What is the role of a commentator in an election in which he or she cannot vote? And how would I vote tomorrow if I could?
The response of many British journalists to the American elections is to do one of several things. These include becoming either a mystical seer or a partisan hack.
The former have been doing particularly well in this election. People with no notable back catalogue of work on the US keep popping up writing, ‘Why Romney cannot win unless he does X’ pieces, or ‘Why Obama has it in the bag if he does Y’, etc. Few of these seers know what they are talking about. Most are just churning out the received wisdom of their political ‘side’ and will carry on regardless even after repeatedly being proved wrong.
Then there is the partisan hackery which mistakes shilling for a campaign for commentary. The web is now full – from all political sides – of these excuses for journalism. Consider, for example, those hacks who have leaped on any story of any Republican anywhere expressing personal moral concerns over abortion. This is an issue which even if a President Romney wished to address – and he does not – he could not alter. Nevertheless, the ‘Republican war on women’ motif, pumped out by the Obama camp has taken hold and Obama merely has to stand still to receive the benefit. ‘Rape is rape and is always wrong’ he can say, when pushed. When a candidate is handed reaction lines as easy as that then you can tell he is not being fed the tough questions. Ask most non-American voters what they think Romney would do as soon as he got to office and they will come up with some variant of him nationalising all female reproductive organs.
This scare-tactic nonsense makes the bridge between UK / European voters and American Republicans seem unnecessarily wide. But it is wide enough already. For my part I think this is our fault and the main blame does not lie wholly on the Republican side.
Certainly there are criticisms to be made of the Republican party. Among them is the shameful fact that so few experienced, mainstream Republican leaders (and there are many) put themselves forward for this race, preferring to sit it out for 2016. But the divide which is opening up between the view of a substantial number of American voters and the majority of European voters – and, for what it is worth, a substantial number of Conservative MPs – seems to me a problem for Europeans, not American voters.
The Democrat Party seems intent on furthering a model which is collapsing even as they are trying to build it. Europeans may still worship the welfare state, but the model is, at the very least, in remarkably bad health. Deficit and debt habits have been no more of a success in America than in Brown’s Britain or the EU. Yet European political orthodoxy has become so entrenched that we have not only lost the ability to question our orthodoxies, we cannot accept it when they are put up for question by others, as they are at this US election.
Europeans still love Obama because they do not know anything about the detail. He has racked up trillions of dollars of debt for no apparent benefit. He also appears to have no meaningful desire to kick the borrowing habit. The closer you are to Obama’s America, the harder it is to ignore American unemployment, lack of strong growth, drift from the nation’s foundational principles or its increasingly competed-against position in the world. Europeans ought to ask themselves why this President, with all the attributes they admire and adore, is fighting a photo-finish election with the not-terribly loveable Mitt Romney. Is it us, or is it them?
So how would I vote if I were in the States? I am not a follower of party lines there, any more than I am here. I can imagine voting for either party. Had Scoop Jackson won the Democratic Party nomination in the 1970s then I would have given his party my vote. If I had ever had the chance to vote for Daniel Patrick Moynihan then I would have done. If I could vote in Congressional or Senate elections I can imagine nearly as many places where I would vote Democrat as I would Republican.
And as for the Presidency? Though British, I have an interest in an America which is engaged in the world. Mitt Romney has a fine grasp of the issues, and a superb team of advisers and experts behind him. But Obama is not a candidate who it is easy to compete against on these matters. He is no foreign policy ‘dove’ or ‘wet’. On the contrary, much of what Obama has done as President should win him the admiration of foreign policy voters.
It is greatly to the President’s credit that he has increased the use of unmanned drone-attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. He has used the technology which is the product of Rumsfeld-era Pentagon investment to unceasingly kill America’s enemies. We should be glad to have such an ally. Obama should also be admired for ordering the attack on the Bin Laden compound, deep inside our alleged ‘ally’ Pakistan, causing the death of America’s number one enemy. He should also be congratulated for keeping Guantanamo open and thus for realising in office what he had failed to realise in his campaign: that Guantanamo is an expression of the failure of the current laws of war and not an affront to them.
However, there are severe negatives as well. The Obama administration seems to me to have failed to put America firmly on the right sides during the ‘Arab Spring’. The Muslim Brotherhood – which is, long-term, a far more serious strategic opponent than bin Laden – has been the biggest winner so far of these événements. I see little understanding or desire on the part of the Democratic party leadership to correct the course of this drift.
Though the British press have almost completely ignored it, the Obama administration’s handling of the murder of its ambassador Benghazi has been scandalous. As have been the President and Secretary of State’s comments on the obscure Youtube video used as a pretext for violence against America and her allies.
For these reasons, and others, including a desire to see a more competitive, less statist America, I would vote Mitt Romney tomorrow. But I do not have the vote, and so am left, with a single digit proportion of British voters, simply hoping that tomorrow the American voters choose right.
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