education, transportation, and other essential services.

But let me also state some reasons, in no particular order, why I would not be averse to a second Obama term:

  • I don't want to spend the next four years with a wounded and angry Obama on the side, suddenly and hypocritically deciding that he's anti-war, pro-women, and the great saviour of the left just so that he can be voted back in 2016. I have disliked the man since his first run for the Senate, and when I instinctively thought, "I don't trust this guy," and I was right. We might remember that he didn't win that race on experience, but because his first opponent was embroiled in a sexual scandal (Seven of Nine, remember?) and the second was, um, Alan Keyes. In a recent interview, Obama said that he would win because Latinos are angry with Romney: once again, his best hope is that voters dislike the other guy more than they dislike him
  • Yes, I took pride and joy in his election in 2008, but that was a living in the moment and, dare I say, hope that we would finally reverse the brutality of the Bush years. That brutality has, instead, been ratcheted up. 
  • I dread the idea of the 101 panels that will inevitably spring up: "Will we ever again have a Black President?" or "Are we now PRE-racial?": as if the problem were with the racial identity of a neoliberal President rather than his neoliberalism. We've finally come to some kind of a breaking point in public discourse, I think, where we're able to gently or sharply nudge liberals and progressives into having to confront the realities of what this President's politics really are (think: drone attacks), and I fear losing momentum on that. Perhaps four more years of Obama are what we need to finally see everything that "the left" has ignored: affective immigration politics that emphasise issues like "broken families", the DREAM Act and "good immigrants" over economic reform, the end of women's rights unless the women are wealthy members of boardrooms, and so on.
  • I cannot endure even the thought of drum circles for peace by people who remained silent about Obama's drone attacks but will undoubtedly have much to say about Romney's militarism. That's not to say I don't want anti-war marches - I do, and I want Obama to stay in office so he can finally see the left has a backbone and will march against his policies. I hope.
  • I dread the end of anything resembling genuine wit in public discourse and the grasping for straws as liberals and progressives read and sound like Beavis and Butthead on their worst days. Honestly, I think this is what I want the most: the sharpening of political satire which now falls on the fragile shoulders of The Onion while Lib-Dem-Progs are left making fun of Michelle Bachmann and Ann Romney. One is a Tea Partier, and the other is a conservative Mormon. What were you expecting?

So, yeah, wit. I want the return of genuine wit, not this asinine trotting out of, "OMG, CAN YOU BELIEVE WHAT [insert rabid-right-winger's name] said?" 

Wit, my friends. It will be the rapier - the bayonet, if you will - with which we can finally begin to defeat a neoliberalism which snows us with the notion of choice.

The end of wit in political discourse in this election season is symptomatic of the end of the left. May we be witty again, and may that be just one sign of a re-invigorated radical politics that demands change, not mere hope.

To those of you who insist that you will be the ones to hold Obama's feet to the fire: you are as deluded as those who marry alcoholics vowing to change them, and I have no interest in coddling your delusion. When he wins--and I suspect he will, even if by a very slim margin--the only feet I plan on holding to the fire are yours.

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